Q for You: What tests your love of knitting?

Q for You: What tests your love of knitting?

Last time in Q for You, I asked what aspect of knitting thrills you most — and I loved the variety of answers to that question. This time I’m pondering the opposite. I’m using my grandmother’s shawl up there to illustrate this Q, but let me perfectly clear up front: I am very happy to be knitting this shawl for my grandma and I can’t wait to give it to her (belatedly, at this point). But honestly? I also can’t wait to be done with it. I always think I like shawl knitting, and I do like it well enough at the beginning when the rows are short and you make fast progress from three little stitches to an ever-expanding wedge. But as time marches on, I’m reminded that the sort of project that tests my love of knitting is that which involves long rows of back and forth. The longer the rows get, the harder it is for me to remember that I like to knit.

I like to make things — three-dimensional things. I love to see a hat or mitt or sweater form on my needles as if out of thin air. For whatever reason, I don’t enjoy just knitting a flat piece of fabric. A flat piece of fabric meant to hang around your neck doesn’t make it any more interesting for me. I’ve been thinking of this as I’ve been knitting all these cardigans and pieced sweaters the past couple of years — how I used to say I hated to knit back and forth, and then here I am doing it routinely. But over time I’ve realized it’s the combination of flatness and long rows that wears me down. Flat is ok as long as a) the rows are short enough that progress is felt, and b) the flatness is a temporary state on the way to three dimensions.

So that’s my Q for You today: What variety or aspect of knitting bores you most? And bonus question: Do you do it anyway, and toward what end? (I wouldn’t let my reluctance to knit long and flat keep me from knitting my granny this beautiful shawl.)


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What thrills you?

Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ouselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

When I was first knitting and trying to make friends on Twitter — in the days before the knitting community migrated largely to Instagram — one of the first people to follow me (back?) was called @pinkbrutus, a rather memorable name. Her real name is Courtney Spainhower, and in the Instagram era, hers has become one of my very favorite feeds. Courtney is one funny lady, and I’m happy to have her in Our Tools today. By the way, I asked her where the name comes from and she said she and a friend were brainstorming her rockstar name for one of those web quizzes one day, putting random words together, and they settled on Pink Brutus — not knowing that was apparently the name of a professional wrestler once upon a time. That was enough to seal it.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter and Ravelry, as well as at her website.

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I am a knitter straight to my marrow, but that wasn’t always the case.

I learned to crochet first, at age 13, taught by my aunt on a quiet afternoon. She was doing her duty and passing the craft to the next generation, just as my great-grandmother had handed the hook off to her. I dabbled a little with crochet until my oldest was born and I lost interest entirely. I have also tried my hand at the dye pot (my oldest still says she smells yarn every time the twang of vinegar is in the air), and at the drop spindle, and the spinning wheel. In fact, I purchased a very inexpensive drop spindle soon after I learned to knit and began practicing day and night. I ordered a spinning wheel soon after because with my degenerative autoimmune disease I just couldn’t hold my arm in the air any longer! It took me three hours to figure out how to assemble that spinning wheel. During those three hours, my children were wailing in agony from boredom and possibly because in all the excitement I had neglected to fix dinner. Needless to say, my husband was thrilled to come home from work to find two half-starved children on the floor and a “little house on the prairie looking thing” in the living room. I’ve even had a go at sewing, quilting, cross stitch, and embroidery. However, none of those endeavors ignited me in the same way knitting did. Though I really enjoyed dyeing and spinning, I knew I could easily buy expertly dyed yarns from a passionate yarnie and be far happier with the result. The same rang true for spinning — however, especially in the warmer months when knitting becomes more laborious, I still enjoy the meditative whirl of the wheel.

So, to the knitting. When I was expecting my youngest in 2006, my mother-in-law took a knitting class at a local craft store. I begged her to teach me but she only knew how to cast-on and work the knit stitch. I learned what I could from her and the rest on my own from books, online tutorials, and of course, many YouTube videos. There are a few reasons for my continuing love of the craft: Knitting is portable and takes up very little space (until you make career of it, but that’s another story) and I create via process and was a ceramics major in college with a printmaking minor. Process is where I feel most at home, and knitting is the ultimate process craft — from swatching to knitting, ripping, frogging and blocking (not to mention all of the extra when we throw design into the pot) that I’ve never become bored or felt I’d learned all there was learn. It’s an expansive craft, perfect for my restless little soul.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I love my circular needles. I have two interchangeable sets — one plastic, one metal — and a random collection of wooden points. Because of the nature of the design cycles I have many duplicate sizes so that I can knit two or three samples using the same size needles without having to pull tips and cap cords.
I have whittled down my tool collection over the years, but I’m by no means a tool snob. I do prefer my wooden points to all others simply because I love the way the points feel against my fingertips as I work. I have little knitting ticks, like running the point lengthwise on my index finger at the start of every row, and so I am in fact searching for a third set to round out my collection in wood.

