Today I thought I would write about the story of Australian yarn in the 21st century. It's a story I've been wanting to write about for a while because it's a really good story; a story of really good people and good wool and good community. Unfortunately, it's a story that we don't often hear. The doomsayers seem to have a louder voice; and unfortunately their voice, which seems to project straight from the 1990s, is full of misinformation.
Much of the stories of doom and gloom that plague the yarn industry hark back to last century. They are the stories of the last generation of the wool industry and yarn producers but yet it's a story that some sectors of the community seem intently keen to hold onto.
Here's the reality.
Yes, the Australian wool industry did crash and burn - badly. The yarn sector makes up a surprisingly small part of the wool industry as a whole, something I think knitters forget sometimes. Our best wool goes to make suits and clothing, not yarn. As much as knitters and crocheters don't like to hear it, the wool industry does not rely on knitting or crafts to keep it afloat. The percentage of the wool clip that ends up making yarn is pretty tiny actually. The "million dollar" bales or the 11 micron merino that brings in the big bucks is not going to end up as knitting yarn. Historically, about 90% of the Australian wool clip has been exported.
I'm going to distinguish here between the wool industry and the yarn industry, because they are two very different beasts. And the response of each industry to the decline has been quite different. In fact, what caused the initial decline is quite different for each sector.
There were a number of factors that contributed to the yarn industry decline. Firstly, the Australian government began reducing the tariff protection in the footwear, clothing and textile industries in the 1970s, which opened the way for cheap imports to increasingly flood the Australian market. Now we all know that this affected all sectors of manufacturing. Prior to the removal of the tariffs, many larger towns in Australia had mills - it's important to remember not all of these mills made yarn for the hand knitter, again this was a small proportion of the mills - many made fabrics, carpets, and yarns specifically for the manufacturing sector. It was this government decision that decimated our yarn production, resulting in the closure of at least 50 mills in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Most Australians know that the wool industry in Australia collapsed in the 1990s leaving a huge stockpile of bales, 4.7 million to be precise. This was a result of government intervention in the wool price which led to an oversupply or stockpile that became unsustainable, and the eventual collapse of the reserve price scheme for wool in February 1991. Some say the wool industry has never recovered, since 1991 it has shrunk by 66 per cent. This was the incident that decimated the wool industry. There is no doubt about it, this was a crap time for Australian wool farmers - and it is in this period of time that the stories of farmers burying their clip comes from. It would be hard to draw a direct link between the stockpile of wool and the downturn of the yarn industry. Whilst both came about as a result of less demand for wool, too much wool certainly didn't cause the downturn in the yarn industry.
It was the tariff reductions coupled with the changing directions worldwide of trends, that put our yarn industry into serious damage control. In the 1980s people began to turn their back on handicrafts viewing them as old fashioned; a bit daggy. Pattern and yarn sales slumped and many local yarn stores closed. You could also for the first time, buy a machine-knitted jumper for cheaper than you could knit one.
It was the 1990s that really saw the use of synthetic fibres in manufacturing take off, it was also an era where fashion became a bit daggy (don't you love the irony in this) as we embraced tracksuits and sweatshirts (windcheaters), often made from brushed synthetics, as everyday wear.
Fast forward to the new century and the dawning of the internet changes everything. Along comes the "Handmade Revolution" and a new resurgence and interest in handicrafts is born. Knitting is very much at the forefront of this.
So what's happened in the Australian yarn industry since the start of the century and the dawning of the revolution?
The Australian yarn industry today is made up of two distinct sectors; the commercial and the independent. The commercial sector is dominated by Australian Country Spinners (Patons, Cleckheaton, Panda, Shepherd) and Bendigo Woollen Mills (also Heirloom). For big companies like these, the bottom dollar is revenue so increasingly their processing has been moved offshore to China where it is cheaper. Neither mill scour in Australia. Australian Country Spinners do minimal, if any, spinning in their Wangaratta Mill.
The independent sector is far more interesting, and I think far more reflective of where our yarn industry is headed. The internet has meant that many small scale yarn producers now have a much wider exposure and audience. There are a lot of great Australian yarn producers out there, but it seems there is a sector of the knitting community that fails to see them and instead perpetuates the stories of doom and gloom that belong to the last century. The reality is also, that up until quite recently when the issue of provenance became one of interest, most knitters weren't all that concerned with where their yarn came from and so were quite blissfully unaware of these producers' existence.
Since the start of the century, thanks mainly to alpaca farming there has been a growth in mini-mills in Australia. There has also been quite a number of sheep farmers quietly going about their business and getting their wool turned into yarn, and feeding their steady but loyal band of followers. These farmers are part of a growing group that realised the need for diversity within their industry, that are taking the road of adaption that is necessary for long-term survival that Tom Dennis of Tarndie talks about often. It is this adaption that saw Tom's parents, Wendy and Dave Dennis take on the breeding of coloured sheep and the production of both fleeces for spinners and yarn for knitters in the latter part of the twentieth century.
When provenance became a buzz word in Australia, instead of seeking out these small-scale producers, many knitters were quick to bemoan that you couldn't get Australian-made yarn; there was no such thing as yarn produced entirely here in Australia. Mills like Wool 2 Yarn who have been operating on the Mornington Peninsula since 2005, will tell you this simply isn't the case. Nundle Woollen Mill who produce woollen-spun yarn that is processed entirely in Australia would agree.
The fact is that you can purchase yarn that has been entirely made in Australia, and in all honesty, it's not that hard to find. Stroll the sheds at the Bendigo Wool Show and you'll find plenty.
We have seen mill closures since the advent of the "Handmade Revolution", most notably the CSIRO scouring, spinning and dyeing plant in Geelong as a result of a government decision in around 2012, but many many more mills have opened which surely speak volumes for the direction of the yarn industry. Adagio Mills in Orange, Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill, Boston Fine Fibres and Paddock to Ply are just a few of the new players on the block making a big name for themselves in our industry. In March this year, the Goldfields Mohair Farm, a mill outside of Bendigo, began its journey back to production after being sold off a few years ago.
