Tag Archives: Suffolk

Dyeing and knitting Suffolk socks

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or the glorious Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

Once upon a time there was some raw Suffolk fleece.  And then, it was spun into a 3 ply yarn.  And then, it met several eucalyptus dye baths… and then a nice gentle soaking rinse or three…

A series of small skeins arose.

They were weighed and wound into balls by hand and prepared for hand knitting. This picture captures the colours best, I think.


There was knitting on public transport.


there was knitting on the road to Warrnambool.


There was knitting on the way back.


And finally… on a day so overcast as to leach colour from the knitting:


There were socks long enough to go all the way to the top of a gumboot (wellington, galosh) on a chilly morning feeding donkeys.  These socks are bound for a lovely friend who keeps a small farm with a lot of chickens and some rescue donkeys.  She had some specific requirements!  She wasn’t the least bit concerned about socks that would not be silky soft.


On top of the 3 ply, Suffolk yarn with high twist (and on the thick side for socks), I reinforced heels and toes with silk/cotton thread.  I dyed some in eucalyptus but underestimated how much I was going to need.  When I ran out while on the road (to dye camp!) I wasn’t prepared to stop.


I think the reality about these socks is that they have been knit at a dense gauge that will hopefully result in long wear even in a gumboot, but it is not very stretchy!




Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Handspun socks in use 3

We visited a friend recently and of course, I was knitting away as we chatted.  I explained about the tuff socks naturally project and she brought out her entire sock drawer in which there were quite a few pairs knit by my own hands, some of which I don’t remember knitting!  There was just one hand spun pair, and they were quite recent.  Here they are finished in mid 2017.  They look very lightly worn indeed though she assures me she has been wearing them.  No signs of wear at all on this as-yet-young pair of tough knits.  Hopefully that speaks to the qualities of a suffolk/mohair/silk blend…


Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Spinning in the background

I keep forgetting, or simply not finding the time to post.  Apologies, gentle readers.  I’ve needed the making more than I’ve been inclined to post about it this last while.  But I’ve been spinning Malcolm’s Kangaroo Island “black” Merino cross (left), and leftover batts of local Finn cross (right) and clearly there was a day when they posed with leaves and flowers…

When we were at Marion Bay (cough) I carded a lot of wool, and did some blending.

But I’ve also spun up all manner of wool dyed previously, including the last of the earth palette dyed wool.  There was a request for bulky yarn from one friend in particular.  She’s managing the state of the world by knitting a lot of beanies and gauntlets.  So I sent more yarn. And there was some very pale woad dyed wool that went into a vat with soursobs I weeded at someone else’s house.

But the big excitement is the Suffolk/Silk/Kid Mohair blend for #tuffsocksnaturally. The last of which is in the dyepot with some leaves on the day I am drafting this post.  To be continued…



Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Spinning tuff socks

The #tuffsocksnaturally project has begun at my place!


This HUGE bag of Suffolk fleece arrived some weeks ago, and I have begun to wash it.  Like other local Suffolk I’ve spun in years past, the staple is short.


This fleece is filthy. Fair enough. It has been worn in actual life by an actual sheep roaming around freely like a sheep should.  It is also full of seeds and other vegetable matter.  Again, that’s what happens when sheep freely graze.  But it does make the task of creating a yarn that is finely spun and free of little scritchy pieces of chaff or prickles that much more difficult.


Step one is washing.  I’ll spare you.  It’s really hard to make muddy water interesting. Then drying.  I think drying fleece is more exciting than paint drying, but even so.  Then preparation for spinning. There are choices to be made here.  Combing is the classic preparation for a worsted sock yarn, but I decided against it.  I have decided to try a blend of Suffolk, silk and kid mohair.


I have found that blending these fibres really well is difficult if I comb them, because they are different lengths (especially because the Suffolk is so short stapled).  And, the last time I made sock yarn by hand I combed all the fibres and was not convinced it made such a difference compared to carding that it was worth the extra effort, which is considerable. So this time, I drum carded to blend more evenly.


I did a lot of passes with the wool alone, picking out more vegetable matter each time, before adding the silk and kid mohair. And then… to the wheel!


Now I’ll spare you progress images of three singles being spun.  Only people who are involved in the Tour de Fleece get excited by the sight of a bobbin filling up ever so slowly!  Have you decided to be part of the project? How have you started?



Filed under Fibre preparation, Spinning

Tuff socks, naturally: The project

My friend-in-blogging-and-making, Rebecca from Needle and Spindle, has had the exciting idea of a shared project on handspun socks without superwash treatment or nylon.  They would make use of the properties of breeds of sheep that were preferred for socks [by those who wearing wearing socks at all] in the swathe of human history in which nylon did not exist, superwash had not been invented, and the merino had not yet become the overwhelming giant of industrial wool production.  I give you the Suffolk!

