Archive for March, 2009

I can’t believe that tomorrow I’m leaving the farm. On Monday afternoon it suddenly struck me, and I started frantically making a list of all the things I meant to do while i was here and hadn’t got around to yet. One of these was going blackberry picking and making blackberry and apple crumble for dessert - yum! Since I left home for university, I’ve very seldom been at the farm during the right season, Christmas or Easter time being far more likely. I was a little late for this year’s berries, but there were still a few to be had thank goodness.


Blackberrying requires a special uniform (unless you’re an eedjit). Long pants, long sleeves (I ignored that one and have lovely scratches to show for it), hat, solid shoes, bucket and mobile phone. The mobile phone is not protection from the sun or blackberry prickles or to put blackberries in, it’s in case you get bitten by a snake. In the Olden Days, we used to take two way radios, or lots of people, snakes really like blackberry bushes.


Mum came along with me luckily, as I wouldn’t have gone so far afield on my own even with a phone, and the little suckers were pretty scarce - we only got a few off each bush. We roamed about 20mins walk from the farmhouse to get two handfuls of berries. Above, you can see a bush carefully guarding a wombat burrow, feet for scale. Wombats are big.


We made it to our favourite spot eventually, the dam wall. I can remember picking berries here in good seasons that were as big as a thumb (almost), but this year it’s been too hot and a lot of the berries were sunburnt. We got enough though to come home and make my favourite ever dessert.


Blackberry and Apple Crumble:
1. Peel, slice and cook a few (homegrown) green apples, place in a dish and sprinkle in as many blackberries as you could find.
2. Top with crumble made from coconut, sugar, flour and melted butter.
3. Toast in the oven till golden.
4. Gobble with cream.


We managed to have homegrown tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and potatoes in the same meal, and could have been eating completely home-produced if we’d thought to take some goat out of the freezer!

Tomorrow we’re heading to the Field Days, a bit like an agricultural show, then I’m staying with my dad a couple of days then a brief stop with the in-laws in Melbourne. I fly out Sunday and will be back in London at the crack of dawn Monday morning. Sob! I’m not quite calling it a holiday, as farms are pretty hard work in general and we’ve been running around like headless chooks (chickens), but it’s certainly been a break, and a fabulous restful one at that.

Ciao! x

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We finally got to the fleeces in the shed yesterday - there were some duds of course, as is to be expected, but there were some gems among the bags as well. None of the wool fleeces were worth keeping, except one lovely black crossbred:


I didn’t put any in my pile though because it’s really a little bit short.

The Alpaca fleeces were great. We don’t know much about them, but if they were given to the shearer then we can probably assume they are from guard animals. Yet a couple of them were as good as any Alpaca I’ve seen apart from cria fleeces. A big pile just may have found its way into my suitcase.

This was probably the best one:


A lovely caramel colour and beautifully soft. There was also a couple of white ones, and another light tan.


I took my bits from the neck, I’m pretty sure these animals had two years between shearing and the saddle was about 8 inches long! There were also a few lovely suri fleeces and I pinched a bit of that to bring home too.


After we finished drooling over fleece (and getting very dusty and grotty), we headed over to visit Serena, my new friend from spinning group. You know those people you meet where you suddenly feel like you’ve known each other for ever and talk for hours and hours… We had a fantastic afternoon talking about spinning, and music and teaching and sheep and eating chocolate cake!

We were also lucky enough to be able to visit some of their Merinos:



And more importantly, some freshly shorn fleeces:



The top one is from a new ram, and measures 13.5 microns. They’re very excited to see what his lambs turn out like this year. The second is another ram fleece (with Serena’s legs, yes, we’re all wearing shorts as it was about 35 degrees yesterday). I scored me a little pile of that one to bring home :-D


Serena and Mark are considering holding back a few of their fleeces for the handspinners’ market, if you’re interested drop me a line and I can let them know what sort of demand there is.

