Sorry

Two lambs sleepingSo it turns out that I’ve taken too much on again. I’ve been cutting back and resting, but this month is still really busy and I haven’t found my blogging mojo again yet. I’m chipping away at post about cotton and I’ll share that once its done. In the meantime, I’m sorry to have left you hanging, and I hope you’ll be patient with me as I get back up to speed.

Thank you so much for reading.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Oma stitch block cowl

Stitch block cowl

My kind neighbour deigned to model my latest creation for this blog🙂

Check it out, I finished something! My knit projects move at snail’s pace because I’m still relatively new to the craft. Also, I only knit once or twice a week during my lunch break. Finishing something is rare and precious enough. This beautiful cowl from Purl Bee Soho stole my heart as soon as I saw the pattern. It feels especially exciting to have made one myself.

The cowl belongs to a friend of mine. I made it from her late Oma’s (grandmother’s) yarn stash. My friend picked out the colour scheme she preferred. I matched the yarn weights as best I could to the original pattern. Our cowl didn’t end up with the same three dimensional punch of the original. Our version has more sheen though, thanks to the soft taupe base colour we used.

Detail of the three stitch block patterns used in this cowl scarf

Detail of the three stitch block patterns used in this cowl scarf

This was the perfect pattern for my intermediate-beginner level. I learnt a few new stitches and three different patterns. It’s the first piece I’ve grafted together. The repetition of each pattern section helped me finesse my rhythm and technique. Luckily for me, the thickness of the pattern hides a multitude of mistakes. The garment quality improved as it progressed!

By the time I completed this project, my friend had given birth to her first child. This cowl will brighten the coming winter days and keep her warm. Infinitely looping from grandmother, to mother and the new life she’s caring for.

Stitch block cowl

Posted in Creations | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Fibreshed farmer: Kilter rural

I never expected to find cotton in Victoria. And yet there it was, a news article about the first cotton farm in the state for over 30 years. It is a single crop, but it has been successful. Farmers in the area are paying attention. The cotton is being grown by Kilter Rural, a specialist agricultural asset manager. In other words, investors buy the land, Kilter run the farm. I got in contact with Michael Neville, manager of agriculture at Kilter Rural to find out more. Michael brought me up to speed, revealing facts and statistics so quickly I could barely keep up with my notes.

Kilter are growing Bollgard II cotton, which is genetically modified (it’s the 71BRF variety). The plant is grown to hip height, then prompted to flower. A boll develops from each flower. Within the boll is the burr, which is the cotton fibre and seed. The plants are defoliated before picking so that the harvested cotton contains much less twigs and leaves. The cotton is harvested once the bolls have fully opened.

The harvested cotton is rolled into bales that weigh 2,500kg each. They’re so heavy a B-double truck can fit only 13 bales. Michael told me that Kilter need a 10 bale to the hectare harvest to break even. That’s a lot of cotton. The bales are driven to a cotton gin run by Auscott in Hay, NSW for the next stage of processing. Currently all ginned Australian cotton is sent overseas for spinning. There are no suitable yarn mills in Australia. Michael has some plans on how to change that, but they’re still in the beginning stages so we won’t see the results for a long time yet.

Kilter Rural's cotton field

Kilter Rural’s cotton field

The cotton is irrigated with a subsurface drip. 2016 was the third year that Kilter have grown cotton in Victoria. Their water usage over the three years tells the story of how they’re tweaking what they do. They used 10 mega litres of water per hectare in 2014, and reduced that by one mega litre in 2015. In 2016 they got it down again to 7 or 8 megalitres. The national average is 7.8 mega litres per hectare. Kilter Rural have been able to significantly reduce their insecticide use because of the variety of cotton they’re growing. The biggest change this variety of cotton brings is a significant reduction in insecticide use. The range of herbicides needed has also dropped.

