I first heard about today’s guest through the much sought after reclaimed tweed pouches she crafts and sells. Julia Billings – you may recognise her as woollenflower – is an Australian living in Glasgow where she is thoroughly enjoying soaking up the damp air and exploring the rural landscape around her. When not stitching tweed pouches, or machine knitting the stunning cowls she designs and makes, Julia can be found with her hands immersed in dye pots exploring all that natural dyeing has to offer. A love of plants and flowers and the colours they yield is a passion that you will often hear and see her refer to and in this post Julia explains how she plans to bring together some of these colours in a big new project that will bridge the gap between her homeland Australia and her new home in Scotland…
As my husband and I moved from Australia to Glasgow in February, we’re only just experiencing our first taste of a Scottish winter.
We’ve both really enjoyed living in cold places before and, in many ways, Melbourne’s climate is quite similar to Glasgow’s- plenty of moody grey skies, rain and general changeableness!- so we felt we knew what we were in for. But the damp cold is definitely a bit more penetrating than we’d thought and so I’ve been reassessing my knit requirements!
As a knitter, it’s been such a joy to really need those woollies that I so love to make- hats, cowls, cardigans, jumpers… Even over the summer (which everyone kept telling us was even cooler and wetter than the average Scottish summer), there weren’t many days that didn’t involve some kind of handknits. My idea of heaven, really, and so many new patterns to trawl through- even mittens, which have always seemed like a bit of a novelty knit in Australia, are now essential items that have hit the top of my queue! But the very next, most pressing thing that I’m making, the one I’ve set aside for after Christmas, for that precious unbroken run of days that is so rare during the rest of the working year, is a new winter blanket.
While I’m primarily a handknitter, I also use an old, hand-operated domestic knitting machine to make colourwork accessories for my online shop and simple things for myself. Knitting machines are amazing things- while the simplest things to knit by hand, like garter stitch, are not easy to do on my machine, other things, like stocking stitch, colourwork and textured stitch patterns, are incredibly quick! The fact that I can crank out the pieces of a stocking stitch garment in a day or two enables me to be more selective about what I spend my handknitting time making… and, while I love slow work, I need that warm blanket to keep us warm now!
So I’m going to make another blanket just like this one I had to leave behind…
This was a giant stashbuster project, measuring 200 x 250cm and easily big enough for two to snuggle under. It used more than 2kg of scraps, single balls or larger quantities of yarn that I didn’t really have a project for, mostly in DK and aran-weight but also some fingering doubled and a real mix of commercial, hand-spun, hand-dyed or yarn recycled from jumpers. The palette was all dusty pinks, dark reds, blues, teals, naturals and grays and quite a lot of the yarns contained either alpaca or angora so the overall effect was soft and a bit fuzzy, with the added bonus of not showing the obligatory cat hairs!
The pieces for this blanket were made over three days, with each stripe 2-30 rows high and each strip 500 rows high and between 40- 60 stitches wide. I chose to make it in good old stocking stitch, both because the machine does that so well and to highlight the colourplay and, when working a section of 2 colours, I just carried the colour out of work up the side and then hid the floats in the seams – there were still lots of ends to weave in though!
Whether working on a machine or by hand, you just can’t get around the finishing on a project like this and it took me another three days to seam the strips together with my small linking machine (which sadly also got left behind so I’m going to have to seam the new one by hand!) and to add an edge. The 4-stitch i-cord edging took the bulk of those three days but was completely worth the time- I really love the finish and it holds the edges nicely to prevent the thing stretching out of shape and the fabric from rolling in.
For this new blanket, I’m using the same framework for both construction and colourplay. I’m been stashing away for it for a while and will use a combination of the greys and browns of coloured sheep with the soft, rich and earthy shades that come from natural dyes…
The natural sheep colours come from a series of beautiful, breed-specific yarns from Blacker, Bare Naked and Jamieson and Smith that were gathered at festivals and given by friends- they include fibre from Gotland, Romney and Shetland sheep, all breeds that I find provide the warmth, lightness and durability that I want for a blanket. And the dyed yarn all came from a big old charity shop Shetland jumper that I unravelled and have dyed over the past few years with both traditional dye plants (such as madder, cochineal and logwood, various lichens and mushrooms, and different members of the daisy family) and more experimental dyes from a wide range of plants, including purple carrots and various Australian native species.
I’m hoping that, together, these fibres and colours will bring warmth, cosiness and joy to us during the dark, cold months ahead, and that the finished blanket will have that sense of age and meaning that comes with using treasured yarns with so many memories already embodied in them. I’ll keep you posted!
Thank you so much to Julia for such a lovely post which has made me contemplate the need for a large snuggly blanket in my life! You can keep up with Julia’s projects and find details of where she will be teaching over on her blog and there are daily postings, including news about shop updates on Instagram and Twitter.
All images © Julia Billings and used here with permission.
Disclaimer: I have not received any form of payment for this post – I’m just a big fan!