These new players do bring a new enthusiasm to the industry. They have a natural inclination for creating community and working with local growers to create yarns and blends to feed any knitter's desire for good yarn. And they are producing good yarns, very good yarns.
What I do love about this industry in its time of resurgence and growth is the support and networking that is so evident; wool producers collaborating with mills, farmers turning to each other for support and advice in developing their own yarn lines, producers and mills engaging with the end users and designers, mills throwing open their doors and inviting the public in to learn about the process of creating yarn and have the opportunity to create their own yarns. Mill owners like Nick and Isabel from Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill speak openly about the struggle that goes into learning the ropes, they're not afraid to talk about the hard stuff - there are no secrets when you tour their mill. Similarly, yarn producers like White Gum Wool and Millpost Merino openly address the way they farm. Their innovative approaches to sheep farming are shining lights in an industry that still grapples with the mulesing question. Adagio Mill invited the community to help get them up and running through a crowd funding campaign, they shared every step of their journey from dream to reality with the public. This is an industry of transparency, one that is open to fresh ideas and innovations in order to move forward and one that through it's very nature, is seeking to embrace sustainability.
Currently, in Australia, Nundle Woollen Mill is the only yarn that is produced on a large-commercial scale entirely in Australia. That doesn't mean we don't have the capabilities and equipment to do so; we do. We just need the larger commercial arm of the yarn industry sector to become as forward thinking as the independent sector and offer commission spinning. This is the commonplace situation in New Zealand, where our independent producers such as Australian Organic Wool, Tarndie, White Gum Wool, Bellevue Wool and Millpost Merino, send their yarn for commercial-scale production.
You know, even if that doesn't happen, it doesn't matter. Our New Zealand cousins at Design Spun are doing a fabulous job of spinning our favourite yarn brands. We are so lucky to have such a growing offering of such gorgeous Australian grown yarns standing alongside the uniquely Australian-spun boutique yarns. It's an exciting time to be in Australian yarn.
As for the wool industry, incidentally things are good there too. Earlier this year the wool price reached its highest weekly closing level since the collapse of the Reserve Price Scheme in February 1991.
As consumers, I think it's time to let go of the negative stories of the 80s and 90s industry collapse. These are not the stories of the current generation and the current resurgence. We need to stop letting them define our industry and instead engage with the forward thinking producers of today who have a far happier tale to tell.
If you'd like to check out some more Australian yarns, there's an extensive and growing list here.
This afternoon when I opened my emails there was a query about an issue that is probably quite familiar to many knitters, and because it is something so familiar I thought, "Ha, that's probably something I should share with blog readers or add to my list of Frequently Asked Questions."
The email read like this:
"Hi, I just finished my 2nd Gidday. It seems I always have a problem with the bottom laying flat and mine curls up between the stockinette and the garter rows. Do you have any suggestion besides making the garter section longer? It is fine on the sleeves, just does it around the bottom. I looked at other projects and no one else seems to have that problem."
The thing that really struck me about this email was the last sentence. I suspect sometimes we all think a little like this, that perhaps the answer is so obvious that we should already know it. Why does it seem other knitters don't have this problem? What have I missed? What am I doing that's so obviously wrong? How do they get that to sit so neatly?
I know I've felt like this at times when it comes to knitting; traditional short rows used to drive me completely batty as I could never get them to be invisible enough for my liking, particularly when knitting in the round and closing off the final short row.
The thing with garter hem flip is it's not a problem that every knitter has. That doesn't mean that those that do have it are doing something wrong, it just means that as knitters we are all individual, and the little quirks and annoyances we each experience are going to be different for different knitters.
The key to solving garter hem flip is knowing how you knit; knowing your own personal idiosyncrasies. And while that may seem pretty obvious, we probably all think we know how we knit but by being more conscious of the characteristics of our personal tension (yeah, I said it!) we can solve a lot of little niggles like garter stitch flip.
Garter stitch flip occurs basically because the tension in the fabric has changed between the stocking stitch and the garter stitch. AND also because stocking stitch fabric has a natural tendency to curl. Garter stitch is a thicker fabric, but if the tension changes between the two fabrics it means also that either the garter stitch or the stocking stitch fabric is going to be wider; and in most cases it's the garter stitch fabric. Sometimes this will appear as a flare and sometimes it will be more pronounced and flip up. How extreme this is can also be dependent on the type of fibre and even the number of plies in and the weight of the yarn you are working with. Basically, that extra width beneath a fabric that wants to curl, is just pure encouragement.
Of course, this flipping issue is not just limited to garter stitch. You may find you experience a similar issue with ribbing or even seed or moss stitch. I generally don't have any issues with flipping garter stitch hems (except with lighter weight low plied yarns interestingly enough - ) but with seed stitch I do. Go figure.*
So how do you fix it?
Sometimes the problem will resolve itself with wet blocking. I always recommend wet blocking any garment you have knit. Not only does it resolve small issues like this but it also evens out your knitting making it look much neater and more finished. You may want to pin the hemline flat while it's drying.
Unfortunately, for some knitters this is a short term fix, as once the yarn relaxes the hem may flip again.
So what else can you do?
Well, it would seem that if the issues arises out of a difference in tension between the two fabrics, making the tension the same would be the best way to fix it, right?
THIS is where knowing your own knitting idiosyncrasies comes in; knowing how your tension changes between different stitches.
Let's look at a pattern that has a tension of 22 stitches over 4inches in stocking stitch as an example.
If we want the tension between the two fabrics to be the same, then our garter stitch needs to be the same tension.
Some knitters DO achieve a similar tension in garter stitch as they do in stocking stitch; some - but not all. In fact, I'd warrant a guess and say the majority don't. And if you're experience hem flip, you're probably going to fall into that latter camp.
And here's where the power of knowing your personal tension helps out, if you KNOW that you need to go down one, two or even three needles sizes to achieve that same tension in garter stitch, then you can automatically do it. You can just ignore the pattern instructions for the hem needle size and knit in the needle size that you know works for you.