I use double points only as necessary but I have two sets of those also, and a set of tiny 4″ DPNs that are just the cutest.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

This is probably the single most difficult part of the craft. Storage. I have a small work area that houses the bulk of my yarn and tools including sewing machines, the spinning wheel and blocking tools. A picture of my storage area went viral a few years ago when I first decided to hang my hanks on two inexpensive, adjustable curtain rods. I still use this system — it’s practical and lovely. For my double points and hooks, I have two large glass jars for quick access, and a tall, slender floor basket holds my blocking wires. I think circular needle storage is the toughest for me to settle into. I’ve tried dozens of methods; bought the little needle holders, made my own, thrown them into a storage box, hung them from rungs … . There has to be a better way. Right now, all my circulars, spare cords and point sets are tossed in a storage box with a needle gauge. HA! It works for now.

Our Tools, Ouselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

This is a tale of two baskets. One is a lovely chicken-wire basket with two hinged handles gifted to me by my mother, which lives in my workroom. The other is a large rice basket that I purchased from Fringe that lives next to my couch or chair or anywhere else I have settled in for work. The rice basket houses the most pressing projects with the nearest deadlines. I will keep swatches and all the yarn needed to complete the projects in a large plastic zipper bag in the basket, along with the needles I’ll need, and a pouch of notions, needle gauges and snips. This gives me little reason to break concentration in the midst of a particularly productive session to grab those double points I need for the sleeves or the tape measure to check the body length. Any WIPs I take on the go are tossed straight into my Bento Bag. I was lucky enough to receive the bag as a surprise gift from the mother of one of my closest friends. She’s an amazing woman who has actually become the queen of surprise knitting gifts around here.

The chicken-wire basket houses the “next” or “recently wrapped” projects. If I have a self-published piece in full swing and receive yarn for a publication sample, the self-publish goes right to the chicken-wire basket. Any yarn left over from a sample I finish and don’t need to return will also get tossed into this basket until I’m ready to sort and store it.

This system was born from necessity after wrapping up the dozens of samples for my book. For that undertaking, with maybe fifteen samples with the same deadline, I invested in a large system of racks with sixteen wire drawers. Each drawer held the yarn and sketches for one sample with the swatch pinned to the front. When the sample was not in-progress, or after it was finished, it went straight back to the drawer. When I no longer needed those massive organization strategies, I honestly couldn’t break from it completely to return to my previously less organized non-system.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I don’t feel like any price tag on yarn or tools is a splurge at this point (it’s all for the sake of progress, right?) but there are a few things I hold dear. For any sketches that need to be submitted, I go to my Micron pens and Fashionary templates, and I use Stitchmastery software for all of my charting. I don’t use much else in the way of software, though I am diving into the depths of Illustrator so that I can produce my own schematics (for self-published work). We’ll see how that goes!

Other than that, my swift and ball winder are my most valued tools outside my needles, of course. I made the mistake of buying the ball winder first. I knew I wanted to be able to wind hanks into cakes quickly and jumped to the conclusion that the ball winder would do that for me. Don’t most people make that jump, or is it just me? Well, it does its job very well if you have a method for holding the hank. For anyone considering one or the other, since they can each be pretty pricey, please do yourself a favor and start with the swift. You can happily hand-wind a ball from a swift and may never even need to invest in a winder!
No one told me that, so I would often post pictures on Instagram of my hank holding methods during a ball winding session — draping the hank over a chair, around my knees, and my most trusted, on my husband’s outstretched arms — and cried out to the universe one day that I needed a swift. A few days later a mysterious package appeared at the front door. It was long and thin and very heavy for its size. My husband saw the shipping label from Amazon, sighed, and slapped his forehead in dread. (Remember the spinning wheel story?) I swore up and down that I was innocent! I hadn’t purchased anything and I couldn’t begin to guess what treasure was sealed inside. When I pulled the beautiful wooden swift from its bubble-wrap cocoon, I declared a knitting fairy was responsible. I posted a picture on Instagram asking if anyone knew how this lovely swift magically appeared and my dear friend called me soon after. She said her mother had seen the picture and called her to asked what a knitting “swiffer” was, then ordered one for each of us. See? Queen of surprise knitting gifts.

