Fibreshed knitalong: the middle

New year, ongoing project. We had our second Knitalong meetup last weekend. Emily Cunetto, designer of the Radiata pattern joined us. We shared our progress and talked about local clothes.

Our progress

We’re at all stages of knitting within our group. Sue has finished her shawl already! She has recorded her experience on her blog. Sue is an experienced spinner. She already had a local lamb’s fleece in her stash when she joined our knitalong. She’s been loving “using a fibre I know the history of”. She even got to see a photo of the lamb’s mum! She spun and knit the fibre raw, which encouraged a “definite connection to the grower, the sheep and the land”.
Suz's finished shawl from different angles

Suz’s finished shawl. Photo credit: Suz Arnott

Natasha has finished the body of her shawl. She started working the i-cord ties during our Knitalong meetup. She’s also been blogging her experiences. Natasha experimented with spinning three different fibres into three separate yarns. She then plyed these into one yarn. She’s been enjoying seeing how the colours have blended. Her fabric has a subtle, silvery lustre that’s lovely to look at. Natasha enjoyed knitting the Radiata. She’s swatched a handspun faux-boucle in preparation for another one!


Natasha's new swatch

Natasha’s new swatch (with in progress shawl underneath)

I’m two wedges into my own shawl. Unlike Sue and Natasha I’m not used to knitting local fibre at all. A portrait of the alpaca my fibre comes from is printed on the yarn label. I’ve enjoyed showing it to interested parties when they check out my knitting. There has been a little bit of dried grass twisted in the yarn. I was warned this might happen, but it doesn’t happen often enough to be a problem. It comes out easily if I’m careful to pull in line with the twist of the yarn. The yarn is loosely spun and largely uniform. I haven’t had problems with splitting. Very occassional slubby sections aren’t visible in the knitted fabric. Being suri alpaca, the yarn is slippery which has made stitches like Slip, Slip, Knit (SSK) a little more tricky. The outstanding aspect of my experience has been the light, soft feel to the fabric. Everyone comments on it, and my knitting has been much admired and handled!

My progress

My progress

Our second conversation

We were very lucky to have Emily Cunetto join us at our second Knitalong meeting. Emily lives in the USA so we appreciated her making time to video conference late in her evening. She told us about how she approached the design of the Radiata shawl. She had a lot of considerations because she didn’t know what yarns people would use. She also wanted to design for beginners and experienced knitters alike. An important aspect of the design for her was fabric drape, so she started there. She decided against lace and opted instead for a more structural design.

We talked about the challenges of making money from the arts and textiles. Emily has been producing knitwear and has a couple of knitting machines. She’s now moving into education and enjoys teaching people to knit. She showed us the jumper pattern she’s working on at the moment. Expect more patterns on her website in the future!

Emily Cunetto waving

Emily Cunetto called in late on her Friday night to talk to us. What a champion.

Our conversation went wide and we talked about the systemic challenges of connection to clothing. Emily feels we currently buy clothes on ‘credit’, in the sense that we don’t currently pay the full price of producing the items we wear. We don’t see the pollution and impact on people that clothing production makes. It’s possible the US experiences a more extreme version of this than Australia which was slower to the fast fashion trend, but both countries share similar challenges now. We’ve all noticed there is now an expectation we can buy what we want for less.

We felt that a connection and engagement to clothing production was needed. Our Knitalong is an opportunity for engaged makers, but the wider population needs something else. We recognised that not everyone will participate in clothing production. Specialists in different areas benefits society. We explored the local food movement to see if there were insights we could apply to clothing as well.

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My paper straw hat gets a ‘medical’ check up

Crumpled hat

My paper straw hat gets a workout every summer. It’s comfortable and looks good, but doesn’t have staying power. Inevitably it ends up squished under someone’s bag while we’re traveling 😦 I’ve been experimenting with cleaning and reshaping my hat to restore its good looks. Here’s what I’ve found out.


