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! 🙂

B

Crocheting Socks

Ever wanted to try crocheting a sock? Yeah, me neither. But sometimes you just need to live life on the edge, man.
I like knitting socks. I’ve knit upwards of forty pairs (having put that in writing, I’m thinking I perhaps need to get out more). And I’ve pushed plenty of people, such as the delightful Mary Tang, into trying it too, for better or for worse. 🙂

  
But I was interested in trying a different effect and texture. So I just did an online course in how to crochet a sock. I also thought that it might be a quicker option than knitting them and might give a nice thick sock for boots for the next trip to Finland. 

I pretty much expected to skip easily through the pattern. Yeah, nope, that didn’t happen. The ‘basic sock’ pattern which accompanied the course – which is an e-patternscentral course by Rohn Strong – involves using foundation double crochet, front and back post stitches for the ribbing and extended single crochet. Wtf. It isn’t that hard, but none of these I would consider basic. The foundation double crochet in particular needed heaps of practice to get smooth. There was a LOT of frogging and swearing going on at Ravensridge over the weekend.
One of my first attempts, using Lana Grossa Meilenweit India.
  
The first few tries came out way too big following the pattern and suggested hook size, so I eventually gave in and decided to swatch. I finally got gauge with a tiny 2.5mm hook instead of a 3.75mm as suggested. Weird.
A further attempt with a different yarn just felt awful and dense and scratchy. This is Drops Fabel Long Print.

  
So I went back to a tried and true Australian yarn, Bendigo Woollen Mills sock yarn. The colours are not me, but it worked. 🙂 Right size, nice fabric feel, and I’ve got the hang of the stitches now.

  
Another benefit to the crochet version is being able to easily try it on as you go.

   
   
The finished sock fits well and stays up. It’s hard to take photos of socks on your own feet. 

   
   
I really like Rohn Strong’s designs, and the course presentation was fine, although there’s a couple of numerical errors in the accompanying printed pattern.
Will I crochet more socks? Well, at least one more, to go with the one I’ve finished. It uses more yarn to crochet them, as you would expect, but makes a nice dense fabric, and now I’ve got the hang of it I think it will actually be much faster than knitting. So I would say…yes. Yes I will. Next up I’ll probably try some for M as he only wears boot socks. And knitting a size 14 on 2.5mm needles? Ain’t nobody got time for dat. Not even me. 
B 🙂

Thursday thingies

This week began with an encounter with a 6ft long king brown snake as thick as my wrist. It was attempting to get into the ceiling of our outside pantry, a building that is half sculpted into the surrounding rock. I didn’t get a photo unfortunately as I was too busy running in the other direction, but maybe next time. It was up there, at the top of the hidden staircase.  
A further encounter was much more pleasant. I have a ‘fairy path’ that M cut for me through the undergrowth from the train to the front gate, and this guy was ambling up it. He picked a rather small tree to climb up, and wasn’t too bothered when M stroked his back, although he looks a little indignant. I am informed it was ‘reeeeally soft!’ 🙂

  

   
We discovered a nest in a hanging basket by the back door and M used remote shooting with his fancy schmancy camera to get these shots. It’s a shrike thrush. Trying saying that ten times.

   
   
We’ve been working in the garden despite the heat, and still uncovering surprises. 

Surprise pineapple.

  
Surprise rock wall. The wall itself was fairly obvious, but only when it was cleared did we discover the three seats built into it. I am calling it the ‘three bears’ wall.

  
M’s orchids are flowering. There are several vanilla orchids going crazy too, very excited to think we may end up with our own vanilla pods. Because this is a scruffy ‘wild’ garden, we are keeping it low maintenance.

  
    
  
I have now had five patterns accepted by a magazine here in Australia, so much of my time lately has been spent writing patterns and ‘secret knitting’ – wrist cuffs, tea cosy, journal cover, hat and bag. But there are also WIPs galore.

Finland sweater creeping downward
  
My fourth Metallicus

  
One sock completed in Lana Grossa Meilenweit ‘India’. I frickin love this. 🙂 

  
And a scarf that I’ll post a free pattern of shortly.