Do you lend your tools?

I don’t tend to lend my tools out and, now that I think about it, I don’t even lend my tools to my students when I teach classes. I have duplicates of everything for practical purposes, and I suppose I may be more attached to my systems and my tools than I previously thought!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

What is your favorite place to knit?

I’m surprised there isn’t a crater in my couch where I spend most of my mornings and afternoons! Because I’m normally writing or charting as I knit, I sit squarely on my couch with my laptop and notebook within arms reach at all times. I would love to be able to knit in groups, abandoning this reclusive life! It can be tricky though, since I’m rarely just knitting along or following a pattern and so conversation is the enemy. Many times I’m working on something for an upcoming publication and I tend to feel a bit strange about answering that big question in every knitting group: So, what are you working on?
I miss the early days when we had a large group that would get together weekly and all the kids were small — we would knit little hats for each other’s children and laugh to tears sharing our recent knitting fails. Even though those days weren’t destined to last, as kids started school and many of us had to return to the work force, I’ve come to know the distinct line that forms across the threshold from knitter to designer.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

Other than having to crank the air up in the summer so that my yarn isn’t sticking to me, the seasons make little difference. With most design work, schedules dictate that you’re knitting all summer for patterns featured over the holidays or whipping up summer frocks while snow drifts down in heavy flakes. This used to really mess with me, especially when you consider social media. It’s not always easy to be knitting off schedule from the rest of the western world, but like anything else, eventually it becomes the new normal.

Our Tools, Ouselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I do not condone “start-itis.” I fell under its spell early on, as many crafters of any kind do. The banishing of multiple projects sprouted from a new year’s mantra “multitasking is the enemy of progress.” I dumped out every basket, bag and corner of my life with a WIP stuffed inside it, and I began frogging everything. That included old sewing, spinning, crochet and cross-stitch projects also. Any yarn I didn’t love I tossed into a donation bin, and the rest I washed and re-hanked. It was one of the smartest decisions of my crafting life. The determination to purge, focus and cleanse with wild authority opened me up to moving forward rather than turning back and wondering why I had started those socks, remembering the frustrations I had with that cable panel, or cringing at the cheap, old yarn I bought on day one of my knitting journey. It freed me from the guilt of not finishing what I had started and instantly provided me with thousands of yards of beautiful yarn that had literally been tied up.

At this point you may be scratching your head because I talked previously about how I manage my various WIPs. This is something that was actually very challenging for me when I slipped into a designer role and had multiple, sometimes overlapping, deadlines that needed to be met. I had to take a step back and visualize the differences between multiple deadlines and “start-tis” which may be very clear to an outsider (professional vs personal), but I had re-wired my brain to only allow myself one project on the needles at a time. In fact, I had spent the previous five years working one project at a time because I was finishing projects more quickly, having an incentive to do so (especially if I found another project I was itching to start). I still prefer to work up a single project or design from start to finish before moving on to the next — I believe it is the root of why I tend to not only meet but exceed my deadlines.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, the biggest project I’m working on is my book. The knitting and writing is done, but that — I’ve come to learn — is the easy part. There is a thick mash-up of excitement and anxiety churning inside me as I sink into the process of approving edits and facing promotion schedules.
If you’re an independent designer, you have to hustle — always. So, I’m also working on various pieces for book contributions right now — two for an upcoming Interweave book along with another Knit Picks pattern. I’m also working with editors on final reviews for three additional patterns. I can’t share any details of those, of course! That’s why I’m always excited to see pieces I worked on ages ago reach publication dates — and it’s about that time for Pom Pom summer (eep!).

Self-published patterns are about as close as I get to personal making anymore. I can share at my discretion and I design to fulfill a knitting itch. If I feel like knitting a long cardigan with pockets, I’ll design one! So, right now in addition to the book and the publication work, I have one sweater queued up for self-publication and one that I just released last week. The Adrift Pullover just came out of testing and became available on Ravelry last Wednesday. It’s a really sweet little sweater knit using Malabrigo Rastita, from the bottom up, in the round, seamlessly, with set-in sleeves (also knit seamlessly), and some really different yoke shaping. It’s comfortable and casual but has a lot of detail packed in. The other is the Freya Cardigan. If you follow along on IG, it’s the dove grey piece with spicy orange mosaic work and pockets. I absolutely LOVE this sweater. In fact, I’ve hardly taken it off since pulling it from the blocking board. This one is worked up in Northbound Knitting MCN, from the top down with a gorgeous circular yoke. It’s also completely seamless, about hip length, and features mosaic front panels along with front pockets. I need to send it out for full testing yet, so this will be a fall release. Hopefully I won’t wear holes into the sample before then!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis


Photos © Courtney Spainhower

Wardrobe Planning: My silhouettes for 2015

Wardrobe Planning: My silhouettes for 2015

Pardon the dramatic lighting — I got so absorbed in this activity yesterday afternoon that I forgot to finish and photograph it before the light was artfully low in the sky. When I posted about Into Mind the other week, I mentioned that it got me (for the first time, really) to stop and think in a very focused way about what kinds of silhouettes (or profiles or ensembles — whatever you want to call it) actually work for me.  This is a step beyond my old three-outfits rule — that I’m not allowed to buy anything unless I can make three outfits I love using pieces I already own — and into the realm of making sure the things I intend to make will fit into my smallish wardrobe in a truly useful way. I still have some thinking to do about color (although being a minimalist does make that part simpler) and fabrics, but for right now I’m just thinking about literally how I dress and how I want to dress, shape-wise, which aren’t precisely the same thing.

Anuschka has a newer post up called 24 outfit formulas for spring and I do like that method of stating combinations — mine would be “slouchy jeans/pants with a floaty top” or “flares with a fitted sweater.” But for this to be of maximum usefulness to me, I decided to think of it in terms of the “bottoms” I’m partial to right now, and to look at how those work across the four seasons of the year. And rather than scour my Style board for combos I like, I decided to sketch them all out using actual garments I own or mean to make, so it’s as specific to my closet as possible. (Which I had a ton of fun doing thanks to the brilliant Fashionary Panels.)

What you’re looking at are my four preferred bottoms (base layers, foundations, building blocks)—

ROW 1: I’ve been wanting to learn to wear skirts and dresses for years — I’m such a pants person — but the Nashville heat is going to force it on me. What I have in mind is a simple floaty — not too full — knee-length skirt that I can make in the same fabrics as some of my forthcoming tops, for mixing and matching, as well as a sack dress or two that can be layered over in other seasons.

ROW 2: Shorts are challenging but, again, necessary in my new climate. So I’m embracing the narrow bermuda short. I have a pale camo pair I bought last summer, and I plan to buy another pair in army green. I’m loving the idea of them with simple woven pullover tops, from long-sleeved to sleeveless, as well as my knitted linen tank, instead of t-shirts or ribbed tanks.

ROW 3: My wide-leg trouser jeans are my favorites but I think of them as difficult to wear. The past several years, I’ve kept it to fitted sweaters plus boots with either a chunky sole or heel. Limited, right? Right now, they’re looking really good to me with flat oxfords or sandals and the same floaty little tops I intend to get me through the summer. And in the fall/winter I can add a shorter sweater — fitted or boxy, cardigan or pullover.

ROW 4: The slim/slouchy variety of jeans and pants I live in, which I find incredibly easy to pair with everything all year long. Androgyny is my happy place when it comes to getting dressed.

And then from left to right across the four rows is an example of how I might wear that bottom piece in spring, summer, fall and winter (except no winter for the shorts). The spring column is about light layers and bare legs/ankles with closed shoes or boots. Summer is all sleevelessness and sandals. Fall is a lot like spring but with heavier top layers — e.g., the woven raglan top in the spring shorts outfit get replaced with a raglan sweater; the vest becomes a cardigan, etc. And winter is for longer, heavier sweaters layered over the same tops from the rest of the year.

What thrills me most about this combination of things is that they’re almost entirely interchangeable. The fitted cotton fisherman sweater in row 3 (an L.L. Bean favorite of mine) goes with every skirt and pant. You can take any of the tops in the spring column and put them with any of the four bottoms, and so on. So that’s my challenge to myself, now that I have it boiled down to this level of simplicity: For anything I’m thinking of sewing or knitting, I want it to fit into at least three rows and two columns of this matrix.

Clearly this is hugely helpful in determining and prioritize what it is I’ll be making. I realized the other day that I have only one short-sleeved top in my closet at this point, whereas I’m in a pretty good shape in the sleeveless category. I also have several button-down shirts but only one that’s a long-sleeved, collarless, lightweight woven top like the one in the first shorts outfit (and it’s a loud pattern that almost never gets worn.) Also, I’d been planning to make mostly longer sweaters but I see now that shorter and boxier is better and also what I’m lacking.

So my next step will be to narrow in on a few different pullover tops, a skirt pattern for making in two or three fabrics, a dress and a couple of sweaters. And then I can work out what the color and fabric for each of those should be!