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Adele Moon will be joining us for some sock spinning and knitting and posting. As you know, I love to knit socks, and I love to spin, and I’ve often thought I should be doing more spinning for sock knitting.  And of course, like a lot of people who read this blog, I think a lot about the industrial production of textiles and the pollution it causes, the permanence and harmfulness of plastics of all kinds (I’m considering nylon just this moment), and about the burdens of my own decisions on the earth and all who share her. There can’t be any pretence, in my case, to having all the answers; or to proving up to the challenge of making right decisions on all occasions.  I should think my readers all know that I can’t do that yet.  But I don’t think that can be a reason not to look for solutions or to make the changes we can figure out how to make.


Full solutions to the issues of pollution and plastics require change on way more than personal level.  There’s no real point, to my way of thinking, in getting overinvolved in our own feelings of self-blame or failure, on these questions. Better to keep focused on how to move forward, and how to spread awareness and action more widely.


At my place, the recently acquired Suffolk fleece will be part of the experiment.  I’ll be sharing what I know about knitting socks that last, and maybe we can spend some time on what to do when they disintegrate too!  I have begun to call in surviving socks that I hand spun and hand knit for friends and relatives so that an inventory (and some mending) can be undertaken. I’ll be spinning, and of course, dyeing with plants and knitting socks on public transport and in meetings.

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The tech minded spinners will have company in Rebecca, and there will be somewhat less well planned spinning at this blog, as you may have come to expect.  It sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Feel free to offer your tips and inspirations!

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This is an open project, anyone can join in. If you are interested in being part of the Tuff Socks Naturally Project, please share your experiments or link to your project pages on this blog in post comments, or on Rebecca’s blog, Needle and Spindle, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon and use the #tuffsocksnaturally tag.



Filed under Craftivism, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Small projects, big plans

A while ago I went to The Drapery to buy zippers, and The Drapery is far more tempting to me than the chain alternatives, so I came away with a fat quarter (or something like that) of Liberty lawn.  My Mother-Out-Law loves Liberty prints, so I tried to inhabit her aesthetic and chose this one.  She is a rather petite woman, so I made four small handkerchieves and I am reliably informed that she loves them! Naturally (in her case–the other gift she enjoys is stationery) she sent me a lovely card, and observed that only another sewer would recognise the rolled hems as a special achievement.  I feel so lucky to have out-laws who are so kind and lovely.

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Then there was the very last of these bags.

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This time I chose madder and indigo dyed threads.

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The madder dyed silk in the centre of this circle was dyed at my house, (the madder and indigo purple by Beautiful Silks), and it is SO red!

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There have been other small projects piling up, but there has also been a development.  We went to the Royal Show again this year and Suffolks were the featured sheep breed.  This beauty evidently didn’t stand still (or perhaps it was me who did the wriggling).

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I tried to speak with breeders in hopes of acquiring a fleece and discovered again that I’m really quite shy.  My beloved was much better at it.  We spoke to breeders from WA and Tasmania who did not bring fleece, and then found one from Kangaroo Island who was happy enough to sell me a fleece if I was sure I wanted to spin from a meat sheep and did I realise this is sold as carpet wool? It’s so sad to think that the long history of this breed as a source of wool for specific uses such as socks, has been all but lost even among lovers of the breed.

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Malcolm called me on the weekend and we had a chat.  We agreed on one fleece and a price that I thought was too low, and what do you know?  I put one and a half times the price in an envelope and he delivered two fleeces, or is it three?  He threw in a “black” fleece because these sell for even less than the $3 or $4 per kilo that Malcolm gets for white Suffolk fleece.  Last night I skirted it at the Guild Hall and it is grey and dark brown, cream and white (I suspect, under the dirt).  I can only confirm that I won’t need another delivery in October: this is a LOT of wool.  I’ve never raised a sheep, and it’s entirely possible Malcolm doesn’t know how long it takes to spin sock yarn!  However, the fleece I skirted last night is lovely. I’ve had little access to Suffolk to date and spun what I had suspected was poor quality fleece with a very short staple.  This has a high crimp staple of at least 8-10 cm in places, and while the coloration lowers its value for industrial processing, for me it is a real asset.  I washed a small quantity before work this morning, I’m so keen to get spinning…



Filed under Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

More socks!

As usual, the latest pair of socks spent quite a lot of time on public transport. This is a local train service knitting opportunity.
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They came on some pretty tired and sad visits to hospital and nursing home as one of my dearests has been having a very tough time and I have been doing what I can to accompany her.  Knitting on public transport was a big help on a few visits when I took trips to visit her and she had already been taken by ambulance to some other place.


Socks don’t care about your worries.  They just keep growing as you keep knitting, and that works for me.


As you can see, it’s another pair of socks made with the same fibres.  And roughly the same size.  And there the resemblances end!  I managed to finish the skein with only this tiny ball of wool left!  But did get two pairs out of my naturally dyed Suffolk handspun.