Another approach is to decrease so that the fabric is the same width. Elizabeth Zimmermann typically has a 10% difference in her hem stitch count and her body stitch count, and as with anything EZ this is a pretty good guide. To achieve this, work (k8, k2tog) around the final stocking stitch row/round of the body.
Note that this will not necessary fix the issue for your individual tension, you may need to alter the rate of your decrease. Again, this is why knowing how your knitting style varies gives you power.
Ahh, it's still not working!
Sometimes, it's just simply that the garter hemline is not long enough to counter the natural curling tendency of the stocking stitch. Not enough length in a garter stitch hem is like trying to run wavy hair through a pair of feathers to straighten it. Again, the particular characteristics of the yarn you're using may even contribute to this.
So how do I get this knowledge and power?
Simple. And I'm going to use a dirty word here, but you need to swatch and experiment.
When you knit that swatch before the garment, swatch in the edging and hemline stitch too, measure the tension there and adjust your needles accordingly. Once you've done this a few times, you will probably see a pattern developing and KNOW that you need to go down two needle sizes for the garter hem. Use that knowledge for future knits.
I know, I know. There are some of you out there who just won't swatch no matter how much I wax lyrically about it, and how fun it can be to swatch for the sake of switching and how you learn so much about your own knitting style, blah, blah, blah. I get it. I really do. You just want to knit.
Then, you really have no option but to experiment away while you're knitting. Go down a needle size the next time you knit the hemline. Doesn't work? Rip and reknit two needle sizes smaller. It will be more time consuming than if you swatched to begin with, but you'll still get there and as you experiment you'll soon get an idea of what's going to work for you.
* As for my seed stitch flipping, it's again because of fabric width and my individual knitting tension. I knit seed stitch looser than stocking or garter stitch.
My looser seed stitch tension, along with the extra fabric created by swapping the yarn from back to front, means the piece is wider and is going to work with the natural curl of stocking stitch to flip up. Seed stitch doesn't have the elasticity created by ribbing, which naturally draws the fabric in and works against that curl. However, the same curl or flip may happen in ribbing if the hem is particularly short or the fibre in the yarn lacks elasticity.
P.S. If your problem is flipping button bands, you may want to read this post here . If you've knit more recent patterns of mine, you'll notice I've tweaked this technique slightly for mostly aesthetics.
Late last year I received a really exciting wee package from the lovely Nan Bray of White Gum Wool. It was a sample of her soon-to-be released new yarn that she had concocted with Rebecca from Augustbird and there was so much about this yarn that excited me and ticked all the boxes. It was a 5ply/sport weight constructed with 3 plies and a blend of her beautiful merino and silk. I swatched my precious little ball of yarn and all stereotypes aside, honestly did squeal a little with pure delight.
Since that precious parcel, Nan has released her 5ply Silk/Merino to the wild in two colours, Hawthorn and Natural. Rebecca, also has been busy hand-dyeing up this beautiful new yarn base and I was lucky enough to be sent some of the first skeins she dyed. Now these skeins were extra special because they were naturally dyed with tea.
Let's talk a little about this yarn -
Construction wise, this is a worsted spun yarn made up of three plies which gives it beautiful rounded shape. This means that stitches knit in this yarn are well defined and knit up uniformly. Nan's superfine merino coupled with silk makes this is a yarn that has beautiful drape but yet still retains its elasticity. The silk gives the yarn an almost pearlescent quality.
Each skein has 286 metres (313 yards) per 100 grams, it is at the fuller end of the sport weight spectrum and can easily double as a very light dk weight.
I knit this yarn on bamboo Chiaogoo needles, swatching with needles in the range of 3.5mm to 4.5mm. Each of the different fabrics was equally beautiful and useful for different applications. Cables and garter stitch were crisp and beautifully defined. Lace work on the larger size needles produced an incredible result, once blocked the lace draped beautifully and held its size and form exceptionally well.
This is an incredibly versatile yarn, and I really really love it!
Taking all the qualities of this yarn into account, I decided to make the most of them and play on both the drape of the yarn and the stitch definition and create a shawl.
This was a fun shawl to both design and knit, it really comes together in three different sections. Firstly, beginning with a provisional cast on, the bottom edge is knit lengthwise creating the lace and mock cable border. The lace is simple and intuitive and the pattern contains both charted and written instructions. With the border complete, a simple technique for picking up the edge stitch of garter stitch is used to quickly and efficiently pick up the stitches for the main body of the shawl. Short rows, my favourite type German short rows, are used to create an elongated crescent shaped shawl. Finally, the shawl is finished with a mock cable edge knit onto the top edge as the shawl is cast off.
This is a shawl to wrap around you as you sip tea, wander through the garden, immerse yourself in a gothic novel, or just enjoy the fading light of the day.
Oolong conjures up an atmosphere of timeless elegance with its beautiful lace and mock cable edgings captured in tea-dyed yarn.
White Gum Wool 5ply Silk/Merino
14 stitches and 26 rows = 4 inches
in stocking stitch (blocked)
20 stitches and 32 rows (unblocked)
Finished blocked measurement of approximately 78¾ inches/200 cms from tip to tip and 18¼ inches/46 cms deep.
Intermediate to Experienced
600 yards/550 metres
Pattern available on Ravelry and LoveKnitting
Since then I've also been on a little private knitters' retreat here in Australia with Briony at Tarndie - a weekend of laughter and good friends. What I admire about Briony is her excitement for what she does, she is driven by colour and she is a generous and gentle soul - she is always seeking to further her knowledge about the dyeing process and completely willing to share her knowledge. She embodies that nurturing community aspect of crafters that I just love.
I asked Briony to share a bit about herself so you too can get to know her. Here's what she had to say.
In your journey as a craft practitioner, what led you down the path of hand-dyeing yarns?
It all began, what seems like many moons ago when I was testing a pattern. The final product was going to be gifted to my nephew as part of his birth gift. I approached my friend Jo from Meraki Studios to help me create some yarn. Jo was magnificent! She helped me choose colours and a process to dye the yarn.
I was hooked! I knew then that I wanted to dye, but I also knew that I didn’t want to do it in a way that was already readily available. I chose gradients as at the time there didn’t seem to be any dyer within New Zealand that was offering this style of dyed yarn.
