Category Archives: travelling

dyeing workshop at tarndie

I recently received an email from Tom Dennis of Tarndwarncoort, enquiring whether I’d be interested in running a workshop on botanical dyeing at the homestead while I’m home in Australia. Of course, I jumped at the chance!

Tom and his parents, Wendy & David Dennis, run a Polwarth sheep and woolgrowing enterprise on their historic Birregurra property ‘Tarndwarncoort‘, established in 1840 in Western Victoria. Polwarth sheep were developed by Richard Dennis at Tarndwarncoort in 1880 by crossing Saxon Merino sheep from Tasmania with Victorian Lincoln sheep. This progeny was then joined back to the Merino and bred to a fixed type. These un-mulsed sheep were named Dennis Comebacks and later renamed Polwarth after the local electorate and are considered Australia’s first breed of sheep. The sheep that Wendy and Dennis run are from the very same flock of Polwarths and produce very beautiful wool with the unusual combination of softness and lustre, something that makes it quite unusual and very desirable to spinners, knitters and dyers.

Polwarth sheep from the original flock

Polwarth sheep from the original flock

I was really excited to teach a class here at Tarndie because, ever since I started dyeing with plants a few yard ago, I’ve used Wendy’s fantastic Polwarth yarn and it takes up the dye so beautifully… You can see the lustre in these beautiful locks of fleece, as well as in the finished yarn once knitted up:

Tarndie Polwarth fleece

Tarndie Polwarth fleece

Tarndie Polwarth yarn

Tarndie Polwarth yarn

Tarndie yarn and silk dyed with pokeroot

Tarndie yarn and silk dyed with pokeroot

Triangle baby hat, made for Wendy a few years ago to show how beautifully her yarn knits on a domestic machine

Triangle baby hat made for Wendy  to show how beautifully her yarn knits on a domestic machine

And so I know we’ll get the most out of the dye pots and that the yarn will highlight the dyes beautifully.

The workshop will cover all the essentials of dyeing with natural materials- we’ll cover the key aspects of dyeing with yarn and fabric; sourcing dyestuffs, fibre preparation, using mordants and modifiers before and after dyeing to achieve a wide range of colours from the same pot, preparing the dyebath and safe dyeing practice. We’ll also discuss over-dyeing to create complex colours, keeping records of dye experiments and other tips for dyeing with plants and other natural materials.

And, because we’ll be out in the bush, this class will be a little different to the classes I normally run- we’ll be dyeing with materials collected on the property and I’m really looking forward to using the local indigenous and weedy species (including some bush foods too) and taking a good walk around to get everyone familiar with identifying the plants used.

Plant-dyed chevron scarf

Plant-dyed chevron scarf

If you’re keen for the full country experience, you can also join me in staying overnight at Tarndie- it’s the most lovely property and I can’t wait to breathe in the fresh, Victorian air…

The farmer's cottage, Tarndie

The farmer’s cottage, Tarndie

If you’re interested in coming along, please contact Tom at Tarndie. I look forward to sharing the day with you!

shop and classes update

I’m super excited to be heading home to Australia for a few weeks! Scotland really has been very good to me but I can’t wait to be in my home town again, surrounded by friends and family and soaking up the love- there’s nothing like that, is there? I leave this Sunday and imagine that things will be a bit quiet around here for the next month… but I’ll be back to it after Shetland Wool Week with tales of travels and plenty of beautiful autumnal foliage to share.

In the meantime, I’m doing one last shop update! I’ll be adding 20 pouches this time tomorrow- that’s Thursday 12pm in the UK and 9pm in Melbourne. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support of my last update- I was overwhelmed with how quickly the pouches were snapped up and received quite a few emails from people sad to miss out and so I thought giving you 24 hours notice of updates (here and on Instagram and Twitter) might help you to get in in time. (A shop newsletter is just another thing to manage so I’m trying this to see if it works- if not, I will create one!).

Harris Tweed pouch

Harris Tweed pouch

This batch is a mixed bag of vintage Harris tweed from jackets and lengths, as well as some HT from a new source I’ve recently found- the offcuts from an upholsters workshop in northern England. Although these are new fabrics, I’m really excited to use what would otherwise be waste and the textures and colours have come up beautifully. I should also mention that I’m taking some pouches and cowls to the Craft Sessions and Shetland Wool Week so, if you’re coming along to, you’ll be able to pick one up there and save on postage and air miles…

And, as well as a darning and mending class this Saturday at the Queen of Purls in Glasgow (which has a couple of spots free), I also have a bunch of new knitting classes scheduled for the autumn! You can find all the details on my classes page and at GingerTwist and fluph but it’s a real mixed bag, from seamless knitting, lace, knitting for a perfect fit and darning. Yay for learning new skills! (I’m so looking forward to taking classes with some of the greats at Wool Week!)