  
I’m expecting a big yarn order any day now, and soooo excited!!

But in the meantime I received the most perfect gift…
  
Something for the knitter who has everything…..a surprise present from M.

They are sterling silver, beautifully made by a Canadian jeweller called wearthou on etsy. You can imagine my excitement. 🙂 I never want to take them off. 🙂

  

B 🙂

Sock Selfies and Spin Time

Knitting-wise, there’s a lot of secret magazine designing and knitting going on which I can’t show. 😦 boohoo. But I did finish two pairs of socks this week too, one in Drops Delight and one in Bendigo Woollen Mills Sock, using my standard top down 60 stitches with fish lips kiss heels.
   
    
 I am also slowly work on setting up the ‘fibre room’ in the train. I have made room for my spinning wheel finally, and have one comfy corner just for spinning and a table for fleece processing. M and I rescued my wheel from oblivion in the top shed, cleaned it down, rubbed back all the metal and oiled it up. 

   
 Mine is a small wheel, purchased about 15 years ago from the loveliest little old man in Littlehampton, South Australia, who handmade them to his own design. The original rubber drive band died ages ago (to be replaced by upholstery buttoning twine), but other than that I have never had a problem with it.  

   
 When I started spinning, I actually thought there was something physically wrong with me, I just could not get it. I was frankly pretty shocked by this. I’ve taught myself many things from books, and did not expect to fail. The pictures all made sense, but my various appendages refused to cooperate with each other. After actual tears of frustration, I finally worked out I spin left handed. (I am right handed but I do the odd random thing like skateboard and chop firewood left handed too, so a more astute person would have probably spotted that earlier.) The joy of finally coordinating everything could not be described. 🙂 And a stroke of luck is that my wheel is fairly symmetrical and so ambidextrous.

I like imperfect spinning. It’s a combination of personal taste and lack of motivation. I know there are the most amazing spinners out there. For me though, spinning is about self sufficiency, reminiscent of the seventies, mud brick and stone houses, wood stoves, sheep out the back, a tyre swing. Handspun jumpers were rough and lumpy and occasionally smelly and very warm. That’s the feeling I go for. And I also can’t justify investing the effort and time to make yarn that looks like the bought stuff. Or why wouldn’t I just buy it? I like my handspun to look like handspun. And fortunately, my lack of ambition (and skill) means it does. 🙂
Many of my spinning tools are now missing after a lifetime of moving, so this weekend the lovely M whipped me up a niddy noddy out of dowel, and has plans for a Lazy Kate. 

  
For many years I kept alpacas, goats and sheep and still have copious quantities of fleece. But that does not stop me buying more if it is GREY. 🙂 I picked up this fleece really cheaply two weeks ago on eBay, a grey merino, lovely and soft.

   
 For some reason, Atticus Finch has a fleece obsession, it’s like catnip to him. Last time I left a fleece still packaged in a post bag on the coffee table when I went to work, I came home to find the bag completely shredded, and him asleep in a nest in the middle of it. So now he is not left unsupervised with fleece.
Everyone has their own way of preparing a fleece for spinning, and I thought I would share a staccato version of mine.

  
I find a big fleece a bit overwhelming, and I know I don’t do as good a job when I try to wash in bulk. So usually I just do a little a day over the course of a couple of weeks. That’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, I know, but I’m more of a ‘process’ person rather than a ‘product’ person, so I don’t mind if it is slow. 
I grab a couple of handfuls at a time. Before washing, I open out the matted ends. You can do this with a flick carder, I use an old dog brush. 

   
 If your immune system is a touch dodgy too, and even if it isn’t, always bear in mind the sheep germs. There should be a lot of hand washing and disinfecting. Don’t touch your mouth. Also tetanus shot should be up to date (she says, realising hers isn’t. Whoops. Hypocrite.).
I fill the sink with hot water, it should be hot enough to need gloves on. Some people add a kettle of boiling water too. The heat melts the lanolin. A big squirt of detergent comes next, sometimes I use wool wash but I usually find Fairy works the best.