What is your favourite yarn base to work with? What guides you when choosing yarn bases for Gradient?
My personal favourite base to dye with is White Gum Wool. That the yarn is ethically grown in Tasmania and then processed in New Zealand really resonates with me.
I have tried to establish a large selection of yarns to offer the crafter a personalised choice with a wider variety of options. Some people prefer superwash, some like cashmere or perhaps silk. Each yarn is suitable for different projects. I also like to stock a range of yarns to suit a range of price points, which is very important to me.
You’ve been experimenting with natural dyes for the past year or so. Can you tell us a little about this journey. What piqued your interest with regards to natural dyeing? What are some of the challenges, pitfalls, surprises and joys of natural dyeing for you?
My journey on natural dyeing has been relatively short but a slow, relaxed one so far. I first started with Indigo, then moved on to other natural dyes. I often lament that we don’t have a big enough yard to plant specific Eucalyptus trees! Maybe one day…
Each time I naturally dye I can never really be sure what I will produce. There are so many factors that come into play, each presenting their own challenge. Each batch is its own unique and individual chemistry, reproducing a colour exactly again and again is something that I have not managed to succeed in.
My gradient brain had always been ticking over with the question: Can I produce a gradient that has been naturally dyed? Yes, it can be achieved! It does however take more thought and patience, but I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I do succeed. Not all attempts are successful though! Behind every dyer there will always be a few failed attempts at something, but I see this as part of the craft. Without failures there will be no learning and special one off projects.
Can you share with us a little bit about your dyeing space and how you approach dyeing as a business. Do you have set hours you work?
My hours of work are currently dictated by when my children are at school. Of course I need to be flexible around these times too. Sometimes when I have a large workload I will work into the evening, or on a weekend. This is still a rare occurrence as I try to keep family time as family time.
When my husband and I built our current house, I was very fortunate that I was able to extend the garage out to the side to accommodate a dyeing space. My regret is I wish I made it larger! As I do most dye processing during the day, I get to benefit from the energy that is created by the solar panels that we have on our roof, making the most of the beautiful Australian sun!
Obviously your brand is synonymous with gradient yarns. This looks like a very time-consuming process. How long does it take you to dye a skein of gradient yarn? Has the time frame shortened with more experience or with more skeins in the pot?
Gradient styled yarns do take a lot of time to create. My dyeing style has completely changed from when I started. Back then I used to handpaint each knitted blank, but I have found using a pot enables the colours to blend and flow over each other, creating the smooth, gradual blends that I favour.
Before I can dye a skein I have some prep work to do. Each skein is knit into a blank. I don’t handknit these! That would be a monster of a job! I use a knitting machine to help me. The reason that I create knitted blanks is so I can control meters and meters of yarn, the last thing I want is a big tangle. Over time I have become very familiar and proficient with my knitting machine and tangles are a thing of the past.
The timeframe has shortened with a greater focus around each step to ensure I maximize my creative energy. Dyeing in colour batches is the best way, and with this process I can dye two Gradients at once. I also need to keep track of different yarn bases as I dye, pegs and old business cards with labels on the back that I have laminated to help with this.
I love that you’ve chosen to share your gradient dyeing technique in classes and in an ebook you sell. Why is the sharing of knowledge like this important to you and your business?
Through a lot of trial, frustration, error and joy, I found a technique that works to consistently create gradients in an easy, no fuss way. I’d first prefer to share the opportunity for others to enjoy what has been a rewarding learning experience process for me. Handing it on to others has always been important to me. I also enjoy seeing other dyers run with the idea and make it their own! Dyeing is such a fascinating craft. Everyone has their own way of dyeing yarn. I am constantly surprised and amazed at the talent that is out there.
As well as dyeing, you’ve also released a number of knitting patterns. How did you find this process? Will we see some more patterns from you in the future?
I never in a million years thought that I would add Knitwear Designer to my belt! I took a design course with Kelly Brooker of Pekapeka. We all designed beanies during the course. There certainly was a flood of beanies that year! It was fantastic to see each designer creating their piece, and hearing the backstory behind each one.
I’ve since gone on to design a few shawls, and I was privileged to be approached by Rebecca from Augustbird to create a pattern for a club she ran.
I have many pattern ideas running around in my brain, it’s just a challenge to get them all out and onto paper! I’m definitely not the only one in that boat!
Are you a process or project/product knitter? Or a bit of both? Explain.
Both! It really depends on my mood. Sometimes I like the mental challenge of learning a new technique or stitch pattern. It’s like solving a puzzle as I go along, frustrating as heck at the start! I might be reading a pattern by a designer I haven’t knit from before, or maybe the stitch pattern is completely new, or the construction! So many variables, but that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction you have when your item is completed and you have conquered the new stuff! Joy!
I also enjoy knitting for the product. A beanie, gloves, socks and shawls are usually my go to items. These are fun to create, usually fast, and I can make them as simple or as elaborate as I like.
What are your favourite colours to dye? Are these colours the same as the ones you prefer to knit with and/or wear? Why is this do you think?
My everyday wardrobe is full of muted colours, so I try to dye outside of this zone. Fashion magazines definitely come in handy and also seeing what the trends are with knitwear designers. #specklesaresohotrightnow is one that I’m sure we have all heard of!
I don’t have any particular favourite colour to dye, although creating the rainbow gradients are always fun!
What are you currently knitting?
I just completed my Summer Festival Cardigan and I would like to knit another.
On my needles right now is a pattern in development, and “Gypsy Drop” by Pekapeka which I am knitting in 4ply. I don’t have many WIPs (Works In Progress) as my brain can't cope with lots of unfinished items taunting me.
What five words would you use to describe yourself. Can you tell our readers a little bit about Briony beyond the persona of a dyer?
Quirky, Introverted, Abstract, Courageous, Expressive
What can we expect to see from Gradient in the next six to twelve months? What have you got in the pipeline?
There are a few long term projects on the go at the moment! Gradient will be at the Bendigo Wool and Sheep Show this year. Originally I wasn’t going to go as a stallholder, but an opportunity became available and I faced the fear and grabbed it!
