An Australiana Sock Experiment

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to find and quickly snaffle another second hand spinning wheel on Gumtree, which is a free online classifieds site in Australia. Spinning and knitting aren’t exactly big things here in tropical Queensland, so it can be difficult to track down a bargain. Wheels are often listed at twice the price they are down south! I had been on the lookout for one for a while. My own little wheel couldn’t cope with the variety of yarns I now want to spin.
But I digress…this post is actually about the local fleece that was thrown in with the wheel, unwashed but packed extremely neatly in a box with the label ‘X breed from Howard’. I do so love a bit of random fleece! Because it isn’t precious, you can experiment.

I had been thinking about making my own handspun socks from scratch for a while now. There are plenty of sites that examine this in detail, so I won’t elaborate too much. I played with this fleece, and discovered it would suit the purpose. But I wanted stripey socks, and this fleece was all white.  
I have chemical dyes but…nah, where’s the challenge in that? 🙂 I decided these would be 100% Aussie socks, local fleece dyed with local plants. I was determined only to use natives from our property. I knew from previous experience they would make a variety of yellows, so I figured…sunshine socks!
With a few tips from this book…

I got down to it. This was SO MUCH FUN! It is chemistry, art and craft combined, plus later there was even maths! Squee! 🙂
Firstly I scoured the fleece in small batches. Then I tried the vegetation that doesn’t require a mordant – lichens, staghorn fern and some eucalypts. The whole house smelt like koala breath (eucalypts) and cheap aftershave (lichens). (NB you should really do this outside. Do as I say, not as I do.) 

The colours were very pretty, and the lichens in particular were amazing.

Lichens grow very slowly and can easily be wiped out of an area if you over-harvest, so I only got very small amounts from around Ravensridge. These three were the main ones I collected.

Then I tried a variety of foliage after mordanting the scoured fleece with alum.

Different types of gum leaves, banksia cones, grevillea leaves, bracken fern fronds, casuarina bark, paperbark, stringybark. This produced lots of shades of yellow, plus tans, oranges and pinks, and a slightly greeny-yellow I got from a native grass. 

I kept my usual meticulous notes regarding weights and volumes.

It all began to look like a sunrise. I then made another mordant using vinegar and old rusty bits of iron from the train. With yellow stringybark leaves and bark, it made the fleece the most luscious purpley grey. 

I decided to save that for another project though, and stick with the ‘shades of yellow’ socks.
I now had fourteen shades. I had figured I would just spin it, ply it and knit it. Um…yeah. But how much of each colour? How thick would the finished yarn be? How long did I want my socks? It will surprise no one to learn I hadn’t thought this through at all. So now came the maths. I weighed out little sections of coloured fleece for each sock, leaving a bit extra for waste from combing. I figured I would make the socks look like a paint chart, and keep a list of which plant produced each colour for posterity.
Then I combed each section carefully using my Majacraft mini combs and arranged them in a colour scheme. 

I used my old handmade wheel to spin (worsted, short forward draft with lots of twist) and chain/Navajo ply. 

It took a few days to do this. In the end I got two skeins, 170 and 172m respectively. Could have been worse.
Finally done and drying on the line.

So for the socks, I used 56 stitches on 3mm double pointed needles. I used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel as usual. But I did do these toe-up to make sure the toes were the lightest colour. I just reversed my usual vanilla sock pattern.

The completed Sunrise Socks. 

I don’t seem able to get one photo that actually shows the true colours though! This one is closest.

I’m very happy with them. Except that the bits I dyed with lichen STILL smell like cheap aftershave! 🙂


57 thoughts on “An Australiana Sock Experiment

  1. As I got to the final part of this post Bianca, I began to laugh out loud – looking at the photograph of your lovely sunshiny socks – knowing you had shopped, purchased, got a bargain fleece thrown in, researched, scavenged, dyed, [even made notes]; spun, washed, and finally knitted up a pair of socks while I have still not gotten past row four of my two at a time toe up pattern. 🙂 [In all fairness, I’ve made five or eight starting attempts and have become relatively confident about the cast on process………. 🙂 ]