Today it’s a lot cooler thankfully, I’ve caught up on ravelry and emails, and my only problem now is how to get all this fleece home to London :-D

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After our rush to get the goats in under cover we were rewarded with lovely thunderstorms and 1/4 inch of rain on Saturday afternoon - very satisfying to know we didn’t run round and round the paddocks in vain. Luckily though, Sunday was bright and sunny again and not too hot, perfect weather for shearing.

I was up at the shed at 8.30am getting ready (ugh), shearers like their floors swept, and we had to make some room for the fleeces. Stephen and Anne arrived at about 9 and we got started.

A few goats at a time get put into the catching pen - it’s right next to the shearing floor and has a swing gate. The shearer goes into the pen and catches a goat (or sheep) and then backs out straight onto the floor in the correct position.


Shearing starts at the belly, traditionally this is swept aside and sold separately as sheep belly is usually shorter, but the goat bellies were nice and long and clean so we kept them together in a box for carding. Then the hind legs and rear end are done and this was discarded - all the dirty straggly bits.

Then the real business starts, and it’s fascinating to watch as the locks peel away from the skin in layer after layer. The shearer goes up one back leg, across the flank on that side, does all the topknot fiddly bits (horns are fun!) and then down the other flank. The good fleece all peels away in one big piece.


The nekkid goat gets sent out the door to a pen (only one went the wrong way and leapt around all over the shed before we caught her!) and the shearer catches the next one.


The shed hand (moi!) gathers up the fleece and takes it to the skirting table. There’s not much skirting to do, as we left behind most of the unwanted bits, but I had to check carefully for any second cuts and straggly bits that crept in.


The fleece is then rolled up in a pillowcase (you can see them behind me) and allocated to a pile depending on the quality. Even though the goats are all roughly the same age we had quite a lot of variation.


After 19 sweet little does, goat number 20 was rather more of a handful :-D


We didn’t put his fleece with the rest, it’s rather pungent smelling!

Goat number 21 wasn’t actually a goat:


…but his fleece is just as lovely. He gets shorn standing up, he’s far too dignified to sit down on his butt for a haircut. I don’t have a picture of him afterwards, but will get one in the next day or so.


The goats get shorn twice a year, this is their third clip and will probably be the best overall, although some of them had such fine fleece this time that the next one will probably also be excellent. Their next job is to have some babies for us - hence the smelly man pictured above :-D

The Mohair will be up for sale soon, washed and dyed in Mum’s Etsy shop and as whole fleeces as well. I’ll keep you posted.

Ciao! x

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Part Three: Cotton

Cotton has a long and fascinating history in the textile world and today still counts for by far the largest portion of the commercial natural fibre industry. It is a fibre which has often been at the centre of things; Cotton Bonds helped to fund the South in the American Civil War and the spinning of cotton was integral to Ghandi’s campaign to free India from English rule, re-igniting an industry over 3000 years old. Fragments of cotton textiles have been dated back to the stone age and it has been a popular fibre choice for clothing all over the world throughout history.



(Cotton flower, and naturally coloured cotton boll ready for picking, photos by Phreadde Davis)


Cotton is a perennial plant, but nowadays is usually grown commercially as an annual, with plants being resown each year. It grows best in hot, dry climates and some varieties can reach up to 6 feet tall. The flowers develop into pods in which the seeds are protected by a mass of fibres, up to 4000 on each seed. As the fibres grow, they coil and twist, when the plants mature the fibres straighten, causing the pods to burst open.

Cotton is picked commercially by machine, either stripping the seeds and fibres from the pods, or taking the whole boll. Seeds are removed by a process called ginning, and the cotton is carded or combed in preparation for spinning. Handspinners often spin cotton straight from the seed, saving on labour if the cotton is home-grown.