There will also be a Yarn Club available later in the year, a first for me! The yarn is picked, I’ve dyed the prototype and the pattern design is happening! I am aiming for sign ups to be around August.
You can find Briony and Gradient in the following places. Make sure you pop over and say hi!
Briony has generously donated two prize packs for Milo May. If you haven't started knitting a milo yet these are sure to be an incentive.
KAL Prize 1: Yarn - Main Street DK "Glow" colourway. 100% Australian Wool, 200grams/400m approx. 10 Meow Stitchmarkers (Gold Tone). 1 hand block printed Project Bag
KAL Prize 2: Yarn - White Gum Wool DK "Spring Rainbow" colourway. 100% Tasmanian Merino, 100grams/236m approx. 10 Meow Stitchmarkers (Gold Tone). 1 hand block printed Project Bag
Not sure how to get involved in Milo May.
Last month I spent a morning at the Art Gallery of Ballarat at a launch for a project that I've been working on for quite some time with a wonderful bunch of people. The project is WARM and it explores a topic close to my heart; climate change.
Created by SEAM Inc. (Sustainable Environment Arts Movement), the idea for WARM was inspired by a sheep farmer, Frank, who had just sold the farm that had been in his family for five generations. Like many farmers, Frank had personally witnessed the effects of climate change on the land. He spoke of drier soil, less predictable weather, changing seasons and a new global economy that works against our small primary producers. Frank had also noticed a societal change:
"The problem is we've become so dependent on fossil fuels to keep warm, we've forgotten how to warm ourselves with wool."
And you know what? That is so true. It's all too easy to flick the switch on the heater to warm the house up or even to keep our houses at the same temperature climatically controlled all year round! We do this without thinking, without actually considering the appropriateness to the temperature of what we're wearing, and definitely without considering the implications for our planet.
Many of those garments that traditionally have been made from wool are now made from acrylic and polyester (both made from fossil fuels), neither of which have the warming and temperature regulating properties of wool. Have a look through your wardrobe and consider what percentage is man-made fibres and what percentage is a natural renewable fibre.
WARM was created to celebrate the beauty and practicality of wool as a way to keep warm. Wool has incredibly unique properties, one of them being that it is both renewable but also biodegradable. It's also fire resistant, deters dust mites, regulates temperatures, is insulating, long lasting, water repellant, less likely to stain, resists sweat and doesn't need to be washed as frequently as other fibres.
WARM also aims to make a strong and arresting statement about the redundancy of fossil fuels as an energy source.
'WARM is a large-scale collaborative textile project that's all about the community and their involvement.
The projects roots are embedded in two paintings created by Ballarat artist, Lars Sternberg.
The first image is a landscape scarred by coal mining - it is as desolate and desperate as you can imagine. The second image shows this same landscape many years after the coal mine has closed down. It is an image of hope as we see the regeneration of the land captured in the glorious colours of the Australian landscape.
My role in this project was to design a series of knitting patterns that would go towards recreating that second image in wool. Yep. It was as daunting, challenging and exciting as it sounds and it took me on a whole different route in my designing journey. Looking at a painting and reimagining it in small pieces much like a jigsaw or collage was a different approach and it resulted in the fifteen patterns that make up the project. My favourites are the wildflowers, which are all indigenous to my area, the gum leaves and of course, the wind turbine.
Now this is where the community of knitters come into the story. Knitters from all over Victoria, and even wider, are invited to knit up these patterns and contribute them to the installation - seriously we are going to need a whole lot of knitted pieces to recreate this massive image so get your needles into action and join us! We really do need as many people to join in as possible. You've got until August the 12th to knit but I suggest getting started early.
Once you've knit your pieces send them in or drop them at the Art Gallery of Ballarat or the National Wool Museum in Geelong. As well as knitting these pieces from your home or as part of your knitting group, there will be a number of knitting workshops for both adults and children held all over Victoria where you can join in and learn more about the project and the patterns.
So with Winter approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, knitters are well placed to help lead a change to our way of thinking when it comes to our over-reliance on fossil fuels and their role in warming us. Instead of cranking the heater, snuggle in a woollen jumper or blanket. Get active, ride your bike or walk somewhere instead of automatically taking the car. Consider renewable energy purchases and options.
We can also make a difference through our purchasing habits. As I mentioned earlier, wool is renewable and biodegradable. Acrylic, while it is cheap, comes with an environmental cost - it's made from petroleum and coal products, both non-renewables. There are also issues regarding fibres that don't biodegrade. Small particles find their way into our waterways and oceans with consequences for our aquatic landscapes and animals, and possibly even those who consume seafood.
We would love as many knitters as possible to join in this project.
You can find more information on the SEAM website here:
You can find the patterns on Ravelry here:
You can find details of the workshops and demonstrations here:
And of course, if you can, come along to the exhibition launch at the Art Gallery of Ballarat on September 3rd 2016 - or check out the exhibition in the weeks following the launch.
For devotees of seamless and circular knitting, it is inevitable that at some stage you're going to come across the term small circumference knitting. Small circumference knitting is all about how you knit those narrower pieces of circular knitting, like sleeves, socks or even mitts and gloves without having to worry about seaming at the end, because we all like to avoid seams as much as possible, right?
So what I thought I'd do in this post is look at the different options for small circumference knitting, what I like, what are the pros and cons of each technique, as well as post a couple of links to some good online tutes to help you out.
Teeny tiny circulars
If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I'm a big fan of teeny tiny circular needles. These are my go to for the majority of my small circumference knitting; sleeves, mitts and socks are all mostly churned out on these babies. I have three different sizes of these: 12"/30cm, 9"23cm and 8"/20cm in both nickel and bamboo.
Generally, I use my 12"/30cm circs for adult and children's sleeves. For baby sizes you really need the teeny 9"/23cm or 8"/20cm circulars. These are also the lengths I also use for knitting socks and mitts. Honestly, socks really just fly off the needles using these little needles.