Farm to needle: Benjamin Hole talks about getting into the yarn biz

Farm to needle: Benjamin Hole talks about getting into the yarn biz

As you know, I’ve been following British farmer Benjamin Hole and his sheep on Instagram for years, danced for joy last April when he announced he was going to mill some of his fleece into yarn, and couldn’t believe my luck when I actually snagged a bag of the beautiful DK-weight Hole & Sons wool ten weeks ago. Unless you raise sheep and spin (and dye) and knit, it’s uncommon (though thankfully no longer unheard of) to know exactly what sheep grew the fleece that became the wool you’re knitting with. To have a treasured sweater vest in my wardrobe knitted from the fleece of sheep I follow on Instagram is pretty wacky and wonderful. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know Ben a tiny bit along the way. This is perhaps the ultimate example of what I mean when I say I want to have more of a connection to the clothes on my back.

The day after I wrote that blog post comparing the yarn release to a unicorn sighting, I got a really lovely email from Ben, who, as you’ll see below, appears to be a thoroughly lovely person. He agreed to answer some questions for the blog and I thought now that I’ve shown you my vest would be a good time. I wish I could say it’s tied in to the release of the next batch, but we’re apparently not too far away from that. Be sure to follow @benjaminhole and @harpstone, Ben’s Aunt Sue, for further news!

And with that, here’s Ben—

Your family have been sheep farmers for years but, like many/most farmers, had been selling the fleece off to the anonymous wool market to be blended into mattress stuffing or who knows what, correct? How did the idea evolve that you should start spinning some of it into yarn?

That’s right, yes. The sad truth is that over the last few decades wool has become something of a forgotten product in the UK. Falling prices have meant that it almost costs more to shear the ewes than the fleeces were worth to sell, so we really saw shearing as something we had to do for the comfort of the ewe during the summer months, rather than as a business venture. But this didn’t really sit well with us, not only because we believe wool is a fantastic, sustainable product, but because we felt that our wool had a story to tell. When you shear a ewe, you notice that each fleece is as individual as the ewe itself. It also varies how it grows throughout the seasons, dependent on weather conditions, the quality of the grass that grew that year and so on. So, really it seemed an incredible shame to pack this wool off into anonymous sacks, to be mixed in with thousands of other fleeces from across the country, and for this story to be lost. So, last year we started looking into other markets for our wool and we decided on yarn. This is where Hole & Sons yarn began.

Not all of your sheep have what I’ll call “yarn-grade fleece,” right? (Is that a term?) Did you know or intuit that some of them did — your Poll Dorsets — or did you just start asking around about your flocks and the possibilities?

Funnily enough the British Wool Marketing Board pay us more for our North Country Mule wool than they do for our Poll Dorsets, though you’re right, we knew it wasn’t yarn-grade fleece. We chose to spin the wool from our Poll Dorset and Poll Dorset cross ewes, for three reasons really: Firstly, the breed itself is iconic to the area, and such a familiar sight on our farm. Secondly, the quality of the wool is great. I’ll be honest: it’s not cashmere and if you’re used to merino, well, this will feel a little different. It has a soft, slightly crisp feel, that will further soften with working and wear. But it’s a dense and durable wool, and whatever is made from it will be hard wearing and stand the test of time. Thirdly, we chose to spin our Poll Dorset wool because of its relative scarcity as a yarn product. Because of its high quality and density, the vast majority of it is swiftly snapped up by bedding manufacturers. We felt we should do our bit to make this lovely wool more widely available as a yarn too.

Farm to needle: Benjamin Hole talks about getting into the yarn biz

How large is the flock?

Ah, well asking an Isle of Purbeck farmer that question is a bit like asking a lady her age, ha! Our Poll Dorset and Poll Dorset Cross flock stands at around 400 breeding ewes and on average each have two lambs at foot throughout the summer months.

So you decide you want to make yarn; did you start by simply approaching mills and opening up conversations? Did you go into it with any ideas about what kind of yarn you wanted to make — the weight, spinning style, etc. — or did that all come through discussion with the mill?

First and foremost it was important for us to find the right mill. The story behind the yarn was so important to us that we wanted our wool to be treated with a delicate hand and the care and respect it deserved, so we avoided the larger mass producing mills. Instead we got in contact with Sue Blacker from the Natural Fibre Company. I’ll be honest, at the time I knew nothing about yarn (and believe me I still have so much to learn!), but I had an idea of how I wanted it to look and how I wanted the colours to reflect the Isle of Purbeck. The team at the mill were great — they offered a completely bespoke service and recommended I start with Double Knit yarn. Using small mills like this isn’t the fastest way to produce yarn, nor is it the cheapest, but we feel that reconnecting people to the land and the work of true craftsmen is far more important than ‘keeping the margins down’.

