Monday, 30 March 2009

another 2 cents

This article on breastfeeding has been a topic of conversation in my environs a fair bit of late. I am not so much fired up about it, outraged by it, as interested in how the differing conversations have gone. There's the ones had with other mums, breast feeders and not, and ones had around the lunch room table at work with largely childless colleagues.

My overwhelming response to these conversations is that I think they are kind of pointless. Any debate which sets out to 'prove' that breastfeeding is either 'right' or 'wrong', 'best' or 'worse', fundamentally doesn't help. These debates don't help with best outcomes for kids or mothers or fathers, and they sure as heck can't get to any kind of essential truth.

Choices like whether to breastfeed or not or for how long and in what way are not binary choices between good and bad. They are choices made in complex multi variable situations in which factors for consideration come in an overwhelming array of possibilities. I'm not going to run through all those factors here, I can't because they are too many but also because they would most likely appear to be stacking the deck in an unhelpful way.

The article written by Rosin is lengthy and does better than many in not reducing the whole situation to so much faff, but it is still fundamentally flawed in the way it grapples with a black and white oppositional 'rational' perspective and a personal intuitive and angry feeling about the whole thing. Neither of these approaches are without merit, but as the discussions about this article I have witnessed make plain, few people are really interested in bridging the gap between the two.

So let's start on the whole rationalist thing. Rosin's research, historical and social analysis points to the way in which the benefits of breastfeeding have been both overstated and perhaps misunderstood. While I can't comment on the veracity of her position (not being overly well versed in medical studies on the topic myself), I can certainly see that there has been a certain kind of breastfeeding fundamentalism that is historically specific that makes her claim entirely plausible. Equally, the sheer number of regular healthy humans who have been raised without breast milk (myself included) is evidence enough for me to know that formula is not the insufficient nourishment it is often made out to be.

I also think, as Rosin points out (and as others before her have too) that the benefits often attributed to breastfeeding may not be just about milk. That well educated, 'advantaged' women (in America anyway - and let's not generalise this point too much because it does not follow in many other places in the world) are more likely to breastfeed may well indicate that breastfed babies get better everything else as well - time, nutrition, genes, care...the works. There is an enormous amount of room for reinterpreting what breastfeeding is really about, especially when it is wrapped so tightly in an ideology of trying to do the best thing for baby. When the milk flows so do lots of other things - and most if not all of those other things are also (in theory at least) available to babies who are not breast fed.

The reality of both scientific investigation and, you know, life, is that the difference between correlation and cause and effect is often imperceptible and yet critically important.

The next part of her argument, the one about female oppression/feminism/the conspiracy to tie women to the breastfeed is weak for me. I was struck by what was to me an obvious problem with her analysis. Her claim that the time taken to breastfeed is an argument against breast feeding overlooks the time taken for the alternative. Fundamentally bottle feeding takes more time than breastfeeding because in addition to the actual feeding time, you have to buy and make formula or pump milk (and don't go starting me on that time suck), wash and sterilise bottles and heat them up - even if babies drink from bottles faster than from the breast, there is still a lot of time overhead to be made up. And her article doesn't factor in the highly differential feeding rates of babies, both between individuals and between ages - 9 half hour feeds is not some standard rate and I don't really want to quibble about such a minor detail but let's just say this is not an evidence based estimate.

In her claim that breast feeding is not 'free' because women's time is worth something I wonder again about what alternatives she has in mind? Is her argument resting on the idea that if not breastfeeding, then the labour of child feeding can in fact be outsourced to someone lower paid than oneself? This is essentially an economic argument about opportunity costs and the relative efficiencies of feeding methods and as such really must factor in the other costs associated with alternative feeding such as bottles, formula or expressed milk paraphernalia and administration of formula or expressed milk overheads as well as a sound ledger about the value of most mothers' labour. In addition, several studies have demonstrated that outsourced parental/domestic roles do not replaced parental labour on a 1 to 1 ratio, so any analysis must also include the loss of labour value in the transfer of responsibility.

And plus, and this is really glaring for me, all these arguments are not about the cost of breastfeeding but about the cost of babies (since come on there is no way to feed babies for free). And by just looking at feeding the real crux of the labour cost is overlooked, which is all the other parts of the care package. Who looks after baby between feeds? Can one really go through this process of analysing the cost of a woman breast or bottle feeding without making the same analysis for wiping bums and bathing and washing and patting to sleep? Because let's be honest, there is no good economic argument for having children at all once you remove the social contract of elder care (and even then...). In a strictly economic sense (and I don't think economics is all so don't take me out of context here) women are not so much ripped off by breastfeeding, as ripped off by having babies.

That a breast fed baby interferes with a return to paid work more than a bottle fed baby is, I think, obvious. But again the situation is complex. How quickly a mother returns to work and what kind of a workplace she re-enters will have a definite impact on just how much interference there is. And equally it should be said that a mother's level of commitment to breastfeeding may shape those choices and perceptions about the value of working through that interference. But this should not be confused with any kind of evidence about whether breastfeeding is good - merely an observation about the factors which may constrain or otherwise shape choices around breastfeeding (and returning to work in general after kids come on the scene).

I say all these points without making judgements about some of the underlying assumptions that I hear many people make. About whether it is 'right' to make choices about baby feeding using an economic model, about whether babies 'need' their mothers and whether mothers 'should' return to paid work during infancy, whether 'valuing' infant care means not getting it done by someone you wouldn't pay as highly as yourself (and for whom you would not be paying superannuation or workers compensation insurance and so on). I say it not because I don't have views, but because I recognise that different views on these questions may be entirely valid, and that my views are shaped by factors which do not come into play for others.

And I guess this brings us to the real meat. Rosin's article is really an article about an individual trying to find evidence to support her position and make sense of her feelings.

She feels oppressed by the pro breastfeeding 'fascists', and I know many many women have felt similarly pressured. But since by her own admission only 17% or mothers continue to exclusively breast feed for the recommended 6 months then clearly that pressure is not lethal for anywhere close to a majority. Women may feel pressured but they aren't necessarily changing their behaviour as a result. I think perhaps she's saying I don't like being told to do stuff I don't want, and hey, we can all identify with that. But let's not universalise this experience, one person's oppressive coercion is another person's helpful advice. Perhaps we should be teaching mothers to be more assertive and care less about what people say than trying to get either pro or anti breast feeders to shut up.

One reason Rosin doesn't like the pressure is because she sees it as both a source of mothering guilt and mothering anger about the imbalance of domestic responsibility. She seethes about the way she feels forced to be a good mother and breastfeed and yet her husband gets off scot free. And I can but agree! And yet I suspect bottle feeding mums may well stand up in equal measure to complain about who washes the bottles and does the laundry and so on and so forth. The statistical support for unequal contribution to domestic and child rearing labour is overwhelming and far exceeds the breastfeeding population.

And this isn't just an issue for domestic labour, but family inclusion and a raft of other stuff that may support either breast or bottle. Breast feeding can exclude dads and create a lack of harmony or equality of incentives in families, but bottle feeding can create other pressures if expectations for equality of parenting fail to mesh with other responsibilities. Again this is a factor, not an outcome that's the same for everyone.

Rosin in fact concludes her case against breastfeeding by saying she is still continuing to feed her youngest child not because she necessarily thinks it is the right thing to do based on the evidence but because somehow, it feels like the right thing to do for her in the situation she is in. Even in the context of a rational argument Rosin acknowledges that what drives her is stuff she can't quite explain and understand, and this point is significant not just in relation to understanding how the choice to breast feed is made, but also what we might imagine babies do or do not gain from breastfeeding. Quite aside from all the studies there may be more, there is almost certainly more, that takes place for a baby as a consequence of breast and bottle feeding. Now I am not saying I am assuming all that is good for the breast - this is not an argument for breastfeeding - it is simply saying that we must at some point acknowledge that those feelings we have are also mirrored in feelings babies have and these too can only be guessed and hinted at. As inconvenient as it is, we are all subject to emotions and instincts which are not part of the rational mind.

And there's the rub. The choice to have children at all, like the choice to breastfeed or not or return to work or any other of the millions of choices faced can be influenced by evidence and argument and experience, but few can really separate this from what they feel. The drive to procreate is an evolutionary hangover would argue my rationalist, childless friend and he is absolutely right. We no longer live in a world in which we need our own young for survival, and we don't need to care for our infants ourselves or breastfeed them or carry them on our backs working fields and so on. We can be free as individuals and keep and spend the money we earn and develop ourselves in whatever way we wish.

The gap between what we must do and what we can do is so wide that it is not surprising so many mothers feel themselves adrift on a far shore. But I absolutely disagree that our response to that should be to champion our own turf, to search out the one true promised land. We should not be making cases for or against any single position in relation to babies unless the evidence is utterly unequivocal (which is very rare indeed and covers such bleedingly obvious things as murder, substantial physical harm, serious neglect and the like) and utterly feasible for the vast vast majority, or already enshrined in law.

So in the end I have just wasted a whole morning (oh the opportunity cost there!) contributing to a debate I think is not just pointless but possibly damaging too. I'm anticipating a range of people being offended by what I have said, taking a part of what I have said out of context, feeling judged by me when I so really don't feel judgemental and pointing out all the ways I am wrong. I may get an angry comment or two, a couple of yeah, you are rights and a few more stony silences.

And I am wondering why oh why I am writing all this out...when really all I am thinking is I wish people (myself included) were better able do what they feel is right but not universalise their own experience. And ask better questions which don't have right or wrong answers but which aim to result in people making better choices and feeling better about the choices they make. And mostly that they could feel that they can be confident of their own choices regardless of whether everyone agrees with them and not feel the need to trash people who are different. That's what I'm thinking.

And for full disclosure I will say I breastfed my first child on demand and she self weaned gradually and stopped completely at 18 months. I am still breastfeeding my two year old son twice a day, though he also had some formula from a very young age so his dad could be more involved in the whole feeding thing and I could get more sleep, and he skips lots of feeds when I'm not around and doesn't seem to mind but very much loves the feeds he gets and would be happy for more.

While I am happy with the feeding choices I have made (though I do occasionally wonder how the whole weaning thing will happen with the younger), I can well imagine things having taken a different path, and feeling equally happy about that. In particular if I had my kids the other way around, I may well not have persisted in trying to breast feed since Wil was hopeless at it and the first month or two involved lots of pain and frustration. But I did persist because my experience with Amy had been as easy as breastfeeding can ever be and I felt I could get back to that place. If she had been bottle fed I do think that my life probably would have been easier in some ways, but I will never know that for sure.

Saturday, 28 March 2009


stormy, originally uploaded by Soozs.

A good day to dye.

Silk merino single plied yarn in 8ply weight. Waiting for a stole to emerge.

buying fabric

As a follow up to the yarn buying post, here is my collected thoughts on buying fabric. As with the previous post, happy to hear about your experiences and add them in to the compendium.

How I buy fabric
I have a substantial fabric stash, let's just be clear about that before we start. I didn't always have that stash - there was indeed a time when I used to go out and buy something and then make it into something before I went out and bought more.

A big part of why I have become a major league stasher is because of my strong dislike of project based fabric shopping. I tend to craft when I have time, when a need presents and the stars align. I may be called impulsive. When this used to happen I would go out, spend a good portion of my allotted project time searching for something reasonably specific and getting frustrated and disappointed when I couldn't find it. You can never find a medium weight black denim/cute animal print/100% cotton sheeting when you need it. Inevitably I would end up wasting the day and not getting a project done at all. Some top ups are inevitable and there are still times I need to go hunting for something in particular and usually in a limited time frame, but in the main I avoid this kind of shopping like the plague.

Closely aligned, but without the time pressure is shopping for pragmatic fabrics. A good quality black interlock will never be wasted in my stash, neither will a Liberty print, silk lining or stone coloured linen. These are items I almost always pick up opportunistically, preferably cheaply and in a largish piece. Nothing more frustrating than a little bit less than you need of a basic fabric. If I'm thinking pants I buy 2 meters, if I'm thinking a dress or complicated shirt I'd try for 2.5 meters, if it's interlock I'd get 1.5 meters as a minimum. For kids clothing I'd generally get 1 meter unless I had something specific in mind.

In a whole other league are the showcase fabrics. While these are often expensive, I also tend to buy these opportunistically because you absolutely cannot ever find these on demand. These are the fabrics where no matter what I use them for the fabric will always be more striking than the item itself. I buy small pieces of fabulous showcase fabrics for craft items like bags, toys, homewares or decorative highlights on larger things. I sometimes also buy larger pieces of these with a specific garment in mind, and these often create the inspiration and motivation for an ambitious project.

Places I go in real life to buy fabric
I have been buying fabric in Melbourne for a long time (more than a quarter of a century!), and I am still finding new places. And places ascend and decline - Lincraft was once a really good source of fine quality fabrics, but not anymore - so I am always on the lookout for new places and watchful of quality in places I've become accustomed to. I am also now fairly and squarely in the Northern suburbs, so while I do travel on the odd fabric odyssey, there is a definite geographic bias to my list.

Spotlight - the much maligned fabric discounter is definitely not a pleasant and inspiring shopping experience, but I am not as down on it as many. My local is close by, is staffed by mostly helpful and nice people who actually know their stock and at the times I generally go (morning weekdays) is not too insanely overcrowded. But you do need to look hard for the good stuff, hidden as it is under mountains of the most awful shit you can imagine, and accept that you need to buy the good stuff (mostly of the pragmatic kind) when you find it for it most likely won't come this way again. Spotters also has a fairly frequent intake of new stock, and if you can get in on the first day or two of a new shipment you'll find all the really good stuff people tell you spotlight has, but which you never seem to be able to find yourself. They also have frequent excellent discount days and offers which make stock ups really worth while.
Tessuti Fabrics - In stark contrast to Spotters, Tessuti's is the best of all possible fabric buying experiences. The shop is lovely, spacious, well laid out and easily visited being in the centre of town. The fabrics are inspirational, and I like the way it is laid out by colour. The store carries mostly deigner ends, which means it is full of really interesting and unusual textures, fibres and prints. There is no shortage of stuff to get you thinking about adventurous and exciting sewing. I should add this is definitely the place to shop for showcase fabrics rather than the bog standards, and the prices while not unreasonable for what you are getting are not where I would be pitching for everyday stash enhancement.
Clegs - Clegs stocks quality, and expensive, showcase fabrics for clothing. I don't much care for the 'craft' fabric they carry, and I find most of their other stock is way too not me - silk suiting and bridal fabrics and the like - but they have a good range of more interesting knits and the odd Liberty print I like. Worth a squizz when in checking out the yarn or buying haberdashery and notions.
Darn Cheap - kind of like a spotlight without the glare. I personally like the Heidelberg store more than the Glen Huntly one (it's much lighter and has great staff and is better organised). There are some fabulous bargains at Darn Cheap but it helps a lot to know a bit about fibers and fabric types and quality because a lot of stuff is all junked together and not well labeled. Good for pragmatic purchases made with a watchful eye on quality.
GJs - GJ's is kind of like 3 stores in one: the ground floor is a bit like a smaller version of darn cheap, though a bit more hit and miss, out the back is the discount warehouse which is mostly scary crap with the odd gem and the most extensive collection of lycra and lycra added fabrics I've ever seen, and then upstairs is a good sized patchworking store. Over the years I have bought some great stuff at GJs, like some wool knit that was identical to one across the road at clegs for about 40% less, and a hand painted and embellished linen that was divine. In the last few years I think the clothing range downstairs has declined but the top floor patchwork stock is really excellent now, with no shortage of great prints and designer ranges.
Rathdowne Remnants - in the same vein as GJs and darn cheap, a lot of the stock here is poorly labeled and of dubious quality. Stock changes frequently and some great stuff comes in at excellent prices, but sometimes there isn't much of interest or fabrics don't hold up to closer examination.
Cutting Edge - I love this store, mostly because I always find something here that is unlike anything else I have ever seen. It specialises in designer run offs - some rolls have pictures pinned to them of garments in fashion mags made from that fabric for example - and highly unusual weaves, prints, fiber combinations and textures. It is a store in which I often find myself imagining the creation of outlandish garments and losing track of time. But in the main these showcase fabrics don't come cheap, not withstanding the occasional bargain and fabulous remnant, and I limit my visits!!
Amitie - Amitie is a patchwork store and stocks an extensive range of really fantastic high quality craft fabrics, especially super gorgeous Japanese and designer prints. I find the store positively overwhelming with the sheer number of things I could happily buy, and indulge in all kinds of crazy project plans whilst there. Another store I can't imagine living closer to. My head would most likely explode.
Patchwork on Central Park - Very similar to Amitie. Mind blowing.
Joy's Fabric Warehouse - The Rathdowne Remnants of Geelong. I have bought some fantastic bargains here from in amongst the junk. On the upside has a good open layout and a great toy box for keeping kids amused. A good stop to or from beaching on the coast!
Kimono house - Definitely reserved for small pieces of showcase fabrics. Wonderful Japanese fat quarters, fabrics by the meter as well as trims and other oddments. The shop is small and only has a limited selection, but it's never difficult to find something to love here.
Asia - No, not a shop, a continent! I have a lot of fabric in my stash from overseas trips, and in Asia textiles are easy to come by, cheap and often quite stunning. If you are planning a trip it is worthwhile finding out before you go about the local textile industry. And aside from the delights of the local exotica there are often places where the excess from overseas exports can be found - I bought loads of things in the markets in Northern Thailand that I later saw in shops here.

Fabric online - I used to find it hard to buy something as tactile as fabric without being able to touch it, but the new breed of fabric designers have cured me. At the absolute forefront for me are Ink and Spindle. I love their designs, their base fabrics, their sustainable business practices and their attitude. Gorgeous stuff and for hand printed fabric, their prices are pretty good. I buy in small quantities for bags and other crafty projects. - I remember when Kristen first started offering her hand printed designs, and thinking what a new and exciting idea that was (I am, like, old). Kristen can always be relied on to bring out something new and interesting - plus she likes red a lot and so do I. - Like Kristen and the Ink and Spindle crew, Shannon at Aunty Cookie keeps producing new and fun designs to really explore the potential for fabric to make a project sing. My daughter totally loves the Aunty Cookie character which embellishes quite a few of her clothes. - Another aussie producer who creates distinctive and engaging designs that inspire great craft. - I've run out of superlatives for the indy fabric designers and printers, they are all fantastic and worth watching and buying from! - Kelani is an amazing one stop online shop which stocks Japanese, prominent mainstream as well as indy designers (and tonnes of cool patterns and other stuff which isn't really fabric, so not what this post is about but, well, anyway). Never any shortage of good stuff to buy here, and they even carry a small range of pragmatics like denim and linen and have a loyalty program that's actually worthwhile. - Another aussie (Melbourne in fact) store which carries a great mix of designer and indy prints and patterns and other bits. And free postage! - Japanese everything to add extra cute to anything you make. You can go cross-eyed looking through all the sweet stuff here, and there's Japanese mags and other non fabric stuff too. Just, you know, while you're there. - another Japanese cute etsy store. Much grat adn tempting stuff here too. - OK, you have to pay postage from the US and that's not good, but when the aussie dollar is strong, this is offset by the much cheaper fabric prices. Lovely and amazing fabric similar in feel to Kelani's offerings, but with a bit more cuteness and emphasis on international and reproduction stuff.

I suspect I have left out heaps of places - just writing that all down has made me dizzy. Please leave comments or email me about your favourite fabric habitat.

Friday, 27 March 2009

a compelling case for Darwinism

monkey boy, originally uploaded by Soozs.

Monkey boy

aussie crafterhood

I am so excited to show you this.

I've been lucky enough to contribute to a few books before, and especially lucky to have been part of two aussie made books.

But this is an absolute first - an aussie made book featuring 100% aussie content. While this might all just seem a bit like so much nationalism, for those that understand the publishing industry, it is a remarkable feat. In terms of markets, Australia is a book publishing backwater.

And it is a testament too to how far the crafting community has come, both locally and globally, that a publisher feels there is a market for craft books at all, let alone such a unique and so difficult to categorise offering.

Because it is partly a pattern book, like might appeal to an experienced crafter. And it is partly an introduction to craft such as might appeal to someone contemplating taking up this craft caper. And it is partly a look into the work of a range of amazing crafters (well, the others are amazing, I just got included by mistake), all of whom have their own personal and unique take on what this crafting thing is all about.

So I feel really especially proud, and more than happy to recommend you take a squizz at this really really special book.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

buying yarn

I get asked a lot about where I buy stuff, specifically the stuff I used to make my stuff. So in this post I’m letting you in on my yarn buying habitat. I would like to keep this list referenced in my side bar and I want it up to date and as extensive as possible so would welcome suggestions for additions – either by comment or email.

How I buy yarn

First off I have to say, I shop for yarns in a few different ways, based on the way I categorise yarns in my mind.

At the base of things are the bog standard yarns, which are usually around the $5 for a 50gm ball mark. These include a number of yarns produced by Cleckheaton, Patons, Panda and so on. Nothing wrong with them, and many are quite good value. I would use them for things like toys, everyday outer wear, blankets, tea cosies, experimental projects etc. I would quite often buy these yarns from chain discount stores like K-mart or Spotlight and sometimes I can pick them up in good nick from the op-shop. I am not a fan of acrylics or novelty yarns but if for some reason I really wanted something in that line I’d shop for them in the same way. I don’t think too hard about these purchases and they are often incidental.

The next rung up I would call specialty yarns. These are in the $5-10 for a 50gm ball range and I would use them for projects in which I was investing time, from which I wanted longevity, which I wanted to look special or unique, or where something like softness was particularly important. I would use specialty yarns for baby clothes, lace projects, socks, hats, adult garments (where I was confident of the outcome!), stoles, special gifts. In the main I offset the greater expense of the yarn by choosing smaller projects. I might buy specialty yarns on sale or as a consequence of word of mouth, or for a particular project, or because I just fell in love with it, but generally I get them because I am out looking for yarn.

The top tier of yarns I would call luxury yarns and they cost more than $10 for a 50gm ball – sometimes a lot more! I don’t use these yarns often and very rarely for big projects. Their cost is the result of highly expensive fibres like cashmere, high labour costs like hand spinning or dyeing, or reputation for really superior wear and quality. I most often buy a luxury yarn when I have a specific mission, and I have thought about it quite a bit. I would probably have done some research, checked out feedback and projects made with that yarn on Ravelry and maybe even visited yarn shops to fondle the yarn a couple of times before actually making the purchase. I might use a luxury yarn for something that is very small like a hat, or something I see becoming an heirloom like a lace stole.

Places I go in real life to look at and buy yarn

Spotlight in Brunswick - not my favourite place to buy yarn, but it comes through when I am desperate for something straightforward. Occassionally I pick up a bargain here, or a good workhorse yarn and increasingly (although my local Spotlight is not very good for yarn) it has the occassional better yarn, like the new range of merino cashmere blend.

Cleggs in the City – their stocks of yarn are seasonal, so if I want to knit socks in summer I wouldn’t bother, but they have a good array of yarns including excellent European manufacturers such as Rowan as well as Australian and New Zealand yarns. They carry good bog standard yarns as well as lots of specialty and luxury yarns so you can really compare value, colour ranges and so on. They also have quite a lot of knit samples so you can feel the yarn’s knitted fabric, and a good range of clover accessories, though no addi turbo needles. Oh, and they have really good sales. And they take phone orders and post stuff to you, which is really helpful if you know they have something you need but you can’t get there.

Wool Baa in Albert Park – Wool Baa is a delightful shopping experience. Aside from the wool bit, they have good toys for keeping kids amused, an excellent array of pattern books, tables and chairs so you can sit and contemplate a project and staff who are very knowledgeable and helpful. On one visit as I sifted through about 100 balls of Noro, they even brought out cups of tea for my shopping companion and me. But of course that wouldn’t amount to much if the yarn was crap, so luckily they have good yarn right across the three categories too. I like their display – you can see all the yarn at once – and the way it is organised by weights. If this was closer to home I would be here more often. So it’s probably a good thing it is two tram rides away…they do have an online shop, which I have used a few times, but it isn’t a patch on being there.

Sunspun in Cantebury – Ok you got me, I’ve never actually been to Sunspun, but I keep it on the list because so many people shop here who make great stuff and it always comes up on people’s yarn shop lists. From what I understand it is similar in stock range to Wool Baa and if I lived on that side of town I am sure I’d be in there all the time.

Marta’s Yarns in Malvern – the late Marta was a master dyer and a visit to her shop was always about the colour. Her base yarns were also excellent, but her colour combinations were what set her apart. Her daughter, husband and sister have kept the business going in a greatly pared down form and the shop is still well worth a visit for beautiful specialty and luxury yarns. You can always find something interesting and unusual at Marta’s and the colour combos in their own dyed yarns continue to live up to Marta’s reputation.

Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild in North Carlton – the Guild stocks individual skeins of yarn spun and dyed by guild members. It is a delightful place to visit and to look at the amazing work done by regular crafting folk. A great place to splash out on something special for a small scale project with a distinctive handmade feel.

Bendigo Woollen Mills in Bendigo – you can also buy from the Mill’s online shop or by mail order but a visit in person is great to get the feel for ‘Bendy’s’ products (and a visit to the bargain room out the back) is well worth it is you are in the area. Bendy’s products are exceptionally good value and while most of it is in the bog standard price range, I really like the feel and touch of their yarns a bit more than the highly machined feel of other yarns at this price.

Wool on Piper in Kyneton – I’ve been buying from this mill shop since I was a teenager (then called the Meskills wool store) and while I hear the store is for sale, I hope we’ll continue to see their products around. Like Bendy you can buy through mail order but a visit is best for a first time purchase. Meskills wool is excellent value, particularly the 500gm hanks of natural colours in 8 and 12 ply, perfect for a big rugged jumper or coat. The store also stocks a few other yarns and wool products, like sheep skins, woollen socks and garments.

Pear Tree Products in Torquay – Pear tree yarns are amongst my most favourite of the small scale Australian luxury yarn producers as their yarns are light and super super soft and come in lovely and unusual colours. The owner of Pear Tree has deliberately chosen the mill to get an old fashioned and not overly processed feel to her yarns and I love it. The shop is a total delight, with all kinds of things to look at and buy aside from yarn. Pear tree also handles sales through it’s website and has a presence at many shows like Bendigo and Stitches and Craft.

Purl’s Palace in Daylesford – yarn is only one product carried by this shop, but they have a very nice little selection of specialty and luxury yarns and the shop is very beautiful. They also carry a range of very fancy buttons.

Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo – this annual event in June or July is yarn buying mecca. In particular it is a chance to see the product ranges of great Australian manufacturers, indy businesses and overseas yarn products which don’t have a direct retail presence. Of course you also get to see sheep and alpacas and tractors and sheep dogs, as well as fashion parades and all the fun of the fair. A definite yearly highlight.

Wool and Craft Fair in Brunswick – previously known (by me at least) as the Coburg Wool Show and then the Brunswick Wool Show, this annual event (May 30 in 2009) is organised by the Handknitters Guild of Melbourne and is kind of like a mini Bendigo show. Without the sheep and tractors of course. In past years I have purchased some lovely and very well priced yarns at this show.

When real life isn’t an option I buy yarn online at places like – for yarns which are eco friendly and sustainable in both fibre and production this store can’t be beat. Some really lovely lovely stuff. – a great place for undyed as well as hand dyed yarns and accessories including addi needles (my favourite). They send out free sample cards to help you get a feel for their undyed yarns and I think this makes choosing much easier. – there are a whole stack of really creative dyers who sell super special yarns through their Etsy stores. Just browse and stand back. – very good value (though the postage is a killer) bulk undyed yarns from an expat aussie in Hong Kong. If you can dye (which isn’t hard!) it is a wonderful way to buy a whole project’s worth of yarn in a single lot. - WEBS is a major US online yarn company, and though I haven't bought from them I used to listen to their podcast and they carry an excellent range! You do have to pay for the shipping from the US, but otherwise they are good value. - a site that deals exclusively with discontinued and thus discounted stock. Again, I haven't shopped, but I hear you can pick up the odd bargain here if you are prepared to pay for the US shipping. - another discontinued and discount yarn site, this time in Canada. – there’s a range of yarns I know about, but which aren’t readily available in oz. I have been known to cruise online shops though in search of people who ship something in particular to Australia. I’m hanging out for the day knitpicks ship here.

**Many online retailers also have email newsletters which can be well worth signing up for - especially those that carry discount lines which change frequently. You get the heads up early when a limited amount of stock is available.

Monday, 23 March 2009

just another monday

So what's been happening?

The studio has been getting a work out.Lots of mess getting made, packed up and made again.

The addition of my new overlocker has been an inspiration for getting stuff made. I love it!

And for the first time in so so long I made a few softies. Not for work, not for design, just for fun. I love Aranzi Aronzo's work and I've made a few of his characters before, but I've been intending to do a few more for literally years. Naughty thing here was for a birthday girl, and Amy chose kitty.

After the lovely Jodie gave Amy an ice cream cone and cupcake softie set, world war 3 broke out around here, with Wil screaming cream! cream! at the top of his lungs and Amy steadfastly refusing to let it go. So I had to delve into the chenille stash and make another in minty green.

Amy hatched her newest enterprise, the bookmark shop. It has me reflecting about the creative process. I've been trying to encourage her to go beyond simply reproducing her initial idea and to focus on refining it with better materials, more care and thought. But you know, at 6 should she care? We're debating whether I should post them for sale here but I'm not sure she's ready for retail.

We headed out to the big city to get her some new shoes which is always a fairly vile exercise. But we scored. And cruised the Hello Kitty shop and had ice cream, so it was good fun.

And after a week of grossing out over her increasingly out of body tooth and her scary impersonation of Mater, the fairy came to visit on Friday and there was much rejoicing. The other front tooth seems to have colonised the gap which gives her a freaky kind of mouth cyclops look. These kid physical transformations are all weird and disturbing.

I also did a spot of sewing for Amy who needed a yellow skirt to go with this top to wear to the school's Big Wednesday performing arts concert (why can't her class ever get pink or red, huh?) The fabric is a very old piece of heavy cotton sateen I inherited from D's gran. I couldn't resist a little embellishment a la Aunty Cookie.

And, no I haven't given Wil away. He's here too, and being his sweet little self.

Taking all the trays and pans out of my baking drawer and then helping me by putting them away. Sort of.

He's the proud recipient of his first ever pencil case, packed full with brand new WASHABLE textas. He loves to draw now, though he's not to fussed about paper.

I've been teaching a self-confessed 'totally not crafty' friend to knit and now dye. So great to win another one over to our side. I couldn't help but get in on the act myself with a wee bit of yarn. I do wish I would remember to put on the gloves though.

I've been working on a new knitting pattern which has involved lots of ripping back and frustration over mathematical errors and at least seven kinds of stupid, but it's almost done now and I am very pleased. Now I have to make the really tough choice over whether to sell it or give it away free, and if I sell it whether to sell it via Ravely download or to a magazine. There's lots of good arguments for all these options. What do you think?

D's been doing his own making, getting to the remaining finishing touches on the house.
I love this little area on the deck outside our bedroom.

And completely unglamorous but so very necessary - the lining on the bathroom skylight. This job got pushed up the priority list after both D and I got a little too close and personal to a couple of Australia's more toxic arachnids that crawled out of the brick work behind the bathroom wall and made it in to our bath towels.

Lastly, the final instalment in the summer's triptych of jams. I used Shula's grated apple trick in the absence of my usual rhubarb trick to make the most of the neighbour's figs and with the apricot and plum jams I made earlier we'll be kept in jam for well over a year.

And now I'm going to go and do something so I can blog again real soon...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009


Hark! The sound of the eating machine...
munch, originally uploaded by Soozs.

quilting bee!

Jan, from the ever delightful sew journ, is hosting another quilting bee to make quilts to donate to families affected by the bushfires. Jan writes:

It’s almost impossible to imagine how it must feel to face the task of rebuilding after losing your home in the Bushfires. But we are hoping to contribute in a small way by making and donating quilts for people who have lost their homes. So please come along to our Quilting Bee. There are lots of ways you can contribute:
  • Come along for all or part of the day to sew
  • Donate fabric, batting or backings for use
  • Make any 12 inch block and send it in and we will make them up into quilts on the day
  • Make a Scrappy Log Cabin block - Emma has a good tutorial here
  • Offer to machine quilt one or two quilts for us
  • Offer to hand quilt a quilt
  • Offer to hand sew a binding or two
  • Come along to make calico bags for the quilts
  • You might have a half-done quilt top you are happy to donate to be finished off
  • Spread the word - please pass on to all of your crafty friends
We particularly need more batting and backings though and are happy to list down the businesses that support us so if you think of anyone you can ask please let me know.

When: Saturday 21st March 9.30am - 4.30pm
Where: LightHouse, Ashburton Uniting Church, 7 Ashburn Grove, Ashburton, 3147
What to bring: Your sewing supplies, fabric, lunch. Morning and afternoon tea provided.
Contact: Jan Joseland on 0409 964 755 or
Please RSVP to help us with planning the day.
It would be great to see as many people come along as possible so if you are free please consider joining in.....and the bonus is not only are we helping out in some little way but it's sure to be a really fun day!

Jan is an amazing quilter and none too shabby on organisation and hosting, so I am sure if you go along your time will be well spent and the final quilts will be something to behold. I hope some of you can make it and pass along this info to make the event a great success.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

a new book!

My sixth book!!A lovely lovely confection from Lark Books, Sweet Booties. And I'm not just saying that because I have a project in it either. More baby shoes, bibs, blankies and bits than you can poke a sewing needle at and all so beautifully photographed. Lucky there's a few babies on the horizon to sew for.

edit: Ok guys? Those babies are so not going to be mine. I'm sure they will be lovely but they will belong to mates, not me.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

show time

I dedicate this post to Nicole, not to shit you even more about missing the show, but to try and get you as close to the action as I could without actually flying you over. We all send our love and missed you!Such a great day yesterday.

First there was a quick tour of the incubator to meet the crafting blogging glitterati. So many heros.

Then off to help out at Wardrobe Refashion. This was way more fun than I expected and although I only signed up for a couple of hours, I stayed on the stand for most of the day. Who would have guessed that in the face of a entire hall for of craft material purchase possibilities I would opt to hang out with a big pile of second hand clothes, fabric scraps and sewing machines, helping complete strangers make aprons and bags from old shirts and sheets? So much fun! I even squeezed in a few quick things, like a wee linen bag made from a trouser cuff and a wrist pin cushion stuffed with yarn scraps. I just love the challenge of making something from seemingly nothing...

I slipped out to see Faythe Levine's Handmade Nation which was really excellent and made me want to get my movie camera out again and make a doco about the aussie scene, though I reckon I'd be hard pushed to find anyone to make music anywhere near as good as her's....but geez, perhaps I should think about this one more seriously...? And whilst watching I finished off a guinan hat for myself in the possmerino aran I had left over from my Teva Durham vest from last winter.

I made a few forays out of the stand to buy some fat quarters, just love love love the work of the ink and spindle crew and meeting them in person at last was a delight. I picked up a few more bag making bits from Nicole because again, after so many internet purchases getting my hands all over her stuff was too much to resist.

My only other purchase was special in a different kind of way. In anticipation of Amy's 7th birthday which I know is MILES away and all, I bought a skein of the totally gorgeous '100s and 1000s' yarn Sue at Pear Tree Yarns has specially designed for a first knitting project. A sweet set of short 6mm bamboos and I think this will be a very a memorable gift.

So that may have been it for purchases, but that wasn't it for goodies. At the show Nichola and the Burda dudes gave me a lovely little giftie for helping out - how cute is that fabric?!

I organised a post show bloggers/crafters/exibitors dinner largely because I really wanted to meet Jodie and test my suspicions that we may have been sisters separated at birth (there's a good chance - she gave me this gift of toilet paper as a reference to this old post so many people seem to remember and hold dear. I laughed very hard at the dinner table in a most unglamorous fashion). Can't believe I didn't get photos of the selvage entourage!

What started out as a dinner for two quickly escalated to a dinner for 32, just, you know, me a few mates. By the night the numbers had peeled back to 24, but it was still a spectacular event and a special chance to meet and put faces to names I have long known.Sandra and Kristen Jodie Cathy and Louise Jenny Liz and Ellie Bianca Matt Tegan and Lara Cathy and Michelle Janet Lisa and Caroline Lara Nicole and Jodie Eleanor and Susan (bloggers will be snap happy bloggers).

Part of the dinner was a lucky dip gift swap and I scored a wonderful gift of fabric from Lara in exchange for one I gave - this hat (also the guinan - this time in aubergine Merino Spun) which Sandra (AKA the felt dealer) from Winterwood scored. The lovely Tinnie Girl even gave me a bit of her wonderful fabric haul from Jenny because it was all over cars and Wil would undoubtedly love it more than anyone - thank you Tinnie and by extension Jenny!

A totally great evening - as Jodie said does blogging and craft make people nice or is it just that nice people are attracted to craft and blogging? Chicken or egg, I don't care, but it is true there's not often you can chuck that many strangers together and have such a darn good time. Thanks everyone for sharing the madness and helping me cover the short bill produced by some stupidity on my part! :-)

And to cap it all off I got home to find this big luscious pile of undyed silk merino awaiting me from The Knittery closing down sale. I can feel some lace coming on...After a bloody good sleep!