The smaller needles in particular are perhaps a little fiddly when you're getting used to them, but they sure are a time saver. There is no stopping and starting to slide needles or stitches and no ladders; one of the more frustrating aspects of other small circumference knitting options.
My 12"/30cm needles come from Addi and ChiaoGoo, the 9"/23cm from ChiaoGoo and Hiya Hiya and the 8"/20cm from Addi (note these only go up to a US/3.75mm size)
These really are no different from knitting on say a 16"/40cm circular, although I'd probably suggest holding the needles closer to the tip than you perhaps usually do.
Double pointed needles (dpns)
Knitters tend to have either a love or hate relationship with dons and these were my first introduction to circular knitting. I still have a hat that I knit in my early twenties with fair isle work knit on dpns.
Double pointed knitting involves knitting with four or five needles at the same time. The needles are double ended which allows the work to slide off either end of the needle.
If you knit with dpns in public you do look incredibly clever, which does give them a terrific smug value. The downside is that if you drop one, there's a high probability it will roll out of sight. I'd hate to think how many of these suckers I've lost down the gaps in our back deck!
Those who don't like dpns, say that it can be hard to get the transition from needle to needle at the correct tension, be it too tight or too loose, which can result in a ladder. Frustrating!
Some tips for avoiding the ladders:
1. Use five needles instead of four. It seems illogical but the shallower angle between the needles when you're using five rather than four makes those transition stitches easier to knit.
2. Change the starting point on each needle periodically so that the transition spots are spread out through your knitting rather than stacked on top of each other.
3. Pull the second stitch, not the first, a bit tighter on each needle.
This is probably the most common method used for small circumference knitting. It involves using a longer length circular needle and doubling it back on itself to create a loop that sits to the side of the work in progress. The work is divided in half and sits either side of the loop.
Magic loop does involve shoving the cable in and out to rearrange the needle and the knitting. This does mean that there is a constant interruption to your knitting and if you're working on something quite small this can be a little frustrating as you never get that meditative zen flow going. When they talk about knitting being the new yoga, they're not thinking into account Magic Loop.
Some knitters also find they get ladders while magic looping. Again, this is due the the change in tension at the transition stitches. If this occurs, try the same tips as for DPNS.
I tend to use this method for those really small circular pieces that are even too small for my teen circulars, such as mitten thumbs or glove fingers.
Two circular needles
This is quite an easy method. Don't feel daunted by the use of two needles, I find this an easier and less fiddly option than magic loop. I tend to use shorter circulars than most people for this, and find that two 16"/40cms circulars work well for me. The second needle basically replaces the loop and the knitting is again divided in half with each half on a separate needle. You knit each half onto the same needle.
There is the usual pitfalls with the possibilities of ladders. Sometimes I have been known to knit onto the wrong needle and end up with the stitches all on the one needle. This can be avoided by using different colour needles or cable cord. If you look at the photo above, you'll see that I'm using a blue cable and a red cable to help differentiate between the two.
Travelling or Single Loop
This is a lesser known option but it's a goodie. It's ideal for those situations where you want to work something seamlessly but don't have a small enough cord, for example if you're knitting a hat but only have a 32"/80cm circular. The advantage of Travelling Loop is that the loop moves with your knitting, so it eliminates that stop and start knitting that comes with some of the other techniques. I really quite like this one and have used it in emergency situations when I haven't had my full kit of needles with me.
The downside is that due to the angle of the needles while working this technique and the length of the needle tips you can't really use it for really small circumferences such as socks.
I'm hoping to teach some classes around the traps this year on small circumference knitting, showing knitters the different techniques and giving them the opportunity to try out the different needles (particularly the teeny circulars without the outlay). If you're interested, keep your eye out for details.
If you'd like to try out a few of the different methods to see what suits you best, my pattern Chained is perfect for this. Give it a go!
So what's your favourite method?
Do you have any great tips for avoiding ladders?
My stock standard start to the year usually involves taking the month of January pretty much off from design work whilst my kids are on school summer holidays, and devoting my time to ferrying them to and fro from the various adventures that school holidays bring with it. After what often feels like a chaotic end to the year, this traditionally has very much been a welcome distraction and great way to help recharge my batteries. I spend my summer knitting for pleasure, quite often restocking our stash of knitted dishcloths for the year to come for both our use and for gifts, or maybe even indulging in a pleasurable knit for me. Yay!
Typically there is some kind of camping involved. Time spent in the bush by the seaside in this fabulous beauty of a tent. Man, I love this baby! Time spent away from the distractions of social media. It is a blissful time. It is a relaxing time. It is just what I need to recharge my batteries.
I love beginning my year like this. It feels like a fresh start and a slow ease into the year. And every year before January is even over, I am busting to get back to it, overflowing with new ideas and swatches and sketches waiting to be transformed. This is just the break I need to re-ingnite my enthusiasm and passion.
This year has been a little different though.
I'm working on a series of patterns that I MUST have ready for a deadline early this year. This has meant that I've had to work over the school holidays; the summer period. A time when not only are my children home ready for adventures, but so also is my husband.
It's not easy to work when adventure calls. It's not easy to work when the sun is shining outside. It's not easy to work when you'd really much rather be at the beach. It's not easy to work when your family is planning a wee adventure without you. It's not easy to work when your workspace is filled with people. It's not easy to work when really you'd rather be doing something else. But I've had to.
So rather than having a time where I traditionally recharge my batteries I've had to soldier on with just a short break over the Christmas to New Year week. Because of this I've really had to think a lot about finding focus and how to keep myself buoyed and committed to my work. Luckily, the pieces that I'm designing are small ones, bite sized bits of designing which really has made the task so much easier and has meant that I've been able to break this big task into smaller far more achievable tasks.
The instant gratification of these smaller pieces has also kept me focussed and encouraged me to explore the next new idea. It's been exciting and fun to watch my sketches transform so quickly into finished products. I've tried lots of new and different approaches in this task, which has kept it fresh and interesting - challenging but the novelty factor has made it so much fun.