    I resorted to frogging back a failed crochet vest rather than spend any more evenings laboriously trying to sort out infinitely tiny stitches – but I am inspired by you and WILL return to the fray – soon. But I guess I won’t be harvesting any lichen to dye my own yarn in a hurry xo

    Fab job, most inspiring – whatever will you get up to next?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha thank you Pauline, honestly two at a time sounds far too hard to me! And toe up too…no wonder you’re having trouble starting. But I seriously can’t wait to see them when they get going, and glad to hear you will persist! I think the start is always the hardest part of a sock by far. Xo (Yes stay away from that lichen, it really stinks…in a very sickly sweet kind of way)


      • Hahaha, you are too cute Pauline, I think one at a time would definitely be easier 🙂 there’s something of a joy in mismatched hand knitted socks…but I suspect they’ll be more similar than you expect! (Still dying to see the two at a time ones though…I read the instructions for some, yowsers! :))


  2. I truly enjoy this kind of process, Bianca, and followed your steps with great interest. I was reminded of my days as a working calligrapher, when a great part of the fun was researching the old ways: collecting wing feathers from geese, trimming and shaping the goose quills for pens and curing them in hot sand, making ink from oak galls or squid, pouncing and pumicing sheep skin into parchment, and then using these tools to letter an illuminated page of script….the crafts of generations long gone are truly amazing and oh so satisfying to try to accomplish in our time of readymades. A beautiful project. I am in love with those socks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh, what an amazing job you had! I love love love the sound of researching the ‘old ways’ with regard to manuscripts. There is something immensely satisfying about accomplishing something without the aid of modern conveniences. Pioneer spirit or streak of independence, not sure what it is but it does feel good. 🙂 thanks very much Cynthia 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How cool is that?!? I’m with Cynthia on this–these sorts of projects are so interesting, and I love how this connects you to the people who lived there before you, as well as to the land itself. To know the local plants, where and how they grow, and how they can be used–what a wonderful connection to your home.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, those are stunning! Not only are the colours incredible, but following the whole process from fleece and plants to finished socks was fascinating. Wear them with pride… and hopefully the aftershave smell will fade after a wash or two!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re a legend in your own lifetime, woman! We all sit (or stand, if we’re being ergonomic) and read what you have done, and can only applaud every move you make! Well done, clever lass. You must get such a sense of accomplishment from the processes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thanks so much Yvonne, you made me blush! 😊 this one was a particularly satisfying journey, and I’m so grateful to have the time and space to experiment! I’ve caught the dyeing bug now, so things are only going to get bigger and messier. 🙂 thanks for your lovely comments x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a cool project! You’re so right about experimenting with fleece – I need to let go of the idea that the fleeces I’ve got are precious and need to be processes perfectly and just have fun! I also like your very meticulous dye notes, lol. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much 🙂 I know right, I sit and look at fleeces I’ve bought and am too scared to do anything ‘out of the box’ with them in case I fail spectacularly…but then they end up not getting used at all, so have decided I am going to try and take more risks…if nothing else can get a good ‘nailed it’ meme out of it… I look forward to seeing you have fun with your fleeces too! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Thursday Sock-Along: Sock Karma! | alexand knits