Had you ever thought about fleece in terms of micron count and staple length before, or was it all just fleece? Have you enjoyed learning about the finer points of sheep hair?

As I said earlier, sadly wool was a little overlooked in the past, but now all that’s changed. When I roll up the fleeces after shearing, I’m constantly testing the ‘spring’ of the staples and admiring the intricacy of each fleece. I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about wool. The silly thing is it’s been right there in front of me all this time, but now I’ve seen it in a new light, I can’t stop!

Farm to needle: Benjamin Hole talks about getting into the yarn biz

I was thrilled when I first heard you were doing yarn and even more thrilled when I saw that it was lovely rustic heathers. What was the dyeing process, and how did you go about settling on colors? I’ll say up front that I saw that ball of charcoal yarn on your IG feed long ago and I would like to order a bag of it, please. Also, any chance of an undyed version?

The dyeing process was a fun one — the beauty with working with a small mill is that they indulge you in your bizarre ideas. Like I said, I knew nothing about yarn when I set out, but I had a strong idea of how I wanted it to look. Firstly, being a very pure coloured wool I wanted to avoid it looking at all synthetic, so I asked the mill if they could introduce some flecks of grey into the wool to give it a textured finish. At first they recommended introducing a small amount of wool at the carding stage from a dark-fleeced ewe from someone else’s farm. But, I was determined to keep it a 100% single-origin product from our farm and our Poll Dorset Ewes, so we played around with a few ideas and eventually came up with a method that worked. After the fleece was washed, dried and carded, we dyed a very small amount (about 2%) of it a dark grey, then re-carded it back in with the undyed wool. This created our ‘Fog’ yarn. The other colours were achieved by overdyeing this yarn, with a ‘Coast’ blue and a ‘Clay’ brown. Our next batch, which will shortly be making its way onto the horizon, will also include that darker ‘Shale’ grey (and yes, I’d love to send some your way!). Undyed is something I will certainly think about in the future, but at the minute we’re really having so much fun experimenting with the dyes!

Right now you’re selling the yarn directly to us rabid yarnaholics at a really lovely price. Do you have any plans to increase production and sell it through shops? Or are you keeping it small and direct?

As far as increasing production goes, to be honest we’re going to let this grow very organically and see how it goes. I guess it’s important to remember that wool is only a small aspect of caring for sheep. There is so much work involved, from lambing, worming and foot trimming, to hay making and fencing, right down to drystone walling and even hedge planting. So, those duties must always come first, but I am very keen for our yarn to grow as time will allow. With regards to selling direct, this has been one of the most enjoyable parts of all of this. Modern-day agriculture has changed so much that direct selling is now almost impossible. Instead large corporations and supermarket chains tell us what we’ll get paid and, well, we just have to go along with it. So, being able to sell direct in this way, and cut out the middleman, has been a breath of fresh air. Not only is it nice to be in control of your own product, but I feel that selling this way really is ‘Farm to needle’ of which we as a family have had a hand at every stage. So, for now, I’m happy to keep it relatively small batch and direct.

Going back to that moment you first imagined making a yarn, how has the reality compared to the dream? Is it an adventure you’re keen to continue or expand on? And what’s been your favorite part?

The reality has far surpassed the dream. I had no idea yarn would be this much fun, and it’s been quite an eye opener to discover just how many yarn addicts there are out there! It’s been a huge learning curve, and I’ll be the first to admit that I completely underestimated the work involved in not only establishing a yarn brand but actually packaging and selling it. And I certainly kept you all waiting a lot longer that I had hoped to. (Sorry!) But its been a wonderful learning curve all the same. Probably my favourite part about it all has been seeing what people have made from it. People have been sharing their creations on Instagram with #holeandsonswool (yourself and that amazing waistcoat included), something which I hope will grow as we sell more yarn. You have to understand that we are just an honest farming family who live in the middle of nowhere. On a busy day I might talk to a handful of people, so seeing our yarn from our sheep scattered from Australia to America is so overwhelming and incredibly humbling. Thank you all for your support.