(Cotton seeds ready for spinning)

Structure and Characteristics

Cotton fibres grow layer upon layer of cellulose in hollow cylindrical tubes, when picked the tubes then collapse into flat ribbons. This tubular, layered structure is what gives cotton it’s excellent absorbant qualities. The many coils and twists in the fibres create a crimp and springiness rather like that of a fine wool, which makes cotton easier to spin than smoother fibres. Cotton is stronger than wool, but weaker than silk or linen. It burns easily and is very susceptible to damage from acids and mildew. Fibres will also weaken with prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Cotton fibres are generally in the range of 12-20 microns in diameter, and can vary in length from 0.5 to 2.5 inches. The fibres have good luster which can be greatly increased through the process of Mercerization which plumps and straightens the fibres creating a lovely surface sheen.


There are many different varieties of cotton, found in tropical and subtropical climates all over the world. It is a member of the Gossypium or Mallow family (source of our word ‘marshmallow’) which also includes Hibiscus and Hollyhocks.

Egyptian cotton is popular for luxury cotton products, its particularly long smooth staple is softer and more durable than American (Pima) cotton. Other varieties include Sea Island, Peruvian, and Indian, but these account for very little of the commercial industry.

Many people are becoming concerned about the use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides used in cotton growing (up to 25% of world use is for cotton crops) and are turning to organic varieties. Availability of organic fibres, yarns and finished garments is increasing rapidly with demand and it is now relatively easy to find organic alternatives. As part of this movement, we are seeing the reappearance of many beautiful naturally coloured cottons. A pioneer in this area, Sally Fox, has worked at researching and developing many varieties of natural coloured cottons in spite of resistance from the commercial white cotton industry.


(Organic cotton fibre in natural white, tan and green)

Cotton for Handspinners

Cotton is an extremely short fibre and is most successfully spun with a long draw or point-of-twist technique. A fine thread with lots of twist is normal, and thus a high ratio is needed. The traditional tool for spinning cotton, the Charkha, has an accelerated pulley system which allows for ratios of up to 100:1. Cotton can be successfully spun on a spinning wheel, however, with a high ratio and tension set to low, or a light drop or supported spindle.


(Book Charkha made by Jonothan Bosworth)

Cotton is often boiled after spinning to set the twist and remove any last traces of wax (this wax is generally removed in processing). Coloured cottons should be boiled as this process intensifies the colours, creating a much more striking effect.


(Skeins of Charkha-spun cotton)

With special thanks to Phreadde Davis who taught me to spin cotton, and provided the pictures of cotton plants for this article. Check out her blog at and say hello from me!

Do you have questions? What are your experiences with cotton – like it? Love it? Leave a comment or come by the Lingr chatroom on Sunday evenings.

Sources/further reading

Ross, Mabel “Essentials of Yarn Design�?, 1983

Chadwick, Eileen “The Craft of Handspinning�?, Batsford Ltd, 1980.

MacKenzie McCuin, Judith ‘The Intentional Spinner’, Interweave press, 2009.

Albright, Barbara “The Natural Knitter�?, Potter Craft 2007

Wayland Barber, Elizabeth “Women’s Work – The First 20,000 Years�?, Norton, 1994.

BBC Television: “The Ascent of Money�? Episode 2, 2008.

Columbia Pictures: “Ghandi�?, 1982. Fox Fibre – Colour by Nature, Sally Fox’s website ‘Spinning the Web – The Story of the Cotton Industry Wikipedia - Cotton

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Although there are defintely things I am missing from city life (including Neil, strangly enough) I really can’t claim that I’m not having fun up here on the farm! The weather has been good, lots of rain (which is good remember - we’re in drought here) and sunny and warm in between. It’s lovely to be able to wander around the garden picking stuff to eat straight off the bushes, and cook dinner each night using ingredients that for the most part have been grown within a 20km radius of us.

The paddocks are pretty green:


Very different to last year when all you could see was brown. The little kid in the picture is a bottle-fed one, he’s weaned now, but still runs up and down the fence wanting company and attention.