Michael was happy for me to visit the farm, so we drove all the way up to Winlaton, near Swan Hill. Ron Opie, the farm manager showed us around. We arrived a few days before harvest. I’ve seen photos of cotton fields before, but seeing the real thing was different. The cotton was super white and practically falling out of its casing cotton. The plants were shorter, and there was more cotton per plant than I imagined. Kilter Rural grew 240 hectares of cotton this year, and aim to get to 500 hectares eventually.

Ron took us to the edge of the field, where some plants had germinated outside of the irrigation lines. Their growth had been slower, so he could show us a boll in the stages between closed and fully open. If the bolls are slow to open in the field, they use a horizontal bar to tap the cotton buds. This rap is enough to prompt them to release their fruit. At harvest time, a tractor will work 7 furrows at a time. It’s hooked up to GPS so the irrigation lines are unaffected.

Cotton bolls at different stages of opening

Cotton bolls at different stages of opening

Cotton doesn’t give Ron many problems, in fact his biggest issue is the irrigation lines. A worm likes to chew through the plastic tubes. Ron’s team have to plug the holes quickly to stop water loss! Kilter Rural rotate crops. There were corn husks on the ground from the previous crop when we visited. They have found that tomatoes grow well after a cotton crop. Ron explained how just before sowing, he’ll allow weeds to germinate. These are then turned into the soil, which gives the crop an advantage on weedy competition.

Kilter Rural participate in the Better Cotton Initiative. They value sustainability in their business and manage over 70 habitat hectares of remnant vegetation in the Victorian Riverina and Murray Fans bioregions. This covers grasslands, woodlands and scattered large old trees. Kilter Rural have also been involved in composting and carbon farming research projects.

This is the longest journey I’ve made visit a farm for this Fibreshed project, but it was well worth the trip. Plant farmers seem to be a different breed to animal farmers, much more laconic and business-like. It was great to meet face-to-face and better understand the work that’s occurring here.

Cotton plant in field, ready to harvest

Cotton, ready for harvest

Posted in Fibreshed Melbourne | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mend it May

My mending pile is slowly engulfing the top shelf of my wardrobe. There are outposts in a corner of the study and on the coffee table in our living room. Mending is important to me, but I struggle to find the time to do it. In addition, I don’t often have the skills or knowhow to tackle mends efficiently and with confidence. Technically I’m having a ‘mend-it year’. Mend it May came along and reinspired me.

Mend it May was initiated by Jen Gale, as a celebration of all things repair. Jen wrote mending posts on her blog, ran a hashtag across Instagram and Twitter, and set up a group on Facebook. I came in late to this online mending party, so participating didn’t result in a large pile of finished mends for me. What it has been great for is the conversations on mending and see what everyone around the world is up to.

Mend 25 for #menditmay was a quick fix by the hubby of my charger cord.

A photo posted by @glaze_and_gale on

Looking at and reading about other’s repairs opened my eyes to different repair approaches. One person reinforced their charger cord with non-conductive fabric in their scraps pile. It’s so obvious, yet it never would have occurred to me! Someone else fixed the blade of their cheese slicer because they thought to google if replacement blades were available. I have a better idea of how to swiss darn thanks to a mender who blogged their own learnings.

I loved the resources that people posted up as well. Thanks to threads magazine, I’m now aware I can fix the droopy lining of my coat. It seems ridiculously obvious in retrospect! I’ve got a huge pile of plastics and fabric I’d like to upcycle, so a weaving page will be great inspiration. But most exciting of all, I was introduced to FixnZip: possibly the answer to the broken zip on my wallet!