It sounded from your Woolful interview like maybe there aren’t any knitters in the family at present, but I hope you’ve gotten to hold something made from your wool by now. Any plans to take up knitting? ;)

Well my Auntie Sue knits a little, and has been playing around with some of our yarn, so it’ll be great to see what she makes. The biggest knitter in our family was my Grandmother. Sadly she passed away a few years ago — she would have absolutely loved to see this venture grow. I haven’t had anything made yet, demand was so overwhelming that every ounce of yarn was sold, but I’m determined to hold back some this time and have something made. Are there any knitting volunteers out there?! Ha. As far as me taking up knitting goes, well I’m not quite sure how that would go down with my friends at the pub, but one should never say never …

Farm to needle: Benjamin Hole talks about getting into the yarn biz

My handmade wardrobe role models

My handmade wardrobe role models

Ever since my Woolful interview first hit the airwaves, I’ve heard from a lot of people who say they were inspired by my views on the concept of a handmade wardrobe, which is really wonderful to hear. But I also owe a lot of my thinking to a lot of other people. On the podcast, beyond the sheer joy and satisfaction of making one’s own clothes, I talked mostly (as I recall) about wanting to exercise more control over my wardrobe — to not be at the mercy of what’s in stores — and about having some lovely handmade clothes in my closet that made me think less of mass-market stuff. Of course, there’s so much more to it. Way more than I could address in that conversation — or in this post, for that matter. But I want to at least scrape the surface—

There’s my general dislike of mass-produced goods and preference for things with character, patina and “presence of hand.” (I’ve always preferred second-hand or handmade furniture, for instance, but the same did not always go for my clothes.) There’s my distress at our culture of endless, needless manufacturing and (again, other than in my closet) desire to tread lightly on the earth — from turning off the light when I leave a room to driving the same car for as long as it agrees to run. There’s the issue of overseas factory working conditions, which I’ve read a lot more about in the past couple of years. (One of the most thought-provoking comments I read somewhere was that a conscientious company working with a foreign factory might make them sign an agreement saying they will use only non-slave, legal-age, local-minimum-wage compensated workers — as if having to stipulate this is not alarming enough — and that they will not subcontract the work. But it’s not uncommon for these factories to subcontract behind that company’s back, and there’s no way of knowing what the conditions might be like in those secret second-tier sites. In other words, we really have no idea where our mass-market clothes might have been made, or what we may have contributed to.) There’s the aesthetic and economical fact that store-bought clothes are generally not well-made, increasingly synthetic, and either overpriced as compared to the quality and material, or unsustainably cheap. Like I’ve said before, I don’t want to eat a hamburger anyone can afford to sell me for $1, and the same goes for shockingly cheap clothes. Where is the meat/fabric coming from, and who’s processing/making it under what conditions? There’s that epiphany I had last spring about wanting to be more connected to — and more responsible for — my clothes. That really is just scraping the surface. But more than anything else, what influenced me was a lot of other makers, in a variety of ways. These are just a few of the people who got me thinking:

TOP LEFT: Kristine Vejar. When I took up knitting, it also reignited my interest in sewing. My local yarn and fabric shop at that time was A Verb for Keeping Warm, owned by Kristine. The following year, Kristine launched Seam Allowance, a community of customers/followers who would each pledge to make at least 25% of their wardrobe — roughly one out of four things one might be wearing on any given day. I never took the pledge, and only made it to one meeting before moving away, but the idea has definitely stuck with me. (ICYMI: Kristine in Our Tools, Ourselves)
(pictured in a Fancy Tiger Sailor Top sewn from linen she dyed with cutch)

TOP RIGHT: Sonya Philip. It was at the Seam Allowance launch party that I first met (very briefly) Sonya Philip, who was then in the first year of her 100 Acts of Sewing project. Read this statement, if you haven’t before, but it’s also her very personal style and zest for what she’s up to that draw me in.
(pictured in layered garments sewn from her own patterns; the shawl pattern is Earth & Sky)

MIDDLE LEFT: Felicia Semple. I no longer remember how Craft Sessions founder Felicia and I first became online friends (she lives Down Under), only know that we’ve had a little mutual admiration society going on for a couple of years, and so I loved being paired with her on the Woolful episode. If by some chance you stopped listening at the end of my segment, go back and listen to hers tout de suite. Her enthusiasm, attitude and outlook on crafting amaze me. (And of course, I love her blog.) My favorite part of her Woolful interview was when she talked about being mindful not only that we make, but of not making in a way that’s as gluttonous and unsustainable as other forms of consumerism.  That’s my paraphrase, mind — go listen.
(pictured in her smartly modified Vitamin D cardigan; more pics/details on her blog)