We went into town for spinning group this morning, and I made a new friend! There was a woman there about my age who has two little girls who are also learning to knit, sew and spin. We have all sorts of similar views on keeping traditions alive for our generation and the ones coming after. I’m hoping to pursue the acquaintance before I leave the area - Serena and her husband raise superfine Merinos :-D I met up with lots of other friends too, including Stella, who gave me all sorts of weaving tips last year when I was visiting.

Before the meeting ended we had to rush home as the sky was getting blacker and blacker. We’re shearing the angoras tomorrow and they can’t get rained on or the shearing would have to be put off. They followed us happily into the yards, but it took a bit of shooing to get them under cover. They settled down quitely  enough though eventually with some tree branches to nibble on. They won’t look nearly so cute tomorrow nekkid, hahaha!


It was kind of funny, Mum kept saying they’d come running as soon as they saw us, looking for the branches we carried. But we pretty much had to walk right up to them on the other side of the paddock, then suddenly they all rushed over. I’m thinking maybe they didn’t see us…


Perhaps a more frequent haircut would be a good idea.

And for some more cute:




Margie seems to have a fairly steady supply of cats about the place, it’s great as they keep all the mice etc away. Wish they’d do the same for the moths, all my knitting is in the freezer after a little scare yesterday. Ugh.

Back tomorrow with more pictures of (probably very offended) goats, and sorry, I still haven’t dug through the free fleeces in the shed and taken pics. But I will.

Ciao! x

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I’ve been working in the mornings, and then taking the afternoons to spend with Mum and Margie and get loads of quality time in. It’s so nice to be able to sit and chat and knit and feel that there’s not many demands on us, even if it’s a case of doing housework together instead of knitting, it’s great to have the time. It’s funny too, I know there aren’t really any more hours in the day, but long daylight somehow tricks you into thinking that the afternoons last for ever. Why they have daylight saving I guess.

Most of the knitting time has been spent on this:


Very, very boring, and liable to end up full of mistakes if the tv program of the moment is too interesting. Only two more rows though, and I’m onto the stocking stitch. That I can do in my sleep thank goodness.

My aeroplane knitting (on knitpicks harmonys) was a Leyburn sock, I made it all the way to the heel before Hong Kong and I’ve knitted little bits and pieces since then while out and about.


It’s a really fast knit, I think several people have told me that. I’ll finish this one and then keep the second to cast on on the flight home.

Not my knitting, but still knitting, I had a fabulous surprise on Tuesday as Amanda had posted my parcel to my mum’s so I wouldn’t have to wait till I get back to London. She’s put so much thought and effort in as usual, I feel very spoilt!

The socks are knitted from yarn Amanda bought at SOAR when we met last year, very appropriate!


And they fit perfectly of course:


She also made me a cute little patchwork bag, just perfect for storing spinning in. There’s another pic of the outside on Flickr if you click an image. I just love the colours, and it makes me long for my sewing machine. Sadly, I don’t think I can fit in in my case to take back with me.


There was also the obligatory Hershey’s kisses, and a box of Girl Scout Cookies :-D I think Alan already ate those!

Everyone here is doing really well, Alan’s looking great compared to last year and has been getting out and about a lot. In fact, he and Margie are heading off tomorrow to help a crew replaces fences on a farm that suffered in the fires. They’ll be camping for a night, and are currently running around making sure they have enough corned beef and cookies to keep them sustained!

Mum has visitors coming tomorrow, a group of ladies who are working with her on a large stitching project. It’s connected to the Quaker Tapestry, which you can read more about on their website. Basically, Australia is working on their own version and tomorrow’s get-together is for planning and practice. Mum’s small group is one of many working all over Australia to each contribute one part.

On Saturday we are going to spinning group, and on Sunday the goats are being shorn - busy busy! Tomorrow I must get out to the shed and take photos of the free fleeces - I’ve only had the briefest of looks, but there’s some gold amongst the straw! I’ll share soon.