Admittedly, amongst this work deadline we have been away camping and I've had to take my work with me. I think the saving grace allowing me to do so is that the pieces I'm working on are so small. I'm not sure two weeks camping with two adventure-mad kids and one equally energetic husband would have gone so well if I was designing a sweater!
So this summer's experience got me thinking about the age old problem that many crafters face; the lost mojo. Often I'll read posts in forums which go something like this, "Help! I've lost my mojo! How do I get it back?"
I thought I might address the issue of this lost mojo and see how it is that crafters can get that mojo back. Or even work towards a state where you never lose it to begin with.
I like to start with asking the big question;
Why have you lost your mojo?
What's made you lose your mojo?
Rather than just looking for a quick fix to the problem, we as crafters need to recognise what it is that brought us to the lost mojo point. If we can recognise what it is that brought about this state of malaise to begin with, we can maybe avoid it happening again. Maybe.
Have you been working too hard? (either on your craft or in our everyday career)
Are you feeling burnt out?
Is there no love for what yo're working on?
Do you feel like you have to finish what you're working on now?
Would you rather be crafting something else?
These are good questions to ask yourself to see if you can identify why you've lost your mojo. Quite often it's the realities and pressure of everyday life. Sometimes it might be that you're putting too much pressure on yourself as a crafter; either to achieve a deadline or some level of skill perfection.
So what do I do when my mojo is waning? Here's my top 10 tips that work for me.
1. Embrace polygamy
Cast on all the things. Anything you feel like. It doesn't matter if you don't finish anything and rip them all in a month just embrace the joy of starting a new project.
2. Instant Gratification
Make something small and quickly created.
Nothing makes you feel better than a finished wip - no matter the size.
3. Take a break
Sometimes you just need to walk away from your craft for just a wee bit. There's nothing wrong with that. Just go with it. It's much better than trying to force the love. It's okay to take a break, sometimes that's all we need to recharge our batteries. Sometimes all the big stuff in our lives doesn't leave much time for the simple pleasures. Don't push it, it will get there.
4. Try something new
Whether it's a new technique or even a completely different craft, sometimes the spice of variety is enough to get the creative ideas flowing again. Sew something, pick up your crochet hook, stitch up a small embroidery or even indulge in some colouring, baking, spinning or dyeing.
5. Visit a craft store
You don't need to buy anything, just immerse yourself in all that potential. All that colour, all that yarn, all that fabric.
6. Fondle your stash, surround yourself with your materials
Pat, fondle, caress. Think about and embrace the colours and textures of your stash. Let it speak to you. It will!
7. Rip the WIPs
If there's a pile of WIPS that you don't really want to finish or know they're not working for you, sometimes the most cleansing thing to do is to rip them out. Turn all that yarn back into potential rather than a monkey on your back.
8. Schedule crafting time into your day or try crafting at a different time of the day
If you're feeling over-stretched you might find that by the time you sit down to craft, you're too tired to think. Break up your day a bit differently and schedule some crafting time in at a different time. Put it in your calendar. Maybe try crafting for twenty minutes after work before you start dinner. Or when you sit down for your morning cuppa instead of flicking through Instagram, pick up your knitting.
9. Join or start a Craft Group
Hanging out with other crafters and seeing the pretty stuff that they're creating is always inspiring. Sometimes just the conversation with like-minded people is enough. Some times the girls at my craft group don't always craft, they just chat away. There is something terrifically inspiring and rejuvenating about hanging out with the same crafty souls on a regular basis. I adore my knitting group ladies!
10. Jump on the web
It seems counter-intuitive but wasting a bit of time on Ravelry, Pinterest or even Instagram looking at crafty things and new patterns make just get you out of the rut you're in.
So what do you like to do when you've lost your mojo?
How do you get out of your crafting slump?
I'd love to hear your strategies.
What I'm knitting: My Favourite in Shilasdair Luxury DK, Winter Loch colourway (still!)
The yarn on my desk: Egret by Augustbird (A beautiful blend of 70% WGW merino and 30% silk in a sport weight)
What I'm working on: A series of knitting patterns for an art project
What I'm reading: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
What I'm dreaming about: peaches and sunshine
And so just like that, it seems, it's 2016. This post is not going to be a reflective look back on 2015, a recap of all that I achieved or didn't achieve in that year. A post to revel in glories and admit to regrets. Instead, I'm going to start this year with what will possibly be quite a disjointed ramble about lots of things that are floating in my head at the moment.
There's something about the new year, the fresh page on the calendar that seems to plant so many ideas and plans in my brain. I'm ready to write lists and sketch images and swatch and get into any thing new. Any thing really that doesn't involve finishing those lingering WIPs and jobs from the last year. It just has to be fresh and new. I'm busting to cast on all the things and starting writing and swatching new patterns. I want to drag out all my fabric and sew up something straight away.
I'm not alone there, am I?
One thing I am going to drag over from last year, even the last few years, is the plan to blog more. There's this thing about blogs at the moment that's got me thinking a bit more about them and trying to re-focus and find the time to keep this one going. One of those reasons was a series of blog posts that I was super keen to follow up on last year but it didn't quite happen. I've also been thinking about the concept of the blog a bit lately and where the format is headed. All these new social media platforms seem to have almost brought about the demise of the blog and I have to admit for awhile there I really wasn't reading blogs in the same way I once did. I certainly wasn't blogging on this one either in quite the same way, and I'm not sure that readers were engaging in quite the same way. I know that I'm not alone there and I've seen a number of big name bloggers either cease blogging or drastically decrease their blogging. Whether that's a consequence of the changing landscape of social media or other factors come into play it's hard to know, but blogging is definitely currently on the outer. Google "the demise of the blog" and you'll find countless blog posts (ha!) and articles written about this. The quick fix of social media platforms that allow you to engage with more people and give you approval with a simple click of a like button has had quite an effect on the comments sections of most blogs.
But, and this is a big but, I think the potential is there for a swing back, and this is why.