I hope to catch up with many of you soon, either at the Craft Sessions or in Melbourne or at Wool Week but wishing you a happy late summer or early spring, depending on where you are xx

vintage shetland blog tour

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If you are a knitter (or are in any way interested in the history of fashion and knitwear), you really need to know about the Vintage Shetland Project, the culmination of several years of research by knitting anthropologist Susan Crawford, who, with the help and support of Carol Christiansen, textile curator at the Shetland Museum, has been researching hand-knitted garments and accessories made in Shetland in the 20th century.

For the past four years, Susan has made the trip to Shetland twice a year to take a selection of knits from the museum’s archives through a rigorous process of analysis, with the goal of writing up and publishing them as a beautiful hardcover book on vintage Shetland knitting- what a labour of love!

Susan Crawford in the Shetland Museum archives

Susan Crawford in the Shetland Museum archives

Susan has worked to create garments as close as possible to the shapes, textures and colours of the originals; every stitch was transcribed, each garment carefully measured and Fenella, a 2ply that knits to a vintage 3ply weight and comes in 25 shades matched to the museum garments, was developed specifically for the project. The result is a collection that feels just like what I think of as Shetland knitting but that encompasses a huge variety of different styles, time periods and construction methods, including lace, menswear, accessories and, of course, Fair Isle techniques. Susan says that she struggled to narrow down the vast number of designs on offer to twenty-five as there were so many beauties in the archives and we agreed that one look at the museum’s collection blows out of the water the idea that Shetland knitters were traditional- there is just so much variety in their output!

All of the items in the archives have been donated to the museum and are largely the products of creative knitting minds, rather than from commercial patterns.  To me, this beautiful piece from Susan’s collection demonstrates that…

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

While the motifs and shades used in this pullover from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s are traditional, the way they are used is anything but! The way the allover checkerboard pattern is broken up and inserted into geometric panels reminds me very much of the pieced satin evening dresses of the time. And yet the way the designer (who was most probably also the knitter) has continued the background colours under the lice or birds eye stitch in traditional style and used corrugated ribbing and modified drop shoulders shows that the piece is still very much of Shetland. This illustrates beautifully the innovative nature of Shetland’s knitters and their desire to move with and respond to ever-changing trends in fashion.

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

With the research completed, patterns in the process of being written and final photography shoots happening in Shetland in July, the project is nearing completion and Susan has launched a Pubslush crowdfunder campaign to create the Vintage Shetland Project book. Needless to say, there has been overwhelming support for the project and she reached her goal in just over 24 hours, but you can still support the project, with additional funds going to support a wide range of extras- and you get the added bonus of getting your hands on a copy of The Vintage Shetland Project before Christmas and general release in 2016 (or a series of other enticing rewards)…

Congratulations on a wonderful project and a hugely successful community undertaking, Susan!

This post is part of The Vintage Shetland Project blog tour and Helene Magnusson is hosting the next instalment tomorrow. You can find out more about Susan’s journey at susancrawfordvintage.

faces and places: melanie hodgson

Part of a series introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

Mel, Flamborough Head

Mel, Flamborough Head

Mel and I met through a few years ago through a lovely Melbourne friend who kept insisting that we’d get along beautifully because of our mutual appreciation for woolly wools. Turns out we have a lot of other things in common but fibre is definitely at the core of our friendship!

Mel is a Yorkshire lass who has recently moved back there after nine hot summers in Australia and she is as happy as can be to be back in her homeland! I think what I appreciate most about Mel is her commitment to integrity. She really gives herself 100% to whatever she is doing, whether that is baking sourdough, growing food plants, caring for her patients at work or working with fibre and yarn: it’s all or nothing and she gives her whole heart. I’ve been very fortunate to be on the receiving end of her care, both in helping me get my bearings and in finding wonderful, interesting people and movements happening here in the UK and I will be forever grateful for her care and support.

Not only does Mel knit very lovely things for herself, her loved ones and her home, she also prepares and spins her own fibre and yarn… Being a Yorkshire girl at heart, she has a strong affinity for local sheep breeds and has sourced fibre from all kinds of British and/ or rare and conservation breeds, like Masham, Swaledale and Whitefaced Woodland and, by blending fibres and colours to create tops, she spins the most lovely, heathered, tweedy yarns.

She combs or cards fibres….

Raw, combed fibre

Combed Jacob fibre

Whitefaced Woodland and coloured merino tops

Whitefaced Woodland and coloured merino

… and spins them into heavenly yarn…

Bluefaced Leicester

Bluefaced Leicester, with the most incredible lustre and definition

Yarn

Squishy Shetland

Pure angora yarn

Pure, spindle-spun angora yarn in all its fuzzy glory

Odds and ends, Navajo-plied

Odds and ends of singles plied into a beautiful, random yarn

… which she then knits into beautiful, sturdy, cosy knits that are all about enveloping and making one feel loved and held, the way Mel herself does.

Gradient-spun sock

Gradient-spun socks from Bluefaced Leicester fibre, dyed by the Thylacine, Tasmania

Mel's Follow Your Arrow in North Ronaldsay 4ply

Detail from Mel’s Follow Your Arrow in North Ronaldsay 4ply

Compared to Mel, I’m not much of a spinner, but I think that common grounding helps us really get each other and the way we see and feel fibre!  We certainly agree that fibre dyed in the fleece and then blended before spinning results in the most beautiful yarns and hope to one day collaborate in making yarn…

In the meantime, we’ve got Shetland Wool Week to look forward to, plus some dyeing with the avocado skins that Mel’s been stashing in her freezer for months (did I mention her dedication?!) and plenty of other adventure planned. I can’t wait!

(I wish I had more photos of her finished knits but my camera lens broke while I was visiting and photographing her work and so these are all I have for you- but do go and find Mel and her knits on Ravelry and at recipeforayarn)

faces and places: (london and) yorkshire

One of a series of posts introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

I was lucky enough to make a trip down into England last week to catch up with two great friends last week… I first flew to London to spend a brief but very lovely twenty-four hours with Felicia, of which I have no photos at all to show you- but there was lots of walking, talking and hatching plans, as well as dinner with old and new friends! Felicia is full of excitement and enthusiasm about life and so the time we shared was a real treat for me- although I’m getting to know some great women here, I spend quite a lot of time working at home and so I treasure time spent with people I can talk to about my crappy day or ideas I have and who I know will both listen and be honest in their response- that kind of friendship takes time! Thank you Fel!

I then headed up to Yorkshire to spend a few days with local lass, Mel, who I’d met in Melbourne  during the nine years she spent living there with her family. She escaped the Australian heat last year and has now happily resettled in Yorkshire, albeit with perennial itchy feet- but more on that in a coming post! First stop was baa ram ewe, a yarn shop I’ve heard about for years, mostly for Titus, their beautiful 4ply yarn made from a classic Yorkshire blend of Wensleydale/ Bluefaced Leicester/ alpaca yarn that is soon to be joined by their new Dovestone DK (with Yorkshire breed Masham in place of alpaca). It was lovely to see and feel Titus in the flesh and especially in their sweet in-house kits:

Ella Austin's Dashing Dachshund

Ella Austin’s Dashing Dachshund

Little Fella, inspired by the work of L.S.Lowry

Little Fella, inspired by the work of L.S.Lowry

These women know their yarn and their community well. Their range is almost entirely British in origin and covers all the bases from rustic (the first shop I’ve seen to carry both Jamieson and J&S!) to luxury (Toft, Rowan), as well as patterns and books from independent and more well-known local designers. It was a real pleasure to spend an hour or two there, chatting about yarns and the industry, and it made me hanker a little for my time at Sunspun!

New Lanark Chunky

New Lanark Chunky

Jamieson's Aran Heather in Broch

Jamieson’s Aran Heather in Broch- I’ll definitely be bringing some of this home from Shetland!

After a day pottering about Mel’s house (seeing more of her heavenly handspun yarns, trying  gooseberry cake and samphire for the first time and just hanging out and knitting), we left early in the morning for Edinburgh. I’d mentioned a while ago that I was reading up on British fisherman’s knits for a new class and Mel very enthusiastically and generously said that we must drive back to Scotland via Flamborough on the Yorkshire coast, a place known for both its incredible natural beauty and its fisherman’s ganseys…

We didn’t have long there but we soaked up so much beauty. This is a place for wandering the beaches in bare feet and lying amongst the grasses and watching the seabirds wheeling and the clouds floating by… if there are any.

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Blowhole

Blowhole

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Sea pinks

Sea pinks (Armeria maritima)

Some species of Chamomile?

A species of Chamomile?

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Unfortunately my camera lens broke on the trip so I have virtually no photos of the small gansey museum and shop that we visited but it was a joy to visit and to see some old and new ganseys- such exquisite work and some myths dispelled and others affirmed so well worth a visit if you’re in the area…

Flamborough Gansey

Flamborough Gansey

Flamborough Gansey

Flamborough Gansey

We then zipped up the coast, stopping at the lovely fishing village of Whitby for the best fish and chips I’ve had in years (not sure about the mushy peas though…) and a quick peek at the magnificent cathedral and jet jewellery, before heading on to Edinburgh. It was a magical day and end to the trip!

Thank you both so much both, Felicia and Mel- I’m lucky to have such lovely friends!