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.)
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.
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.
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.