  
Submerge the fleece but don’t agitate. The steam smells awesome! If you like the smell of dirty sheep, that is. Which apparently I do. Leave for twenty minutes or so. Don’t leave it forever or allow to cool down or the lanolin will reset and make a dirty mess.
Drain the water (use a sink strainer). Handle the fleece as little as possible. This is easier said than done. All I want to do is scrunch and swirl and play with it. But then you just end up with a lump of felt. 
If the fleece is very dirty, I repeat the washing step. Then it’s on to the rinsing.

 Refill with sink with hot water and soak a few minutes. Repeat the rinse once more. There should be no more bubbles.

  

I roll the wet fleece in a towel to blot, then hang it in this thing to dry. I have no memory of what this is or where it came from, but for as long as I have been spinning, I have been using it to dry fleece.

  
I have an Ashford drum carder which is always fun to use, and occasionally I use handcarders so I can say I made rolags. I love that word. Rolag. Rolag. Rolag.

  
Then I spin the fluff.

  
That’s as far as I have gotten this week. Next week I’ll ply some up. 🙂
B

Quick review: Mini circulars

I must have been living under a rock (or perhaps just on a hill in the middle of nowhere) to not have noticed that mini circular needles existed. I kept looking at other knitter’s sock blogs thinking ‘gee that needle looks small’… And then subsequently thinking nothing more about it.
Then finally it clicked, I googled them, and read a few reviews. I loved the idea of a tiny circular, just the right size for socks, which I knit a lot of. The reviews said you either love the needle or hate it. So I bought a Hiya high stainless steel 9″ with sharp points. It came with a little stitch marker, which I thought was cute.

  
I was soooo excited to use it. And it turns out….
I hate it. 😦 ho hum. I tried so hard to like it, I really did. I persisted through inches of rib cuff and stockinette. And it did certainly get a bit easier as I progressed. But I felt like a big fat giant knitting in a dolls house. M laughed at me. He is, as I have mentioned previously, massive. It looked even more ridiculous in his hands.

  
It was kind of like knitting with two darning needles with a string between them. Because they are so short, you have to come up with a whole new technique. Which in itself isn’t bad if you are enjoying it, but I wasn’t. My gauge was far, far tinier, my knitting much slower and I kept getting hand cramp. Also I had to knit right under a lamp, squinting at it. I am a British style knitter, not continental, so this may also have something to do with it.
I’m glad I tried it, but for now it’s back to the double points for me. Speaking of, I recently received a belated birthday present, shipped all the way from Finland, how cool is this. Designed so you can throw your dpns in a bag and not lose stitches.

  
   
All recycled materials, this guy is awesome. Love his shop on Etsy.

B 🙂

Five FOs in five days (and then some more)

My weekly posts are rapidly getting out of hand in length, so from now on there’ll be at least two a week from me I think!
It wasn’t actually a conscious plan to get all these things finished over the last week, circumstances just combined fortuitously to give me time and motivation. And you know what this means…I can now start (at least) five new things!! Woohoo!! 😀

1. Metallicus Tee

This is my new Wolfberry Knits pattern, an easy, chunky, top-down seamless tee with slightly gathered front and an a-line shape. Yay for more pockets! 🙂 Because it’s 10 ply, I can knit one of these up in under three days. So I did a second one in Drops Bomull-Lin this week, and began a third in Rowan’s (sadly discontinued) Calmer.
   
    
 
Will be published in the next day or so.

2. Knitting project bag

 I broke my ‘no commissions’ rule for once because of the challenge of this one…it was commissioned as a present for someone who liked ‘red, black, Scottish stuff and Scottie dogs’… I found the perfect fabric on eBay. There was enough left to make a little matching lined drawstring bag too.

  
 

3. Drawstring bags

 In my usual style, when I had made one thing that was really fun, I got a bit fixated… Several drawstring bags later…. 🙂 they’re all lined, and I put little pockets inside each of these too for stitch markers etc. They’re handy for travelling with small projects and for gifts.

 
4. Big Socks 
M’s birthday this week, which always involves at least one pair of socks. He has size US 15s, so he’s lucky he gets any, really. 🙂 These are plain vanillas on 5mm needles, a 40 st cast on with a fish lips kiss heel. The yarn is Drops Big Fabel, chunky sock yarn.

  

5. Paracord Bracelet

 Um, okay, I have been assured most vehemently that these are ‘macho survival tactical Bear Grylls-style man wear’. And here was me thinking it was just a friendship bracelet. M wanted one, so I made him one after watching a couple of (super macho survival tactical testosterone-laden) YouTube videos.
Turns out I was wrong, is not a friendship bracelet at all, I’d say is probably more closely related to macrame. Don’t tell M. 

  
 
Actually, I have finished heeeeeaps of stuff lately. But ‘Five FOs’ had a nice ring to it.
Here’s a couple more things I’ve recently completed:

Book covers
It took me a little while to get the pattern right. I had to have a pen holder in there somewhere! 🙂 I’ll post the pattern as a freebie to Craftsy when I get the chance.

   
   

Preemie hats and baby blankets

These will be going to ‘Knitting for Brisbane’s Needy’ when the pile gets a bit bigger.
  
Embroidered tie dye woollen vest

Had been sitting in pieces in my sewing wips drawer for no less than SIX years. Yikes. Of course now I don’t like that my embroidery isn’t evenly spaced. What kind of crazy hippie was I back then? One without a ruler, apparently. Geez. Still, I’ll put some wooden buttons on it and give it to someone.
  
Hebel Owl

Something my Dad has got me into, sculpting Hebel. This was my first attempt. I enjoyed it, though I’m definitely not a natural sculptor. Like I need another hobby. 
   
   
The train is definitely an inspirational environment to get things finished in. Although the passing wildlife can, on occasion, be distracting. 

   
   
Happy creating! 🙂

B

Counting chickens

It goes without saying really, but I loved Hobart. And of course I did venture back to a yarn store….or two. 🙂
Salamanca Wool Store was my favourite. The selection was small, but the staff were really lovely and they had a lot of locally produced yarn. They also stock my favourite Knitpro Symfonie needles. I purchased this as my holiday ‘souvenir’, one ball made of Tasmanian Possum, merino and silk, and a circular needle to knit it with on the plane home. 

  
  I got this far into a slouchy beanie flying home. This yarn is DIVINE. So soft and warm. One day I’ll take out a personal loan so I can purchase enough for a sweater. 

  
  I also visited The Stash Cupboard. There was an impressive range of yarns, especially American yarns. This is one part of the shop (taken with permission). The service here was..less good? for lack of a better term, but I could not go past this sparkly sock yarn. I am such a sucker for sparkles! It is taking a lot of will power not to start another sock with this before I’ve finished some other pairs.

   
    

I also got these Chiaogoo needles which are ‘flexible straight needles’, a concept I was not familiar with, but I loved the idea as I can’t knit well with standard straight needles. Of course I could just use a circular but my various 4mm/US 6 circulars are often all in use, so this is a nice back up.
  
I finished my Drops Uni Fabel extremely pink socks, though I shan’t photograph them because they’re in the wash. I did finish one Drops Delight sock as well.
  
It was an awesome trip. I love the cold, but M hates it, which is why he didn’t come with me. Something that really pleased me was that the cold didn’t affect my autoimmune stuff, no Raynauds, no joint pain. I don’t usually talk too much about health, and I don’t want to count chickens before they’re hatched…but almost two years into a strict Paleo diet and a complete change of lifestyle, and it’s definitely working…. I wouldn’t presume to suggest it would work for anyone with autoimmune disease, but I did a whoooollle lotta research, which led me to believe that 1) getting off the medication was a great idea, and 2) that this might be the way to accomplish that. So far, so good. There was a paleo inspired cafe in Hobart too, Cafe Lola. The coffee was good, and I highly recommend the ‘Paleo Puff’. Sorry for the pic, I got it takeaway and had it by the harbour. 🙂

   
   A few photos to finish. I visited the Salamanca Markets on Saturday morning, they were large and fun, if a little on the pricey side. I recommend the natural fruit roll ups. I also took the Red Decker bus for a tour, including the Cascade Brewery, and visited the Tasmanian Art Gallery and Museum (where the guards are extremely friendly, by the way!). The exhibitions were incredible. The thylacine one even had me in tears. 

   
   
   
   
   
    

And now back home, after what feels like a lot of self indulgence, it’s time to turn outward for a little while with some gift and charity knitting. Not the possum beanie though. That’s definitely for me. 🙂

B

 

  

   
 

   
 

Back to the needles..

I was recently approached by a magazine here in Australia asking if I’d like to design a project for them. So that’s partly what’s secretly been on the needles the last couple of weeks. I knitted up two designs for them, some delicate lace and cable cuffs and a woodland style tea cosy, and they want to run them both so I’m pretty happy with that. 🙂

Other things on the needles this week….Some faux fair isle socks from Bendigo Woollen Mills, plain vanilla socks with a fish lips kiss heel. 3/4 through the first one.

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I’m also knitting up another Route 1 by Norah Gaughan for myself. I love the boxy shape of this pattern and the low v neck. I have worn my first one to death, and it’s a really quick knit. I’m doing this in Bergere de France’s Recycline, a ‘recycled’ yarn which I really like and is so nice to knit cables with. I’m not sure exactly what ‘recycled’ means. I do have a mental image of them scraping the floor of the mill to gather the fibre to make this yarn, but I guess that’s okay. It even has the odd sparkle here and there. Obviously unblocked as yet.

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I’m still going on my Trapper Hat, but I’m not loving it. It is knit in flat sections and fully lined with the fluffy part. I’m doing it in a Jo Sharp aran tweed thing from years ago, and eyelash yarn. Man, that eyelash yarn is a bugger to work with! I’ll finish it, but my hopes are not high for this one.

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Also on the needles, a birthday gift for someone special. I don’t know if the recipient reads this, so only a peek at that one for now. But I do really love this one. Despite the fact the cables are a trypophobic’s nightmare. I just don’t look too hard. 🙂

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My next major project has been taking aaaaaages to pick. I chose the yarn first. It is Drops Nepal, a wool and alpaca blend.

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M and I often compete to come up with vividly descriptive colour names, of the sort used by paint companies but usually kind of unpleasant ones, like ‘bile’, or ‘baby poo brown’. This one got away lightly, it is brussel sprout, because I put a brussel sprout next to it and it was a perfect match.

But I couldn’t decide on the pattern. I wanted a top down cable cardigan. There are some really nice ones, I like Hello Winter and Ingrid in particular. In the end I have picked one that is unfortunately worked flat, the Must Have Cardigan, an old free pattern from Patons.

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It’s a boxy late nineties shape that I like. But I am using chunkier wool for a more dense finish, and changing the edging to a shawl collar (from the Gramps pattern) for extra warmth. I am aiming at getting this done for my mid-winter trip to Tasmania, that only leaves me 6 weeks.

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I started it over the weekend. The cables are surprisingly easy to memorise, and I am absolutely in LOVE with the green. This one is a pleasure to knit, even flat. We shall live happily ever after together and I shall call him ‘Hobart Cardigan’, continuing my habit of naming things after the holiday destination they are knit for. Luckily I have no immediate plans to visit the more dodgily named Australian towns. Perhaps a Woodenbong Sweater. Or a Mount Buggery Cardigan. Maybe not a Diapur Jacket.

B

A retro sock knitting tote…

I was so happy with my knitting tote I made the crochet version the next day, from the same pattern. It’s the same size base, but shorter sides. It only took 2 hours the second time around, these are really fun to make. 🙂

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Even though I dislike orange, for unknown reasons I still decided to go hideously retro with this and use vintage sheeting from my stash, plus some more chocolate brown polycotton.

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I added the optional drawstring top again.

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I like that it can be pushed down inside to make a plain basket.

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After I made it, I realised its true purpose….it’s clearly a sock knitting tote bag. It’s perfect.

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So now I have to make yet another one for crochet. I can see myself with a collection of these. 🙂

B