  8. Wowsers! I love the way you take us through the process, and what a process it is! And those socks are indeed like a sunrise. I also liked the fact that amid all your unfamiliar (to me) plants and animals, the lichens are the same, even if they smell like cheap aftershave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lisa, wow I didn’t know that about the lichens, and wouldn’t have suspected it either! How interesting 🙂 the smell was odd because it only came out after heating, before that they didn’t smell at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have always been attracted to shiny things. I am a life experience magpie who wants to know how things work and who collects processes like other people collect random paraphernalia. My collections don’t gather dust (but they do take up a LOT of hard drive space and my Pinterest boards are enormous ;)). Where can I begin with this post? “SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!” might be a good place to start. I have a virgin (to me anyway,) spinning wheel in my spare room that I, also, procured from Gumtree. I have a selection of combed alpaca fleece that could be turned into delicious yarn. I have a problem in that I might collect every process known to man, but I have this incredible blockage between collecting and producing. I have an amazing sourdough starter in my fridge. It’s still in its dehydrated state. I am sitting here admiring the heck out of you, your socks, the colours, the processes (the delicious processes!) I need to get that spinning wheel spinning (or ride a painted pony in disgust with myself). I also have a very strong desire to turn yarn into socks. It was piqued by the current sock trend but I tend not to latch on to “trends”. The sock thing is both functional and enticing to me as Earl just ate a goodly proportion of our sockage when he discovered that middle aged people tend to go to sleep when they have had their dinner and are crocheting/reading (me) or watching Netflix (Steve) and that means that their shoes and socks are not being guarded quite as fiercely as they tend to be when we are awake (and wearing said shoes and socks and are thus able to fend off his attacks). This property might be rocky, arid (hard to believe at the moment as it’s practically Serendipity Swamp and we have to wear gumboots just to go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea…) in the summer, full to the brim of rocks and clay and feral animals but we do have a surplus of lichen and thus, should I manage to overcome my irrational fear of “doing” rather than “collecting”, I could make all of the dye/cheap aftershave I want and still not make a dent in the local population. To say that this post has me excited would be a gross understatement. I just saved the whole post in a pdf and will be poring over it myopically for the rest of the day. I truly NEED to get over my fear of craft failure and have a go at spinning. If I could spin yarn a sixty forth as lovely as the yarn that you just produced, I would be in seventh heaven. You are inspirational 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you sooo much for those lovely comments Narfie, you certainly do your share of reciprocal inspiring…pics of your veggie garden had me ripping mine out earlier in the year and starting again and now so happy to have one finally working (we also share the difficult (although very low maintenance) property problems, such as zero soil) but seeing how you meet your particular challenges always inspires me. And the other major thing (that I irrationally thought ‘oh narf would be proud of me’ (because bloggers we have never met are naturally proud of our random daily activities)) I did join a spinners and weavers group!! I have only been once so far, but it was brilliant and am so happy I forced myself out of my solitary comfort zone. So your very good influence is spreading as far as QLD at the very least 🙂 I reeeeally hope you try out your local spinning group(s) sometime, and become a sock addict too (M’s 15 year old son asked me for a pair yesterday…holy crap they must be getting popular if teenagers want them!!)….although I have compete empathy for your predicament. I have found that, although I’m pretty much doing what I’ve always done, having the blog forces me to actually finish, and within an ‘appropriate’ length of time. So for that it is a godsend, and helps create firm decisions when I am naturally a more scattered sort of per…Oooh what’s that? Shiny! 😉 I want to see…need to see…more stinky lichen socks! You can do it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • We walked the dogs up our road this morning and all I could see was trees full of delicious lichen! I agree with you about socks. When teenagers are asking for socks, you KNOW that they must be trending ;). Well done on the spinners group and I am going to truly check into when my local group meet. I am quite sure they don’t bite, or initiate newcomers like the bikers do (eek!) We got the first 4 fridges up and into Sanctuary today and I harvested some yacon, some Jerusalem artichokes and discovered that my turmeric has had babies so the terror that is mud infused Sanctuary was tamed somewhat by a bit of a harvest, albeit a small one. Come next growing season we will be up to our ears in veg! Loving the sharing and shared your blog post on my Facebook feed so that all of my crafty mates could saunter over and take a goosey gander at the gorgeousness 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow!!! Oh. My. Gosh. To say those socks are fantastic would be an understatement (and they were no doubt dried on a lovely pair of hand made perspex sock shapers!). To have a pair of socks that is also a dye log of local flora is such a wonderful idea. I’m in total agreement with narf7 .. I think I may have to .pdf this post for future reference as well!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: The post where nature laughs uproarously and sucks on her trousers – serendipityrevisited

  12. OH! MY!! GOSH!!!!!!! This is the most wonderful blog post I’ve read in ages. What a fascinating process! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the fabulous show and tell!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I absolutely take my hat off to you. You are truly amazing. Making socks right from the very beginning to the very end. What a stunning process. I loved to see all the dyes you collected and used from nature.
    Your socks are just perfect. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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