Perhaps your hat is dirty because your husband dragged it through a bunch of bushes (not looking at anyone in particular, mind you!). No problem, some of the dirt will come out with cleaning. I tried brushing the hat first, to remove any big particles. I’ve seen advice to use a bristle brush for this, but I was worried that would scuff the paper straw. I have a brush for suede that’s gentler, so I used that instead. In my case, this brushing didn’t make much difference because the dirt was well rubbed in. But hey, it might help you!

What was effective, was applying a little dishwashing detergent and water with a rag. I’d recommend an old linen teatowel because that won’t spread lint all over your hat. Some dirt remained, but it was reduced enough for me to be happy to wear the hat in public again.


My second issue is that the hat gets knocked out of shape. Hats Unlimited have a helpful video showing how to reshape a hat with steam. I don’t have an industrial steamer, so I took their advice and set up a small saucepan on my stove with some water. I set the lid just off on the side so that only a little steam could get out at any time. I was trying to focus the steam, like the steamer does in Hats Unlimited’s video.

Reshaping hat with steam from saucepan on stove

I kept the hat about 15cm away from the steam for safety. It heats up fast, and you can feel it on your hands as you manipulate the hat. I steamed the inside and outside of the hat. When it is warm and soft you can reshape the hat with your fingers. I’ve never felt the hat get overwet, but if you do move it away from the steam and let the hat dry out before trying again.

I find this process helps reshape the hat. Over time, it sinks back towards its old crushed state, but never as bad as it was before. I’ve experimented with moulding the hat after steaming with some success. I use a rolled up towel pushed into the shape I want and pop the hat on top.

Hat with towel inside to reshape it

I find this a quick process that improves the look of my hat. Have you tried this before on your hats? What do you do when your hats get mistreated?

Edited to add: since my last camping trip, I stumbled across another potentially longer lasting way to restore my hat from squishyness!

  1. Get caught in torrential summer rain
  2. Reshape hat on towel mould (as pictured above) and hope for the best
  3. Leave in hot Australian afternoon sun to dry out

This methods seems to be working so far, albeit perhaps because our sun dries my hat really quickly..!

Edited to Save

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Fibreshed knitalong: swatching

For those new to knitting, a swatch is a mini experiment you run before starting a project. You make a hypothesis (this is going to have ‘x’ measurements, and result in ‘y’ kind of fabric), knit up the swatch and then review your results. If your hypothesis is correct, you proceed to knit up your project. If you don’t like the results, the swatch gives you clues onΒ  to try next. Iteration for the win! Ok, perhaps I’ve been reading too many design thinking blogs recently πŸ˜‰

Swatches are like eating your greens: you don’t necessarily want to do it (you want to rush ahead and just make the project already!) but they’re really good for you. Swatches help you measure the gauge, a basic indicator on what dimensions your garment will take. This is less important for scarves, very important for fitted items, like sweaters. A swatch also tests whether the fabric will be right for the garment, before you go to the effort of knitting the entire thing.

With that in mind, here’s the story of my swatches for the Fibreshed knitalong project.

The Radiata pattern is designed to work with a range of different weight yarns. It gives recommended gauges for each yarn weight, but also suggests larger needles for a more open fabric if you have fine yarn.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I do know my 5 ply is spun fine so I started with 3.5mm needles.

My alpaca yarn, swatching garter stitch on 3.5mm needles

Swatch in 3.5mm needles

I quite liked that, but to have something to compare against I also knit some up with 5mm needles. This gives that more open look that the designer was talking about, but I don’t like it as much. I want to wear this shawl out at night and have it look elegant. The open rows that 5mm needles look like day wear to me. I put the question out to the hive mind for advice and was reminded that the shawl is mostly in stocking stitch. I’d misread the pattern and thought that the garter stitch it starts with for edging was the entire pattern. Inexperience strikes again! Just as well others picked that up for me…

Second stage of swatch; garter on 5mm needles

Trialling 5mm needles

I continued the swatch, knitting stockinette now in 5mm then 3.5mm. Even before I washed and blocked the swatch, I was confident that 3.5mm was my preferred option.

Finished first swatch. Messy cast on, tight cast off.

Finished first swatch. Messy cast on, tight cast off.

I didn’t like the messiness of my cast on, and of course I cast off way too tight. I decided to do a new ‘proper’ swatch and experiment with different techniques. I used a cable cast on, which I’m really happy with. Because it’s elastic, I used a stretchy technique to cast off. It’s a nice technique, although now this edge is wider and more stretchy than my cast on edge.

Knitted second swatch

Finished second swatch. Cable cast on, stretchy cast off.

I worried that the unequal stretchiness of my two edges might be an issue in the finished garment, so I turned back to my hive mind on social media. I was pointed to a technical knitting article that helps you match complimentary cast off techniques with your chosen cast on. Knowing this, I’ll continue to use a cable cast on and stick with my usual stitch over stitch cast off. To counter the tight binding, I’ll use a bigger needle next time.

On to the ‘real’ knitting!


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Rocks, hard places and taking a leap

Man sitting on a rock ledge looking out

All years are big, but 2016 seems to have made a bigger impact on most than usual. I’ve spoken to many tired people recently who declare 2016 to be a ‘bad year’. It’s felt like a sad, hard year for many. Terrorist attacks and war continue to pull people’s lives apart. It’s feeding the largest refugee crisis ever. In Australia we grappled with refugee policy and the treatment of minors in custody. Several people I know are undergoing treatment for cancer.

Hope seems thin on the ground, but there are good things happening quietly in the background. Global development efforts continue to reduce world poverty. A new drug that can make the most common form of adult leukaemia melt away got approved for use in the US. There’s also this list of great things that happened in 2016 to help boost your spirits.

For me, 2016 was a year full of great things. Too full, hence my absence in the later part of this year! We visited Peppermint Ridge for the first time. I got to travel to Queensland to celebrate my great aunt’s 100th birthday (more on that later). My work on the board of Creative Women’s Circle saw events hosted in multiple states for the first time. Fibreshed is continuing, especially now that the Knitalong is in full swing.

Most momentous for me is that I’ve decided to change career. It’s something that’s been a long time coming. Making the decision to leave my job is one of the scariest decisions I’ve made. I’m so glad now that I did. I’m moving into a new discipline called Service Design. It tackles the problems I’ve been fascinated by throughout my career. I’ll be working for a short time in Sydney in early 2017. I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures with you πŸ™‚

Edited to add: I’m no longer going to be working in Sydney like I expected, but I’m sure I’ll still have lots of adventures to share with you…


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Fibreshed knitalong: the beginning

It’s in motion! Participants have signed up, fibre is being spun or yarn has been bought. The Melbourne Fibreshed knitalong has begun. We’ve had our first meet up. We introduced each other to the fibres we’re using and got to talk to Jean Daddo at Pitchingga Ridge alpacas.

Introducing the fibres we’re using

Natasha is drawing fibres from across the state. She has alpaca and corriedale from the Goldfields, Western district and Mornington Peninsula. She’s spinning each fibre in an individual yarn and then plying them together. Fibre tones highlight in unexpected ways when you do this. We compared it to the way genes are inherited.

Corriedale wool from raw fleece to carded.

Corriedale wool from raw fleece to carded fibre

Other knitters are drawing from Yarra Valley angora rabbit, Spa country Finn wool, Murray wool and Sunraysia Merino. That’s a pretty comprehensive coverage of the state!

Cascade. Photo credit: Jean Daddo

Cascade. Photo credit: Jean Daddo

I’m using suri alpaca yarn. It comes from an alpaca called ‘Cascade’, who lives at Pitchingga Ridge. She’s a beautiful, calm alpaca with very fine fibre. She’s just birthed her first cria, Octavia. Her yarn was spun at Fibre Naturally. I love the rosy cream colour of the yarn, but Jean tells me it will lighten as I wash it.

Pitchingga Ridge is at Red Hill, which is known for its fine, red soils. Yarn has been processed, but some of the fine red dust remains. The iron pigment is subtly colouring my yarn. I love this idea and am a bit sad it will diminish!

Huacaya alpacas at Pitchingga Ridge

Huacaya alpacas at Pitchingga Ridge

Red Hill is on the Mornington Peninsula, 1.5 hours drive from Melbourne. It is the traditional land of the Burrinyung-bulluk clan, members of the Boonurong clan. On the West the land slopes to relaxed swimming beaches on Port Phillip Bay and views of Melbourne city. Travel to the east and you get to rockier windswept beaches edging Western Port Bay.

Red Hill itself is full of rolling, green hills, farmland and bush. It’s known for its vineyards, orchards and berry farms. There’s a cheese maker and a brewery. Mushroom foragers, mountain bikers and horse riders travel the red dirt pathways. A nearby attraction is Arthur’s Seat.

There’s a mix of permanent residents and holiday homes. I used to come every major holiday in my teenage years, because my grandparents had a property here. My aunt and uncle now run a vineyard nearby.

Our first conversation

I invited Jean Daddo at Pitchingga Ridge to call in to our knitalong meetup. She gave us a farmer’s perspective. Her expertise was a great addition to our conversation and lead us down different paths.

We talked about the different effects hand spinning and milling has on yarn appearance. Jean has handspun and had her alpaca fibre milled. She reflected on how the same fibre can look so different depending on how it was spun.

We learnt something of alpaca genetics and colour predictability. Pitchingga Ridge specialise in black fibres. Jean explained that Australian alpaca genetics only goes back a few decades. Peruvian imports come with no genetic history. This means alpaca breeding for colour is like working in the dark. Colours are difficult to breed for with accuracy, particularly grey.

Then there was the story of a 13 year old boy on the Mornington peninsula who keeps his own alpacas. He’s learning to spin their fibre and has someone lined up to knit him a beanie with it. He has plans to make a business of it. He is learning so much: the economics of animal husbandry, the physics of spinning and the business of selling. What a great education!

Natasha carding her corriedale fibre

Natasha carding her corriedale fibre





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Wardrobe audit 2016

I love my capsule wardrobe, but does this restrict the variety of outfits I can put together? I decided to test the question by challenging myself to wear a different outfit every day for 100 days.

I recorded the challenge on Instagram under the hashtag #circularwardrobe. My rules were that every day had to use a different combination of objects. I allowed jewellery and accessories to be part of that combination. Even so, I was amazed at how far I could push this challenge.

It turns out I can definitely make 100 outfits with my wardrobe. I suspect that means I still have more clothes than I need! The challenge pushed me to come up with new combinations I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Recording each day has given me a record of outfit ideas for when I’m feeling uninspired.

Speaking of photos, I wasn’t a fan of getting someone to photograph me everyday. I was ok asking people, but thinking of an interesting pose and location got tiresome quickly! I started off asking strangers because it was interesting to see what they came up with. Expediency meant I often relied on my trusty Instagram husband though. Poor guy! The best solution to my boredom was to feature whatever was happening that day in the photograph.

I felt like I was wearing my clothes a lot. Yet when I looked back on it, I realised it wasn’t as much as I thought. The #30wears challenge encourages people to buy clothes they’d want to wear at least 30 times. My most popular garment were my blue casual trousers. I only wore them 13 times over the 100 days. At that rate, it’d take me around 9 months to reach 30 wears. For some of my less frequently worn clothes, the required wearing period blows out to 10 years!

Its useful to remember there’s a bias in these numbers. Some of the ‘infrequent’ clothes are winter clothes that I don’t need much in warm weather. The numbers helped show me the clothes that were excess to my needs, less flexible or just not loved. I’ve gotten them out of my wardrobe and passed them on πŸ™‚

Graph mapping frequency of wears during the challenge against years to reach 30 wears

So what does my wardrobe look like this year? It’s down to 49 pieces from 61 last year. A lot of that culling came from what I learnt during my 100 days challenge. I’ve also gotten better at airing my clothes between wears. This means I don’t need to wash as often, and reduces how many items I ‘need’. Check out each image caption for details of what I’ve included.

Are the drawers much different? A little. I’ve probably only reduced about 10 items here. Things like socks and jocks will stay with me till they wear out. I have a life-time’s supply of pantyhose from thrift stores so no more buying needed there! I’d like to think of something to do with my old baby blanket (bottom right corner of the bottom right image). It’s nostalgic, but it’s just sitting there without a purpose and what’s the point of that?

This year I got up the energy to include my shoes, bags and jewellery. I’ve decluttered my jewellery and bags down to what I use often, but shoes are tough! Do I really need the dancing heels? No one wants old battered shoes. I’m holding on to the white flats, white sneakers and runners even though I don’t need them.

It occurs to me I should include my hats! Next time πŸ™‚

I’m such a procrastinator, I’ve got pretty much the same holes as last year. I’d still love a winter dress. I’d like some work-standard knit tops for summer and winter. I’ll keep an eye out for a basic coat that fits me better. I keep on top of my weight to avoid getting new trousers πŸ˜‰

Over to you now! What have you learnt by looking over my wardrobe? How has your collection changed over the year?

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Fibreshed Knitalong

All this Fibreshed research is well and good, but reading and learning isn’t enough. We want to do something with this information, don’t we? I’ve been thinking about how to encourage more people to interact with Fibreshed and start playing with the resources in their (mostly metaphorical) backyard. I have big ideas on what this could look like, but I’m feeling the limitations of my available time and ability to make that vision occur. What small thing could I do to set the ball rolling towards more participation and community?

Solution: a Knitalong

Fibershed California just launched a global Knitalong project. The idea is that everyone will knit the same pattern, but with a yarn local to them. We’ll be drawn together by working on a shared project, but have awesomely varied products to show at the end of it!

I’m organising this on the fly and by myself, so I won’t be keeping us to Fibreshed California’s Dec 17 end date. I’m also mindful that the busyness of Christmas is around the corner, let alone the heat of summer! The Melbourne Fibreshed will complete in 2017, to allow down-under knitters time to sign up to the project, gather socially and complete their garments.

Fibreshed Knitalong

The pattern

Emily Cunetto has released a shawl pattern especially for this Knitalong: Radiata is designed to highlight the qualities of local fibres. It can be made in a range of yarns from featherweight through to bulky. Its an easy pattern, so even a novice knitter like myself can participate. You can purchase the pattern on Ravelry or from Emily’s website.

The yarn

I’ve called up all the local yarn providers I know and made a spreadsheet of what they have available for this project. Check out the list to see what you would like to work with. The product descriptions are basic, so I encourage you to call the providers to talk it over in more detail.

This spreadsheet is open for anyone to edit; you’re welcome to add additional providers. Remember all listed products must be produced with local fibres, local labour and local dyes. Local in this case means within 500km of Melbourne.

My knitalong yarn is 5 ply cream suri alpaca. Grown on the Mornington Peninsula by Pitchingga Ridge, milled in Macclesfield by Fibre Naturally.

My knitalong yarn just arrived in the mail! It’s 5 ply cream suri alpaca. Grown on the Mornington Peninsula by Pitchingga Ridge, milled in Macclesfield by Fibre Naturally.

The community

We’ve got a band of knitters participating already. Some are novice knitters like myself, others have spun their own yarn! They’re located across Melbourne and regional centres. I’ll be introducing the producers on the Fibreshed Melbourne Facebook group, as well as posting updates as our shawls progress.

To help us feel connected, I have organised several meetups. We’ll meet physically where possible, and also connect digitally over video conference. I’ll be inviting our local fibre farmers and yarn producers to join those calls. Just think: a knitalong where you get to talk directly to the people who made your yarn, and they get to see what you’ve made with it!

Follow along

To join in, sign up. Filling out the online form helps me to make the project work the best it can for you, from organising community meetups in your area/online to keeping you up to date with all the project details.

Regardless of whether you’re participating this year, follow the hashtag #fibershedKAL on Instagram to see what knitters around the world are making from their Fibreshed.


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