Visible mend #menditmay stitched diagonally and with a bias cut patch as these jeans are stretchy. Trying to come up with #fivefactsaboutme as the inspiring @hannaontheroad asked a while back. Thank you! Let's see.. 1.Like Hanna Lisa, I too am on some version of #thejourney . As I figure out where I'm heading next, I blog about what I'm passionate about: slow fashion, handmade, and the problems of a fashion industry gone wild. 2. I love writing, but I'm still terrified of sticking my head out. 🙈 3. To soothe my nerves, therefore, I drink lots of tea. 4. Probably due to the fact that I'm half English and it's ingrained in me that a good cup of tea solves most things. 5. Inspired by @makeandmendlife I'm embracing mending this May, and most likely as a philosophy of life hereafter. It's surprisingly therapeutic. đŸŒŸ@kasia_and @sdurietz @claraundco would you lovely ladies like to share five facts about yourselves? No pressure, of course! 😊

A photo posted by Louisa (@wornvalues) on

So what did I mend? Well, at the start of the month at Fix It, we cut off the broken clasp of a brooch, filed it back and glued on a new pin. I also glued together two pairs of sunglasses. This was exciting until I realised that in conveying them home I’ve managed to smear glue on the frames…one step forward, two steps back😩

Most importantly, I attacked the frayed cuffs of my hoody. I’m tightly blanket stitching all around the cuff to essentially replace the fabric. My stitching is slowly getting better and I benefited from advice on the Mend It May Facebook group on why the ends are curling (it’s because the fabric is so old, it’s stretched). I haven’t finished this mend, but it’s definitely a long way closer🙂

Blanket stitching reinforcing the cuff of a hoody.

Blanket stitching to reinforce the cuff of my hoody.

Posted in Repairs | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Fibreshed fibre: Angora

I’ll admit I knew nothing about angora before I started this Fibreshed project. I knew it was an animal fibre, but I was confused which animal it came from. I had no idea how it was produced, and learning more has been a pleasant surprise.

The backstory on rabbit fibre

Angora is the hair of special breeds of domestic rabbit. Angoras originated from Turkey. This is also where Angora goats originated from, which helps explain why the term ‘angora’ confused me for so long! It is considered a noble fibre, because it was popular amongst French royalty from the mid-eighteenth century.

There are several key angora breeds kept for fibre: English, French, Giant and Satin. Additional breeds like the German angora are also popular. An English angora produces about 600 to 800 grams of fibre per year.

A smoke grey English angora.

A smoke grey English angora. Image credit: Charly McCafferty

Angoras are brushed daily, some of their fibre is collected then. This also helps maintain the rabbit’s coat, which can mat or felt. Fibre is also collected by shearing or plucking, usually every three to four months. Harvesting doesn’t have to harm the rabbits, they lie on a table as their coat is clipped or plucked. Its interesting to note that the industry term ‘plucking’ refers to pulling out loose hairs, which the rabbits shed naturally. There have been reports of inhumane harvesting, so it is worth investigating the source (and husbandry of) of angora fibres.

The environmental impact of farming rabbits is low. It is usually small scale and doesn’t use a lot of energy. Depending on how it is harvested, angora fibre doesn’t need processing prior to spinning.

What makes the fibre so noble?

Angora fibre is fluffy, light, soft and very warm. It has high insulation and moisture wicking properties. Its high loft breathes well and is naturally water resistant.

Angora rabbits in a day enclosure.

Angora rabbits in a day enclosure. Image credit: Charly McCafferty

The colours of angora bunnies range from pure white to grey, brown, gold, lilac and silver. It is one of the finest natural fibres, ranging from 9 to 12 micron. The staple length is relatively short; around 5-8cm, giving it a tendency to pill. Angora has low draping qualities and is inelastic, making it prone to warping.

It is often blended with other fibres and will make anything it’s blended with super soft. Only 5 to 10% is needed to make any fibre, including medium to course fibres, next to skin soft. Angora adds a cloud-like appearance and a silky feel to fabrics. It is great for felting, with a shrinkage of less than 10%.

Bunny bummers

Angora is resistant to odors but has low stain resistance. It is not an allergen, but its soft fluffy fibres might irritate the nose. It can be slippery to knit with, so use wooden needles. Angora is strong and durable, but you should only wash it when it is dirty. Too much cleaning can break down the yarn. The labour intensiveness of this fibre makes it an expensive luxury yarn.