Facebook is definitely the platform that is killing off blogs. It's massive, incredibly so. With this growth however, more and more restrictions and unseen controls on content has eventuated. There has been a lot of chatter behind the scenes on Facebook lately about the declining reach of Facebook posts, particularly those that contain words like "discount", "sale" and links to outside pages. You can almost guarantee that a post around the same time from the same page with a link to another Facebook page will get at least double the reach of the first post, It seems that Facebook is filtering out of people's feed the very information that they want to learn from that page! To test this out earlier this week I posted two posts on Facebook within two hours of each other. The first post was a "marketing" post with the naughty words "20% discount" and "coupon code". The second post linked to a post on another Facebook page with a much much smaller audience than mine. The second post had four times the reach of the first. What that does highlight is that if you want your marketing posts to get out there, the ones that your customers often want to see, you have to pay the boosted post game that Facebook traps you into, because they're not going to show your readers your post otherwise.
As far as preferred social media platforms go, I much prefer Instagram. It's a procession of the pretty and lovely. It's a quick and easy engage and generally it doesn't have the negativity factor that seems to encompass Facebook at times. At the same time, however, Instagram does perpetuate more than any other social media platform the idea of the celebrity of perfection. If anything, the last year in Instagram land has taught us that there are Instagrammers who are actually PAID to promote goods and companies in their posts (did this shock you a little as it did me). We've also become ever-questioning of the portrayal of perfection that rings out from staged photos. The Socality Barbie account demonstrated that so very perfectly!
So where does this leave blogging?
I wonder if blogs are going to be a bit like book shops. The advent of the Kindle and e-books took a heavy toll on bookshops, particularly those small independent ones. Some "experts" even predicted that books would one day become a thing of the past. 2015 however, saw the opposite happen. People are going back to physical books. There are definitely e-book lovers out there but physical book sales actually increased in 2015 and it looks like a trend that will continue. Books are real and physical; tangible - and a new book smells so good in a way that a Kindle never can. They're also prettier in an IG photo (just kidding).
I do wonder if the return of the book is echoing an embrace of a simpler way of living. Ironically enough, I see so many photos on Instagram that speak to me of people looking for that simpler way or life, yearning for some of the simplicity that we perhaps romanticise about from our own childhood; or in the very least, attempting to portray an embrace of that lifestyle. Maybe because social media is so so busy, that in our "real life" we need to embrace the simple, the wholesome and the less. I don't know. Maybe physical books offer far more of an escape from the world of social media than an e-book can. Maybe we just yearn for the tactile feeling of actually turning the pages of a book.
So my thinking about all this lead me to consider and ponder whether we're going to see a similar revival of the blog, because while yes, there are a great deal of bloggers who have simply become yet another promotional tool for business, (one of my previous favourite blogs is now basically just full of sponsored posts) there are those genuine ones who open their heart and soul to their readers, or who offer terrific information, tutorials and discussions in a way that other platforms on social media simply can't. And realistically, blogging has been around for so long that some of those original blogs still in action almost can claim vintage status. A blog is like a home that a writer invites you into. It becomes a friendship where you can drop in any time unannounced. Where it doesn't matter if you haven't seen each other for quite some time, you still just pick up the friendship where it left off. There's a depth to a blog that you just can't get in a Facebook post, tweet or Instagram photo. And when you offer depth, it much easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.
So I don't know, I think I'm going to persevere with my blog this year.
I'm going to post that series of blog posts I didn't end up posting last year because I thought blogs had lost their way. I'm going to continue to share my crafting and designing journey with you, talking about the good bits as well as the struggles. I'm going to continue to share the good bits that I know about crafting that I think will help other crafters out - because at the heart of it, that is the most important aspect of the crafting community - the sharing of knowledge.
What I'm knitting: My Favourite in Shilasdair Luxury DK, Winter Loch colourway
The yarn on my desk: Adagio Alpaca Mills 8ply (the yarn from my Kickstarter reward)
What I'm working on: A series of knitting patterns for an art project
What I'm reading: South of Darkness by John Marsden
What I'm dreaming about: cooler and slower days and camping in my much loved tent
As you travel down along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, you're witness to some of the most beautiful and rugged coastline in the world. It's a coast road that tourists travel from all over the world to drive, and with good reason - it is spectacularly wild, sheer, foreboding and inviting all at the same time. Nestled behind the coast road, and hidden down side roads are a number of just as spectacular camping spots - camping spots that we love to return to again and again. Camping spots that we've shared with friends, where we've made new friends and also visited alone, just by ourselves. These are the places that will figure prominently in my children's memories when they reminisce about their childhood trips spent in the SoulPad. Aire River is home to one of these fabulous camping spots.
I actually knit the sample for this pattern over two years ago. The idea was something Lily and I arrived at together, with some consideration given to the many requests I was getting for a long sleeved version of Griffin. While Aire River borrows the mitred neckline from Griffin, it's probably more feminine in shape due to the A-lin shaping in the body and the flared sleeves. I think when you know that, you can see how this one naturally developed.
When it came to testing, my group of faithful testers convinced me to grade it up to larger sizes than I usually do for my kid patterns as they suspected it would very much capture the teen market. And so I did. The size range is from 19 to 32 inches/48 to 81cm chest circumference with another 3 to 4 inches of positive ease in the pattern itself. It's a roomy snuggly sweater to wrap yourself up in as protection against the beach wind chill.
Like the majority of my designs for kids, Aire River is knit from the top down. It uses a seamless raglan construction which makes for quick and easy knitting in the Aran weight yarn recommended for this pattern. It has some cute wee touches that I love; the fake side seams, the splash of contrast colour in the inseam pockets, the bell shaped sleeves, the shaping of the hood and of course, the mitred neckline. I don't think I'm done with the mitred neckline just yet, I really do love the way it looks and gives the opportunity to play with contrast yarn. In this instance, the Noro Sillk Garden was just perfect. I had a number of balls that I'd picked up as end of dye lots (I know!) fro $5 each and honestly, it didn't even matter that they weren't even the same colourway!
Keep in touch
Who am I?
Craftin' Mummy about the house to the always gorgeous and very silly Miss Lily Rainbow and very snuggly and smiley Toby Milo, wife of the adventurous Andy, underwater man extraordinaire.
Print Patterns for LYS available from:
Yarnies I love: