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Two New Things!

Hi everyone! The last few months have been busy, busy, busy: first the Craft Sessions, then a few health issues that took way too much of my energy, and more recently some travel. It’s good to be back to normal life!

I’ve decided to challenge myself and make a few YouTube videos to talk about projects, yarn, techniques, and other knitting. In this first video, I talk about my current project: a massive scarf that’s headed to Canada. I don’t miss the days when I needed three-metre wool scarves just to head outside!

After chatting with some friends, I’ve also started a new mini-community for crafters on Slack. If you work in the tech industry, you’ve probably heard of Slack: it’s a fantastic messaging app for teams. Since I spend most of my days with Slack open on my laptop, on my phone, or both, I thought it would be nice to have a space for crafty discussions. You can join us via this form.

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Almost Spring

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It’s the end of winter. We’ve already had a few days of irresistible weather, where the sun rises unexpectedly early and stays in the sky up to cocktail hour. One day last week I stepped outside and felt warmth on my face. Australian winters are short, but spring feels just as good.

I’ve been all over the place lately — my body is inflamed and angry, my mind races, I can’t focus. I don’t feel balanced, there isn’t a ton of certainty about anything these days. Between work stress, ill health and immigration paperwork, I’m having trouble nailing down what I need.

I even doubt craft, the thing I come to again and again. I read Felicia’s blog post on how craft has centred her during challenges, and I can’t fully relate right now. I scan my Instagram feed (yeah, I know), filled with cups of tea and books, knitting projects and fabric, sighs of contentment at stealing a moment away for craft. That’s not where I am right now, and I don’t see my current state reflected anywhere.

Truth is, even with some beautiful projects on the needles, I’m having trouble getting excited. The relaxing moments just aren’t as soothing as I’d expect them to be. So what do we do with that? When normally all I need is a long walk and an afternoon by myself to recharge, I’m finding it hard to get my energy levels up.

Last year Belinda wrote about farming, and how she knew it was what she needed to do. Reading her words again tonight, I’m envious, not about the farm, but about the feeling. That’s what I want.


 

What do you do, loveliest of reader, when you’re stuck?

 

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Penguins and Programming

Knitted penguin in front of a laptopI don’t talk about my work very much here, but it’s a huge part of my life. I work at SitePoint, one of the world’s biggest resources for web developers. Every year, we have a massive Christmas sale. This year, we’ve decided to go bigger than usual, and share the love.

Penguin on laptop

 

We decided to offer two years of access to Learnable, our learning platform, for the price of one year, plus donate 50% of that price to The Penguin Foundation, a local organisation that is working on exciting technology using magnets to remove spilled oil from bird feathers. Our original goal was to raise $10,000. Once we reached that goal (within a few hours!), we raised the bar to $30k… and now, we’re nearly at $50k. We’ll likely go over our goal before the sale ends in two weeks!

This is only one of the projects we’re working on at the moment, and everyone is working so hard — but are also having so much fun. The days are long, but we’re all smiling at the end. It’s very fulfilling.

I knit this small penguin, about the size of a fairy penguin, as a keepsake for the team. A reminder of those long days of incredible team work.

If you’re interested in learning web design and development, head over to the SitePoint Christmas Sale — the 2-for-1 penguin deal is still on, and we have lots more in store.

Pasha pattern knit in Cascade 22o. See this project on Ravelry

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On Australian Wool

One of the few things I knew about Australia when we moved here was that it was one of the world’s top producers of Merino wool. I envisioned huge fields with flocks of sheep, shearing days and carts piled high with raw wool, a thriving industry of scourers, spinners, dyers and distributors, and a bustling market for both unspun top and finished handknitting yarn.

Reality is quite different. Soon after landing in Australia, I found out about Kylie’s Ton of Wool project and backed the second Pozible campaign. The massive 300-gram skein of grey 4-ply wool I received in exchange is still one of my favourite yarn purchases ever, and I love the final product, a striped cardigan.

Ton of Wool Striped Cardigan

Kylie’s story shed a little bit of light on the many troubles of the Australian wool industry. Talking to yarn shop owners and distributors taught me a little bit more.

Then, during a trip to Queensland with Marika, we happened upon a large sign on the highway advertising a mohair farm and yarn shop. We turned down a small road, kept driving until I lost my data connection, then finally (finally!) saw the sign for Wagtail Yarn, a mohair farm and spinnery. The owner walked us through the outbuildings, where her family scours, spins, dyes and skeins the mohair. I had no idea small-scale producers like this still existed.

According to this interview with a wool-producing family, the final commercial yarn processor in Australia shut its doors in 2005. Now yarn producers have to sell the raw fleece or send it to China (or, in some cases to New Zealand) for spinning.

An Australian brand is currently marketing its latest product as being fully Aussie-made, but a close reading of the label and marketing materials show that there’s a big question mark as to the location of the spinning mill. How sad, that even when trying to sell a product as 100% Australian, we have to omit a big part of the yarn’s lifecycle.

Why does it matter? I know North Americans often think that Australia is an island, too small to be fully self-sustaining, and yet too far to really rely on trade partners. Neither is true. Australia did, once, have a thriving wool growing and processing industry (in fact, it was once the foundations of our economy!). Do we no longer care about what our yarn is made of, and where it’s made? Wool processing can be very damaging to the environment (scouring, dyeing, and the superwash process all use massive amounts of water and/or chemicals) — do we now prefer to simply send this off to another country?

Kylie addresses some of these questions in her interview for the inaugural Woolful podcast. It’s worth a good listen.

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A Craft Sessions Recap

It's craft time! Eagerly awaiting my first embroidery class at #thecraftsessions.

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What a weekend. I’ve just come back from a wonderful three days in the Yarra Valley, attending the Craft Sessions. One of my favourite things about my life in Australia is the wonderful community of makers and crafters I have met, and this weekend was a highlight in that department.

I only did two workshops, both day-long: embroidery with the lovely Melissa Wastney (who flew in from New Zealand for the weekend!) and one-pot dyeing with the amazingly knowledgeable Julia Billings.

Australian flora is incredible. Is it because I come from Canada, where wildflower season is so short? Or because I spent ten years in Montreal, a gorgeous city with zero colourful flora? Either way, I’m fascinated with native flowers, and I’m not the only one — it seems like every artist here, from landscape painters to textile printers, is inspired by the red, yellow, purple and orange blooms.

I finally learned to do a proper chain stitch in Melissa’s class, but the real takeaway was the ease with which she finds new combinations of textures and colours. I’ve done a fair amount of embroidery before, but always following a pattern, typically all in backstitch. Not very interesting. This was a whole other story.

Australian flowers meet embroidery. #thecraftsessions

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You know what’s wonderful about a craft retreat? Nobody thinks you’re odd if you pull out your knitting during cocktail hour. A few of us were even knitting between meal courses! There must have been seventy of us stitching away on Saturday night, digging through Felicia‘s stacks of craft books, drinking wine, cozying up to the fire.

Sunday’s workshop was an exercise in chemistry: an introduction to natural dyeing. We created 25 shades of yarn from one dye pot of madder. How gorgeous are these skeins? I see some beautiful dark red yarns in my future…

The best part of the weekend? Learning from this huge group of amazing women, and helping out where I could. Sharing the knowledge we’ve all gathered over the years. Teaching someone how to graft together the two pieces of their lace cowl. This hands-on work brings me so much joy.

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Dilemma: when knitting meets minimalism

I tried, I really did. When Jared and I first moved to Australia, I left my considerable yarn craft stash behind and vowed to never again accumulate a stash, and to only knit one project at a time. Ok. Two. Two projects at a time, maximum.

But then, we decided to stay a bit longer, and we moved to a nice new condo with so much space. I once heard someone refer to our living room as “the yarn corner”. At first, I ordered from stores like the wonderful Jannette’s Rare Yarns, since local options left much to be desired. Then a shop opened in my neighbourhood, better than I could have ever expected. Since I now teach at the Woolarium, my stash has increased by, ah, quite a bit.

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Ah, Sharron, I’ve just realised I still have your loom, tucked away in the back.

I left Montreal with a suitcase of clothes, just enough to take me through the seasons. When I first landed in Melbourne, it was late August, mid-winter, and I was wearing a jersey sleeveless dress and sandals. It was 17 degrees celsius, I was fine, but everyone around me was shivering in their winter jackets. I soon adjusted to this new “winter”, and added store-bought and hand-knit sweaters to my stash.

So how do I balance my love of acquiring beautiful yarns, and of making handknit wearables, with my desire for a simple, pared-down, clutter-free lifestyle? Do I give away my knits to people whom I love, but who might not appreciate the investment, both in time and in money, that goes into a handknit? I’m picturing silk-merino shawls thrown in the washing machine, cashmere hats dropped on the ground.

A third option appears: selling my knits, or knitting for hire. That’s quite controversial in knitting circles: knitting is skilled work, after all, and surely deserves a hefty hourly rate. Right? So would I dare charge someone $15, $20, $30 per hour for a sweater that will take upwards of 300 hours — plus materials? Would anyone even pay those prices?

But so little of knitting is about the finished product. For me, it’s all about the process. So why not knit for others, basically for free, if I can just enjoy the work that goes into it?

Ah, I don’t know, and I don’t know how others do it. So, dear reader: if you craft, if you make more things than you can possibly use up, but feel a compulsion to make, what do you do with the extra?

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Beach interlude

I spent the last week visiting Port Douglas and beautiful Far North Queensland.

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It can be quite confronting up there: everything can kill you. The towns are fine, safe, sanitized, but spending time in the rainforest and walking along secluded beaches was so very different from my day-to-day experience of Australia!

It rained most of the week, so i knit up a storm.

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My favourite part of the holiday: the endless inspiration from the forest, the beach, and the art.

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