MIDDLE RIGHT: Alyssa Minadeo. Alyssa is a good friend and invaluable collaborator of mine, and an amazingly talented sewer. (If you have one of the first-edition Fringe Supply Project Bags, Alyssa sewed it … after having worked with me on getting that bag out of my head and into three dimensions. More news on that soon, I hope.) She’s another person who is nearly always wearing something handmade — even her coat! — which seemed astonishing to me when I first met her. Her skill and output both made me want to sew more for myself, but in the meantime she made me some of the best clothes in my closet.
(pictured in a Kelly Skirt sewn from a Nani Iro fabric)

BOTTOM LEFT: Z. When I wrote about her on the blog in May 2013, she asked that I identify her only as “Z,” but she’s the one person whose handmade wardrobe I would take over any store shopping spree. She makes the most beautiful, wearable basics, and her pattern and fabric choices are right up my alley. Nobody would take a look at her closet full of impeccable clothes and think they were homemade. It’s the epitome of a handmade wardrobe, in my opinion.
(pictured in her Ondawa sweater; details/pics on her blog)

BOTTOM RIGHT: Me Made May/Fancy Ladies. A blogger named Zoe launched a campaign a couple of years ago called Me Made May, which I only really know of through Instagram. As with Seam Allowance, I believe it’s up to each participant how they define their participation, but the past two months-of-May I’ve followed the hashtag and been stunned and amazed at all of the people who have sufficient amounts of handmade clothes in their closets to be able to take a meaningful number of selfies in those clothes over the course of the month. None more so, though, than Fancy Jaime and Fancy Amber, the owners of Fancy Tiger Crafts (now friends of mine), whose handmade wardrobes are jaw-dropping in their skill and depth, as they’ve been building them over the course of many years.
(pictured in their Perkins Cove variations; details/pics on their former blog)

One other is a more indirect influence. I can already hear many of you asking where it is that I read what I’ve read in recent years about the socio-political costs of mass-market fashion, and honestly a lot of it has just been links from Sarai Mitnick’s Weekend Reading posts on her Coletterie blog (another Blog Crush of mine). I promise to make it a point to pass more of them along! (Just as soon as I figure out why her blog stopped showing up in my feed reader some time ago …)

Them’s my thoughts — in a nutshell. I’d love to hear yours—


CORRECTION: The original version of this post featured a photo of the Fancy Tiger ladies wearing Gudrun Johnston’s Northdale sample sweaters — my mistake! The photo was updated to one of the many of them wearing their own work.

Q for You: What thrills you?

Q for You: What's your favorite little knitting thrill?

The three pieces of my Spiral-Spun Waistcoat mod are on the blocking board as I type, drying in the freakishly summer-like breeze blowing through the windows. There’s a lot of finishing yet to do, but it’s been a joy of a project — from the dreamy yarn to the challenges I inadvertently set for myself with my modifications, to the chance to knit my first inset pockets. You know I love to do something new with every project, if at all possible, and I don’t know how I made it this long without knitting an inset pocket, but it’s now officially my favorite thing to do. Just like cables: so simple and yet so magical!

Knitting affords a world of cheap thrills — for some people it’s the magic of mattress stitch, for others turning a heel, for me right now it is knitting an inset pocket. So that’s my Q for You today: What’s your favorite little knitting thrill?


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you close out a project?

Q for You: How do you close out a project?

Q for You: How do you close out a project?

This might be a bizarre question, and it’s something I never really thought about until I started knitting sweaters more routinely/seriously. You knit (or crochet, or sew) a thing, and then you’re left with a certain number of parts. The pattern, your notes, the remnant yarn or fabric. I keep every knitting project in its own project bag, and it always comes down to this little puddle of stuff in the bottom of the bag (needles, waste yarn, ball bands …). I always sort of dread putting it all back wherever it goes. I’ve had it ingrained in me that you should always buy more yarn than you need for a sweater because you never know when you might want or need to replace a button band or a cuff, or to patch an elbow, or who knows what. That’s been especially on my mind lately as I unpack the detritus of completed sweaters that I love enough to really imagine having for a long time. I’ve found myself making these little packets for each finished sweater: the last wound skein, my swatch, the tag or ball band with the sweater name written on it and, in the case of my Bellows (the first time I’ve been quite this thorough) a spare button. I’ve been packing them away in ziploc bags — for lack of a similarly protective, less aesthetically offensive solution — and they’re like little souvenirs, or time capsules. Each time I’ve wondered if this is odd or perfectly normal, so that’s my Q for You: How do you close out a project?


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What’s the knit you couldn’t live without?