They have already gone to a dear friend who spends more time in gumboots than pleases her sometimes, and finds a hand knit sock an asset in her gumboot (wellington boot? galosh? wellie boot?  rubber boot? you get the picture, I hope).


None of the pictures really came out right, with some too washed out and some a little overdone.  But I am sure you get the idea!  And in these times of considering mortality and suffering, I thought I would share this little gem taken as I ran through the cemetery one morning.  There were four magpies perched on this statue but two flew away as I approached. Camera shy.  I understand.




Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Handspun, hand dyed, handknit socks

Some time back, I embarked upon creating sock yarn from scratch, beginning with scouring, dyeing and combing raw local Suffolk fleece. If you missed the early, exciting stages (yes, that is a joke!) here is a post about the woolHere is one of multiple dye adventures. And the spinning went on at intervals over some months.  It’s hard to make incremental progress in spinning fun with photos!


Here is the first sock being knit at a coffee shop after exercise class, overseen by a dog.


Here is the second sock, almost done on the weekend when I cooked for many friends planting 500 trees on land two of our friends (and their two children, as they grow) are reclaiming, rehabilitating and revegetating with a degree of  care, thought, vision and commitment that is awesome to behold.  I was just too scared of back re-injury to plant.  So made myself a bit useful kitchen handing.  In between times, I knit and chatted with small folk.  I even did the hilarious feat of walking while knitting.

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It was hard to photograph the socks really well.  But there are some nice colours in there!

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And I am a sucker for the ingenuity of the heel arrangement.  The socks have whimsical cables, which puzzled some onlookers and delighted others.  And they are in no way twins, which likewise puzzled and affronted some while pleasing others very much. I’ll be honest, this is not exactly what I intended. But you know–they are fine! And headed to a happy new home as I type.  They will be snug, and hopefully, made as they are from a suffolk/silk/mohair blend and dyed with plants and cochineal–strong and colourful both.  And–there is enough for another pair, perhaps with a toe that, in this context, will not stand out if knit from a different yarn altogether–the finished socks weigh 101g and 89g remains…

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Hand spun, hand knit socks

Remember this hand spun sock yarn?

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It had a long journey toward becoming a pair of socks.  Here we are early on, on the train…

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On my way to a meeting at work.  Five minutes early, enjoying the sunshine and shrubs… knitting down the heel.

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Visiting a friend in hospital (and past the heel flap on sock 1)…

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Here we are on our way to Newcastle to blockade a coal port–second sock started.  I got a lot of knitting done during train travel and nonviolence training (for an entire day–some climate change activists don’t muck about!) and there was another knitter in the training, too!

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Then I noticed late in the life of sock 2 that sock 1 and sock 2 were a bit different.  I made some adjustments.  Finally, I went over to my friend’s house for a try on. Turns out that the stretchy factor in knitting sorts out a multitude of small spinning and knitting crimes. It’s common ground between us that if he doesn’t care, I don’t either.  Usually he goes further than not caring and is pretty pleased about the whole woollen sock thing. Fantastic attitude.


Here he is showing customary forbearance as a sock model.  Note hand knit sock on other foot.  Come to think of it, note hand spun, hand knit jumper in use years after being dyed with eucalypt. This is the attitude to hand knits that gets you another pair of socks in my circle of beloveds!





Filed under Knitting, Neighbourhood pleasures

Walnut, weld and purple fountain grass

I went out to help with the local organic food co-op recently and came home with walnuts from the local food forest produce swap, with the nuts soon ready for eating and the hulls ready for dyeing:

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In the bucket, ready for their three week soak/fermentation:

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Post soaking and ready for the heat:

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With the application of heat, the dye bath grew darker still.  So in went my remaining suffolk fleece. It was with deep relief that I assessed the (acceptable though not delectable) smell of the dye bath.  It was a walnut dye bath that almost had me excommunicated from my Guild for cooking it up in the dye room when the Little Glory Gallery was open.  Ahem!

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Here is weld growing in the vegie patch:

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One of my plants wilted and fell over for no obvious reason, so I cut it out and set it to dry. I wondered if something has nibbled on its roots from below ground. Some days later I went out and found that the rest of the plant had died.  This time it is obvious that the main root has been chewed on or rotted away.  Curious.  I followed Jenny Dean’s instructions (more or less…) and due to lack of time, left the dye bath to sit for some days.

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Mum saved me her purple fountain grass–a whole wheelbarrow load.  I saw a post on Ravelry where a lovely green came from this plant just about when she was planning to cut hers back.  This was exciting!  For me, however–it gave only a fawn colour.  Sadly!

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Here is the walnut dye on the left and the fountain grass on the right.  It is a little more yellow-brown in life, but nothing exciting.  It went into the walnut exhaust.

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I now have two shades of brown Suffolk and some weld-yellow crossbred fleece ready to join a future colour knitting project.  May the rinsing begin!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures