a little bit more handmade than usual

The hanks of seaweed from Thursday’s bathtub dried into a fibre that looked amazingly like wool.  On to the swift they went!

Then the wool winder …

and to the scales – 148 grams of lily spun merino.

Without any real idea of how far this yarn would go, needles (5.5mm) and pattern (started here, but made more regularly spaced decreases according to Julian’s preference for a more fitted/shaped style) were selected and there followed a lovely few hours of knitting my wonky wool into a perfectly wearable item – a toque for Julian.

However, one toque did not even use one whole ball of yarn – amazing!  I can make another!  But this was a little bit thwarted by the mechanics at hand – I simply couldn’t pull on the that circular needle any more and there were no 5.5mm double pointeds in Bootville – or any inclination to go to the shops.

So Julian – not to be outdone in the handmade stakes – made me some, from a pair of existing 5.5 mm needles – I have an enormous number of wooden knitting needles, bought from Spotlight many years ago when they had them in a clearance bin marked “Fill a bag for a dollar!.

Perfect!  Only moments later, it was onto the head …

Unbelievable!  I created yarn that could be knitted into an identifiable object.  Truly I am in awe!  The art of creating a soft, pliable fabric from yarn and two sticks has always delighted me … but this.

Taking small chunks of fleece that still wear the crimp of its owner and the grass seeds that they collected whilst grazing, and turning THIS into soft pliable fabric brings me to hopping up and down the hallway with excitement.

I know it’s been done millions of times before, by millions of talented, hardworking folk over thousands of years, but still.  Being able to recreate a humble and amateurish version of this ancient practice in my 21st century, urban kitchen …

… leaves me able to make the tiny, very modest claim … that with help from those vastly wiser and more experienced than I …

I can turn straw into gold ;-)

 

yet still more from those blessed sheep

As corny as it sounds, I found myself exclaiming to Julian – upon his arrival home from work to find a Romney/Corriedale fleece spread out across the kitchen table and no sign of supper – how lucky we are as humans that the planet provided us with these extraordinarily wonderful animals and that we were cunning enough to put them to such good use!  Wool and milk – two of my essentials :-)

:: pre-wash ::

Yes, today Abby went back to school for Year 10 – YEAR 10 – double digits!  She’s halfway through high school.  Only three years left.  I’m in shock.  Don’t really know why – after helping usher/drag hundreds of girls through school in my former life, I know it all comes to an end ridiculously quickly.  They arrive as wee little girls and leave, a blink of the eyelid later, as young women.  Oy!

:: enjoying a therapeutic soak ::

So, for hors douvres – and to distract my mind from an empty home – I enjoyed a coffee at the Forth Brother (no that’s not misspelled) – an understatedly funky cafe up the street with lovely coffee and a wee table in the window that’s perfect for one and her knitting needles.

:: through the kitchen window & before the manic afternoon storm hit ::

Then home for the entree – finish off the bluey-green stuff.   I finished spinning the fleece, plied the second hank, washed both hanks – they looked so marvellously seaweedy in the bathtub – and then hung them for drying – still drying.

:: oh my – so beautiful – & oh the scent – I can just bury my face in it ::

For mains … out came the Romney/Corriedale fleece the kind women at the guild picked out for me – plenty of kink and lots of lanolin to make for easy spinning.  Oooooh – they were right!  It smells gorgeous – really sheepy – and my fingers glisten whilst I spin.  You can almost see the drops of lanolin on the yarn as it twists.

:: flicking a basketful – not on the tablecloth ::

It . was . so . nice .  Made that other stuff pale into insignificance.  I spun for hours. Hours! Bliss!  The only thing that made me stop (well, apart from picking the girlie up from school) was a very tired leg and slightly stiff shoulders.  I’ll have to practice with my left leg, so as to share the pain.  At the moment, it’s a very stupid left leg that simply cannot get the message.  All it does is shove the spinning wheel across the floor.  Useless.

:: filled & waiting for its twin ::

And for dessert, a lovely squish onto the sofa with my Stevenson Sweater from the wonderful Kate Davies and her beautiful new book (Colours of Shetland).  I finished the golden ribbed band whilst on holidays – but didn’t have my 2.75mm circular needle to continue – so tonight, I finally began the lovely, simple fair isle pattern of the body.  Looking at Kate’s lovely photos with a real Stevenson lighthouse (and may I recommend this book – fantastic read if you too were bewitched by those childhood stories of lighthouses and smugglers and terrible storms), I easily imagined myself back at the Green Cape Lighthouse.  I’ll have to finish this Stevenson Sweater before visiting next, just so Abby can take photos of me in my Stevenson Sweater at our local Scottish lighthouse :-).

:: fine rows – slow progress – absolutely delightful ::

Now, I shall go to bed, completely sated.  God bless wool.

 

wonky but a bit good too

The kitchen just seems to be where we are this week.  On these last few mornings of the summer holidays, I’ve loved sitting in this happy room, with yarn, fleece, the teapot and Radio National by my side whilst waiting for the girlie to wake up.

And this being the New Year and all, there have been a few … not really resolutions, but determinations to shake things up a bit around here.  This is my fourth year in Melbourne – oy! – and whilst I have made marvellous headway with my degree and future career, I’ve not made any progress on finding my niche in a community sense.  I’ve joined nothing.  Taken part in nothing.  Met no one.  And frankly, it’s quite lonely.  I’ve always thought of myself as a real homebody, happy with the company of my close family.  The last three years has taught me, I clearly did a lot more than just hang out with Abby and Julian in Brisbane.  Dearly as I love them, I need something extra on the side.

Now, those young ‘uns I study with are mostly a lovely group and I’ve spent many pleasant hours in their company.  But they are at a completely different time in their lives – just out of school, footloose and fancy free. When we finish a gruelling shift at the Mental Health Unit, my idea of unwinding is a steaming pot of tea, some knitting, and another episode of Upstairs Downstairs – they cheerfully walk 7 blocks in the rain to spend the rest of the evening in a funky bar.  I think they’re lovely but mad.  They think I’m pleasantly eccentric.

So this week I’ve started putting myself out there a bit – first stop – the Spinners and Weavers Guild.  I now have a new ankle joint for my wheel, a lovely new Romney fleece specially picked out for me, a new carding technique – we’re flicking now folks, not rolagging – a new place to visit each week, and three classes lined up – beginners’ spinning (a 5 week burst starting in April), beginners’ dyeing (held once a month) and a special one off class in Tapestry (the last weekend in March) – the kind you do with beautiful wooden bobbins.  And after a few hours spent at the Guild on Tuesday, I am quietly confident that good fun shall be had.

I’ve also applied to do some volunteer work with groups I greatly admire – a Palliative Care for Children organisation (a branch of nursing I’m very interested in pursuing on a professional and academic level) and a community garden.  Hopefully it will all fit in nicely.

Today – I finally finished spinning two bobbins of yarn and this afternoon – squashed in before Abby’s back to school dinner – I PLIED them.  It is the wonkiest yarn :-)  The first bobbin was filled last April/May when long lumpy bits were the go.  The second bobbin was filled over the last two days, when I’m finally getting the hang of creating reasonably even yarn.  Plied together, it is quaint … but yarn nonetheless!

I rescued my old Niddy Noddy from Mum’s garage whilst we were holidaying.  Yes, I’ve been down this spinning path before – years ago, before we even had Abby – but never got to the Niddy Noddy stage.  With the Niddy Noddy was a Lazy Kate replete with bobbins, each encrusted with moth eaten blobs of lanolin-hardened yarn – that’s been disposed of and the bobbins have been washed and are awaiting that Romney.

But first, I have a date with the bathtub and some lovely wool wash because there’s some yarn that needs its ply set.

 

a delight of alpacas

That’s the best collective noun I could come up with … a delight of alpacas.  Oh my!  We are all on such a high after a truly splendid day at Pitchingga Ridge Alpaca Farm with the lovely Jean and Dave Daddo.

We packed a picnic, collected Sammy – a take-along friend for Abby, and drove down the Mornington Peninsula – nice enough but fairly suburban – until you hit Red Hill.  Be still my beating heart!

This is a gorgeous corner of Victoria and one you should definitely visit.  The roads curl up hill and down dale, and the minute you turn off the main roads (small main roads by city standards), the roads turn to red dirt floored tunnels with huge beautiful trees arching overhead.  There are vineyards and apple orchards and strawberry farms everywhere.

And when you bump along one such track, tumble down into a gully, and then climb back up and around a bend – there are dear, sweet alpacas, standing around calmly amongst the trees, their eyes alert and curious, checking you out as you venture up the long drive.

Jean and Dave gave us over three hours of their time.  They are alpaca farmers with a love for their animals and a passion for sharing their knowledge and experience.  All I did was call them on Friday, ask if we could visit to look at their fleece and they opened their home and farm to us.

We started in the home paddock where the new mums are living with their babies.  Most of them were sturdy toddlers, cheerfully bouncing about whilst their mums calmly grazed.

But in the high corner, was freshly born little Cascade, one day old, making the most of a patch of sun whilst her mum grazed nearby, keeping a watchful eye on her babe.  The minute we quietly moved through the gate, mum strolled over, warning us with gentle, gravelly moans to behave ourselves.  We did :-)  A cold and blustery change was moving in and Jean wanted to pop a little fleecy lined, weather proofed coat on Cascade.

Before long, she was filling up.  Jean outlined the physiology of alpacas’ udders and teats – they are very small, with four teats – only just big enough to feed their offspring but not productive enough to milk for our consumption.  Jean declares she would get only a few mils if she tried.  Abby was a little disappointed – she had hoped there was good alpaca dairying opportunities.

Jean also clipped off some branches of tree lucerne for the girls to feed the mums.  They grow it in a lovely long hedge, surrounded by chicken wire … the branches grow through the holes and the alpacas are able to graze to their hearts’ content without damaging the tree.

The babies thought they might like a try too – and some had a few nibbles – but they were mostly still exclusively breastfed.  They usually feed for about six months.  But some of the older ones were a bit cheeky and Abby ended up losing her branch – someone ran off with it.

After a lovely long visit with the animals, Jean and I headed to the fleece shed, whilst Dave, Julian, the girls, and Abby the gorgeous kelpie visited more paddocks.

Ooooh, there were so many lovely fleeces to inspect and choose from.  Look at that lovely smile on Jean’s face.  We had such a marvellous time.  Out came bags full of white, grey, dark brown, black … and this exquisite one.  It’s Yuki’s – the farm’s only apaloosa alpaca!  Here he is …

Isn’t he a cutie!  Looks like he’s in leg warmers :-)

I couldn’t resist and am now the excited owner of a kilo of Yuki’s second fleece – a jumper for Abby and hopefully enough left over for a hat for Sammy.  Jean, a long timer spinner,  tells me you don’t make rolags like you do with sheeps fleece- you just spin straight from the unwashed fleece, removing the stray bits of grass as you go.  Yuki’s fleece is so soft … just pulling it gently apart is so enticing.   I cannot wait to get spinning.  I also bought half a kilo of Summer Haze’s grey fleece – perhaps a lovely shawl for me.

As the afternoon grew colder, we all trooped inside for hot tea and chocolate chip cookies around the kitchen table.  Dave and Jean brought out lovely blankets and coats to show us how their wool stitches up.  They were so fine, soft and light.  So much lighter than wool.

We sat around chatting about how marvellous it would be if we had the processing, spinning and weaving manufacturing facilities here in Australia.  My – it is such a shame that we are letting skills like this slip through our fingers and sail off overseas.  We produce such beautiful wool from our sheep and alpacas – it is heartbreaking that we don’t make the most of it here!

And we chatted about how we Boots could start building our own wee herd with the Daddo’s help.  Oooooh now that would be sooooo lovely.

spinning

Oh it is so very relaxing.  And utterly addictive.  The key to spinned out bliss .. prepare a good many rolags in advance and then just set that wheel a-flying whilst you draw and twist a seemingly never ending supply of beautiful fleece.

I bought this fleece – a hand dyed Corriedale – from a quirky little store in Yarragon that sells spinning supplies.  The lovely women there suggested Corriedale ’cause it’s nice and grippy – Merino is apparently super slippery – thus making Corriedale good and Merino not-so-good for beginning spinners.  Like me!  This yarn I’m making – yet to be plied – will one day soon be knitted into a hat.  Abby doesn’t want the first effort – she’s waiting for when I spin Fu’s fur into wool.  I’m happy to wear the first effort – lumps and skinny bits and all.  Mind you, I’m relieved to report, they are becoming fewer and further between!

Courtesy, I must add, of Youtube.  Yep.  Right next to the basket of rolags is my laptop, with multiple internet windows open, all offering advice and demonstrations of how to spin.  Oh, and the Ashcroft PDF on how to put my spinning wheel together.  Well, yes, it is together but you wouldn’t believe what I did when I first got it home.  Broke it.

Yep.  I broke a wee joint getting it out the car – the bit that joins the long sticky bit to the pedal bit.  You know.  The bit that makes it GO.  I thought about wailing but no one was home to hear, so I checked the wise world of web and saw that people use all kinds of things to replace that wee joint.  I jumped back into the car and tore off to our local hardware with the offending stick in hand and one of the lovely chaps in the building section found me a replacement – a screw plug for brick walls – I now have 50.  And they’re bright orange.

Isn’t it truly extraordinary how we can come home with a spinning wheel and bag of fleece and alongside the gentle and wise guidance of spinners from way across the seas in Scotland and Ireland slowly fumble our way through to learning a new skill.  Just amazing.

So I sit by my fireplace – honestly, can you believe I have this lovely fireplace with a beautiful art deco mantlepiece – and its CLOSED UP.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve considered taking the sledgehammer to it whilst Julian is on one of his overseas trips.  I’m sure the landlord wouldn’t mind ( ahem!).  And once Julian is home and there’s a gloriously beautiful, warm fire, glowing away, he couldn’t possibly find a single objection (my teeth are gritted).

So I sit by my fireplace, a basket of rolags at my feet.  With the flick of a spoke, I set the wheel a-turning, one stockinged foot pressing gently, up and down and up and down.  There’s a lovely soft whoosh and and an ever so slight clackety-clack.  The fleece slides through my fingertips and twirls its way into the orifice and onto the spindle.  I still haven’t mastered the art … I really want to spin a long draw … as per my rolags … but my left hand is oh so bossy, sneaking in a short draw when I’m not watching.  And so I softly recite, pull with my right, pull with my right, pull with my right …

Oh yes, there will be a lovely gillyweed green and bluebottle blue hat very soon.