Angora rabbit and dog lying together

Jazz the bunny dog with Gandalf at IxCHel farm. Image credit: Charly McCafferty

Where to see angora locally

IxCHel – Yarra Valley (n.b. this farm has strict biosecurity measures to protect their rabbits from disease so it is not open for visits)

Posted in Fibreshed Melbourne, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How I buy clothes

I was recently asked about my thought process when adding to my wardrobe. I have a system, but it’s not a stone-clad process…and sometimes emotion driven😉

Know my needs

Before I even leave the house, I try to have a list of what I need on my phone. I identify what’s missing from my wardrobe when I audit it once a year. I don’t shop often so this list is easy to keep up to date. I find the Colour me beautiful scheme helpful, so I keep a copy of their colour charts on my phone for reference while shopping.

Eat my greens first

In the shop, I aim for the sections with clothing I need first. At the moment that means winter dresses and trousers. This prioritises the limited amount energy I have for shopping. You know how you should never go food shopping whilst hungry? This discipline stops me from distraction from things I don’t need. By the time I’ve looked at the clothes that might fit what I’m looking for, I’ve used up my shopping energy. This helps me reduce frivolous purchases.

Thrift Town

The macro view

Many shops I visit are organised by colour, so I often search by hue first. I look for colours in my palette. In the case of tops, I’m often looking for colours in my palette that I don’t already have in my wardrobe. It’s very easy to pick up the same colours over and over again. I find that’s useful for trousers, not so much for blouses.

As I lift the garment from the hanging rack, I’m inspecting its silhouette. Some things get discarded immediately. I want things that will fit my lifestyle, so long tight skirts are out (they restrict my movement, which I hate). I do generally keep an open mind and I often try something on that I don’t think will work. Shopping second hand introduces you to all sorts of styles. You don’t really know what they’ll look like till you try them on. It’s a chance to play adult dress-ups!

The micro view

Let’s head to the changing room to try these on! Is it my size? Does it fit? I went shopping with a friend once who thought I was overly fond of myself, always looking in the shop mirror! In reality, I was looking at all the points of the dress, checking to see if it fit. It made me realise that I’ve been schooled on how to check for fit, my friend had not.

Next questions: If it needs altering, do I think it’s worth it? I have a mending pile that’s larger than my laundry basket. I’ve learnt that I’m unlikely to alter it myself, but I might consider paying someone to do it for me. Is it in good repair? I tried on a pair of trousers recently that I loved: the fabric and the cut were great! When I tried them on though, they were a little tight and I could see the hip seam was thin. I could reinforce the seam, but the snug fit would likely keep straining the fabric so I didn’t buy them.

I step back (if I can) to take in the whole garment. Do I feel good in it? If I were to walk into a room wearing this, would it match the image of myself I hold in my head? If it passes the test, I take the garment off to do a few final checks: Does it have any blemishes? If yes – do I think I could get them out, or mend the garment in a way that they’re transformed? I also check the care instructions. If it’s dry clean only, forget it.

Making progress by not making a decision

You’d think I’d be pretty certain by then, yeah? Sometimes not! I can find making a decision hard, and not buying anything often seems easier. Recently I tried on and liked two winter dresses…but not enough for one to be an all-out winner. At times like these, I ask the opinion of someone who knows my style well. That’s usually my mum or my husband. In this case, I took a photo on my phone and sent it to my mum. She didn’t love the vintage aesthetic of the first dress, so that tipped it onto the ‘do not buy’ list. We both loved the second dress, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t like the way it sat on my stomach. I’d never wear it with joy, so I didn’t buy it either.