Ciao! x

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Yay for Mobile Broadband!! (just wanted to start positive in case the BB gods are watching me and break my connection). I went with the only company that I could find that provides cover at my Mum’s, and their website claims ‘top-quality’ connection coverage and speeds out there. Hah. I walked around for half an hour today looking for a spot where my modem went blue and the coverage box registered more than one little blip. I did get three blips in the end, sitting on the steps of the shed (no blips inside the shed of course where there might be a table), and I got some photos uploaded and one tweet. I gave up in the end, and had a cup of tea instead. just now, I’ve hitched a ride into town with Mum while she has an appointment, and I’m sitting outside feeling connected to the world :-D

I’m not complaining though really, I knew it would be like this, and three blips on the steps is still better than dial-up! The cover is fine here in town too, and it was good where we were camping on the weekend, and I will be using the laptop in Melbourne as well. So still totally worth getting.

Oh, the camping? I have to get some pics from my sister’s camera, but here’s one to whet your appetites:

Margie at Venus Bay

I stayed a couple of days with my brother when I flew in, and caught up with some Melbourne friends and my Dad. Then on Saturday we drove down to Inverloch where the family were all gathered for the annual reunion. It was really nice to see everyone, most of them for the first time in years. My older brother was also over from NZ for the weekend so there was a big bunch of us. Sunday afternoon we drove over to Venus Bay where my in-laws have a holiday house to catch up with them. This shot is taken at the beach ten minutes’ walk from their place.

The area we were in was pretty untouched by fire, although very, very dry, but driving home on Monday we had a bit of shock as we went through here:


I can’t remember where it was, somewhere near Yarram I think. You can see that the leaves are all yellow on the trees - meaning that the fire was particularly hot and killed them all. Usually, bushfires only scorch eucalyptus trees and they regenerate quickly - they’re accustomed to it. If you look closely, you’ll see that a couple of the trees at the back have green tops still.

Up at the farm I’m nearly into a routine - work in the mornings and spinning/knitting/mum chat in the afternoons. The jetlag is over, thankfully! It was a rough couple of days to begin with after having almost no sleep on the plane. Mum has all sorts of things planned, including shearing the goats on Sunday! Just before we left just now to come to town, Mum’s friend turned up with some sheep and alpaca fleeces she’s ‘getting rid of’ woot! I think I might be putting together a box to send back to London by sea.

The whole time-difference thing is annoying me a bit - no point being wired if everyone’s asleep, and I feel a bit lonely (ok, put the violins away). I’m probably not going to bother much with Twitter therefore, but will still be around on ravelry, and checking email and blogging regularly. I’ll also be on Lingr as usual, although not till 8pm GMT, which is 7am for me and quite early enough!

Ciao! xx

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There seems to be an awful lot to do still, and a rapidly diminishing number of days to do it in. I haven’t started actually putting things in cases yet, but I’ve started some piles, and some lists and have a good idea in my head of what’s going with me.

The important things:



Two knitting projects, one for the plane and one for the TV. Should keep me occupied. I also have the next SoFA fibre to spin up while I’m there, and I’m taking the charkha and a pile of cotton.

I’ll also probably take this:


The latest addition to the spindle jar. It’s a Bosworth Featherweight in walnut, 14g and currently wearing a lovely cashmere pullover. I think I’d find it hard to leave behind.

To stay in touch, I’m looking into Mobile Broadband for Aus. I have too much internetzing to do to be able to manage with just a dial-up connection, but it’s dicey getting coverage in the sticks. I’ll have to check things out when I get there. I’ll be checking email regularly, and should be able to Twitter and Lingr. If I’m reduced to dial-up there will be very limited Rav though, I may have to look for an internet cafe in town to visit every so often, otherwise I’ll miss you guys too much!

Having a lazy day today with Neil, but I’ll be on Lingr tonight from 8-10pm. Slightly shorter hours, but please pop in and say hello!

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