Most times I don’t get what I’m looking for. In my mind, this can be a good thing. It means I have less clutter in my wardrobe, which is less weight on my mind in the long term. I am more willing these days to pay for a piece of clothing I think might work. I’ll test it in my wardrobe for a year and then reassess. On the day I found those winter dresses I did get a few scarves to experiment with so it wasn’t all dull..!

Four scarves in various colours and patterns

Scarves: my quick and easy way to experiment with different patterns and colours!

Posted in Clothes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Fibreshed farmer: IxCHeL

“You need to talk to Ixchel bunny. She has the most amazing angora fibres!”. I’d just told a friend that I was researching my Fibreshed project. Hers was the second recommendation I’d had. That meant I was already curious by the time I first met IxCHeL’s owner Charly.

Charly is an eagerly anticipated fixture at many of Victoria’s fibre markets. I met her at the Handknitter’s guild fair in Coburg. She’s so friendly I had to wait in line to talk to her. Luckily for me, that meant I got talking to Wil, who’s been a great advisor to me ever since. Charly’s good at drawing good people to her.

Charly cuddling a 10 week old English angora kit.

Charly cuddling a 10 week old English angora kit. This gets it used to handling, combing and clipping.

I’d have loved to have visited Charly’s farm to check out her angora bunnies, but it would be too dangerous. Biosecurity on this type of fibre farm has to be extremely high to make sure the animals stay safe. Humans can be carriers of calici virus. This deadly disease, together with myxomatosis, is used in Australia to control wild rabbit populations. Unfortunately for domestic rabbits, the diseases don’t discriminate. Charly vaccinates against the strains of calici virus she can, but that doesn’t provide 100% cover. The myxomatosis vaccination is not permitted in Australia.

Instead, I quizzed Charly about her work in order to write this post. She also provided all the photos below.

IxCHeL farm

Charly has lived in at least four different continents. Love brought her to Australia. She has a beautiful little property in the Yarra Valley with her partner Paul. It’s tucked away between the mountains with a lush green paddock, plenty of water and wildlife.

The property’s small size means Charly can’t keep large livestock herds. Angora bunnies work here because they don’t need much space. It wasn’t just practical reasons that lead Charly to farm angora. She’s always felt an affinity with rabbits. Charly’s mother and grandmother were rug weavers, so she’s been immersed in fibre from a young age.

How to keep bunnies

A rammed earth enclosure under the veranda of the farmhouse has become the perfect bunny dwelling. During the day the angoras run in their enclosure. At night they’re kept safe in their bunny night cages. Underneath the night cages Charly has installed worm farms. They catch and process the rabbit’s droppings. The results enrich the farm’s veggie patches. This loop feeds the humans and bunnies on the property. Charly keeps her herd under 100 animals and doesn’t breed to sell for pets. This gives her a sustainable number to cover the needs of her fibre business. Each of her rabbits has a name.

Caring for angoras is very labour intensive. They need daily grooming and need their fur clipped at least every few months. Good grooming and maintenance helps reduce wool block. Charly’s herd has suffered several setbacks. Despite vaccinating against calici, a few years ago 75% of her herd was lost to a new strain of the virus. They’ve suffered from a different strain since then. They are currently on full alert because a new strain has been released. An additional new Korean calici virus strain is set to be released by the government this autumn. There are no new vaccines available. There have been reports of rabbit deaths in their local area.

Producing angora

Charly hand dyes, blends and spins tops and yarns on farm. She blends her angora bunny fibre with Navajo churro, Australian merino, wallaby and other rare breeds. Angorino is her angora and Australian merino blend. Her products are unique and only available in short runs, so you have to get in quick. Check the Ixchel blog for product updates every Friday night at 8 pm AEST. She also offers subscription clubs.

She works with Cashmere connections to do her bigger blends. IxCHeL is a great source of  rare breed fibres from around the world, such as vicuña, guanaco, qiviut, bison and rare sheep breeds like the North Ronaldsay and Norwegian Gra Troender.

Posted in Fibreshed Melbourne | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments