It's a community thing

Helga’s Wool and Honey: a stunner

Helga’s Wool and Honey: a stunner

Yesterday we took a slice of Newtown House to Prefab’s festive Christmas market. We had a blast talking with people and watching them respond to our unique offering - cast-iron cookware, glasses, table linens, copper pans, knives - and yarn? And sewing patterns? YES we say, we are about the homemade and the handmade.

We walk in both worlds - proudly sourcing homewares made with care and helping people who want to share in the home crafts of knitting and sewing while supporting independent yarn producers and pattern makers.

It’s probably safe to say that there isn’t a copper pan community, or a linen tea towel community, in the same way there’s a knitting and sewing community. And what a community it is. Fibre folk are just different. 

Recent months have brought this home to us in so many ways. Much of the year has been spent with Nick facing up to a cancer diagnosis and the resulting surgery and months of chemotherapy. We’re nearly to the end of this hard slog, just in time for Christmas. For obvious reasons we have put our focus, and limited time and energy, into things close to home. So, developments here in Newtown House land have been slower than we’d have hoped.

It’s also meant I’ve had to do something I am so loathe to do. I asked for help. With a slow knitting output at the best of times, there was no way I was keeping up with my internal wish-list of samples knit up in the beautiful wools we stock. They’re unusual for New Zealand, which means it’s even more important to us that people can see, and touch, and understand, the qualities of these yarns. I’m also keen to sew up some sample garments from the patterns we stock, but again - limited time!

Setting up…tubs of yarny goodness in hiding.

Setting up…tubs of yarny goodness in hiding.

We all know there’s nothing like seeing yarns, and fabric, and garments, in real life. Pixels can only tell you so much, and they are absolutely silent on how things will feel against your skin, and how the yarn will go through your needles. 

So I emailed my knitterly friends and asked: Would you mind helping me with some shop samples? I was so embarrassed to do this - it was like admitting defeat. And I almost cried at the responses. YES. YES with enthusiasm, even. Everyone was in agreement that not only should these be shop samples, but they should be things that we could wear

These magical things happened:

  • A day before the Christmas market, at Knitting Ladies Lunch, Helga was doing a show and tell of the beautiful Wool and Honey jersey you see here. She had just finished it, using Tukuwool she’d bought from us just a few weeks earlier. It is utterly, glowingly gorgeous. She handed it over the table, along with a pair of socks she’d made from Rosa Pomar’s Mondim. Take them, she said. I protested. Come on, she said, summer’s coming. Keep them until after the Unwind knitting retreat in Dunedin, in March. I won’t need them until then! Put them in the shop, take them to shows, do whatever you want. People need to see what it’s all about. So the jersey and the socks went to the Saturday market with us and had pride of place with the yarn we’d brought. As I told Helga later, I could have easily sold her jersey at least five times. But as knitters know, this kind of thing is priceless.

  • Another friend said of course I could have the things she’d made using our wool for shows. 

  • People also offered to knit things from scratch. Which then turned into very jolly conversations about patterns, and yarn, and Knitting Schemes. These kinds of talks are just the BEST.

  • Sue said, let’s do some more socks. Not for me, I said, looking at the ground: I’ve got big feet. (One reason I have never made a pair of socks!) What came back was basically, bollocks, put your foot on a ruler and we will make it work. 

  • At lunch I handed Sue a skein of Biches et Bûches Le Gros Lambswool for her to make a hat. Less than 24 hours later she was at the market with a nearly finished hat, the Antler from Tincanknits. She pulled it out of her bag and we popped it onto Nick’s head to check whether she could start the crown decreases. Yes, it was time. It’s probably blocking now. Who am I kidding, it was probably blocking an hour later.

  • Another friend popped by our stand and said she was looking forward to what I’m now calling Project Shoppe Sample. When I thanked her, she looked at me with a smile and said, “Honestly, it’s just nice to be able to help.” I almost cried again. (I’d like to blame the exhaustion or too much coffee or both, but.)

So where does this leave us? It’s oft repeated life advice, and perhaps because of this it’s become trite, but I believe we forget it at our peril: People like to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. And if you’re a knitter, it won’t be long until you’re swimming in the handknits — figuratively and literally, you will be buoyed up by wool. It’s just one of the many things that makes this community such a special one, and one we’re so grateful to be a part of.


Our #SummerofBasics, Antipodes style

We’re in the last month of #SummerofBasics - or as I am calling it, #SummerofBasics, Antipodes Style - and I’ve not finished one garment.

If you’re not familiar with the Summer of Basics, it’s a superb online challenge developed by the ever-creative Karen Templer, who we profile here, in which people commit to making three basics over the three North American summer months - June, July and September. “Basics” is defined by the maker - if polka dots are your idea of basic, so be it. I’d be right there with you.

So whilst I haven’t finished a thing, I do have the following underway:

It's gone a lot of places, this Anker's cardigan

It's gone a lot of places, this Anker's cardigan

My Anker’s Cardigan, knitting up in Garthenor No2, with just one and a half sleeves to go. I opportunistically found some lovely ribbon for the button band the other day, but still need to source buttons. I am thinking this will be a very jolly moment indeed. I’d be stoked to finish by the end of August. This may actually be possible.

The star-crossed plaid Camber dress from Merchant and Mills. I’ve decided it actually needs to be underlined to both give it a bit more body and to ensure it’s not entirely see-through.* This is what happened: Once I’d actually cut into the fabric and studied it carefully, I realised it was far too lightweight (and sheer!) to be worn without a slip or unlined. If ever there was a fabric face-palm moment, that was it. Sheer plaid - who would’ve thought that was a thing? And yet, I am so in love with this pattern that I’m just going to plow on because it will be, if nothing else, great practice at getting all of Carolyn Denham’s clever construction techniques down. Camber dress No1 was not nearly enough.

Another LB pullover from the fab Tara Viggo (@papertheory) in lovely striped merino - just the thing for the last few weeks of winter. It has been cut out and only needs to be sewn up. Getting to the fabric shop for some cotton tape to stabilise the seams took another week of the precious 12 in the SoB, but such is life. Stable seams more important than droopy knits - lesson learnt from my first LB pullover in a heavy woollen knit, where a bit of interfacing would’ve helped firm up the turtleneck. Rookie mistake!

So, not much progress then.


We’ve had a scary challenge on the health front here at the House, which we talked about a bit in our newsletter the other week. The gist is: we are OK, but life is all about doing what’s doable in the moment these days. Sometimes that means just dreaming about all the things that will be done when life gets a bit easier. Sometimes it means half an hour snatched to knit away on the endless sleeves of the cardigan, or stealing some time to trace out a pattern, write a blog post, bake some cookies, go for a run, tend to a sourdough loaf. It’s a stressful time, for sure, and we are so grateful for the kindness of family and friends.

It’s a time full of learnings, some of them even really funny. For example, every knitter knows that if you’re going to be spending time at hospital, you better have your knitting with you. But it’s been interesting for this lifelong book lover to learn that sometimes - when you’re really pretty scared, for example, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next - it is impossible to “get lost in a book”. I’ve learnt that I need to do something with my hands instead, something diverting and attention-taking. Funny to learn something so essential now I’m in my fifth decade.

Plaid Camber dress on the cutting room floor - aka the hallway. Plaid, and virtually sheer. How did I miss that?!

Plaid Camber dress on the cutting room floor - aka the hallway. Plaid, and virtually sheer. How did I miss that?!

So all in all, so far it’s not really been the wildly creative Summer of Basics we’d anticipated. Instead, I’m dubbing this year’s version the Summer of Getting Back to Basics. To going slow, doing what can be done, and being OK with that. Sometimes it’s very hard to do this, with social media parading an endless array of beautiful distractions produced by people with talent to burn, and seemingly ample time to lovingly document their journeys. I really enjoy looking at what all of you geniuses of the domestic arts do, but that is very much not our reality at the moment.

But I’m committed nonetheless to building a wardrobe of my own, halting though my progress sometimes is, because the rewards are so many and so manifold. They include:

Inspiration: We’re so fortunate to be living in a moment where it’s possible to be on this journey as part of a global community of makers and menders. There is so much creativity on show, and there are so many generous teachers who’ve taken the time to share their knowledge. (As a counterpoint, I don’t have to look too far back to remember me and the old Singer set up in my bedroom in the early 1990s. Just me and a sewing pattern, my fabric of choice and a hell of a lot of uncertainty. No, my mother did not really sew, nor did the significant women or men in my life. There was no help at hand, and there was no Internet. There was the Fabric Store, and there were Books, and there was Mail-Order Fabric. Does anyone else remember those days?)

Being conscious about consumption: There are plenty of garments in the world. We’re awash in them. Like most people I’m not immune to the siren’s call of beautifully made new clothes. But to make your own is one way to say “no” to an industry that would have us just buy more and more and more, with no regard to the impact the fashion industry has on people and the planet. Buying local is another way. As long as I’ve lived in New Zealand I’ve tried to buy close to home - along with our own making, we need local designers and manufacturers, and one way to support that is to vote with your feet, and your dollars.

Beauty: Let’s be honest, from as early as I can remember my eye has been drawn to the fabric, the fibre, the colour, the drape, the shape, the beauty of well-made clothes. That’s why I studied art history, that’s why I love fashion, and that’s one of the reasons I have, over most of my life and to varying degrees of success, tried to make my own clothes. Now I’m older I don’t feel the need to put that practice aside for something more “sensible” - to be able to do this is luxury to me these days.

So I’ve just lengthened out the SoB plans to last me the rest of the year. They include:

A project for Actual Summer

A project for Actual Summer

A Willow Tank: This week we wandered down to a jewel of a local fabric store, Stitchbird Fabrics. They stock more than a few lovely bolts of Nani Iro and I was keen to have a look - you know, just in case something might leap out. (Surprise: something did.) So I picked up enough pink gorgeousness to make a Willow Tank, along with the paper pattern, which I’ve been keen to try. It’ll be a great basic for actual summer, and it will be a brightly coloured joy to work on through this winter and spring. Because I will have to make a toile before I’m cutting into that!

A Nuuk jersey: I’ve chosen some of our beautiful Beiroa (No 409, which knits up into the most beautiful beigey, browny, creamy fabric) for this and have started swatching just for fun. I know it’ll feel wonderful on the hands and (bonus!) may come together relatively quickly! And it will be a marvellous basic over lots of things.

A Shakerag top. (The hilarious and talented Kay Gardiner knit one, and here's how she told the tale.) Because I realised I have four skeins of Jade Sapphire Sylph, a cashmere-linen yarn of much loveliness (and in the precise amount the pattern calls for), and this top would be a fantastic addition to the wardrobe. It's destiny.

A Box Pleat Dress from our new supplier, The Assembly Line. I have the perfect navy linen for this. No idea where I will find the time, but some things just need doing.

So who else is with me in turning the #SummerofBasicsAntipodesStyle into a long slide through spring and into our actual summer? I’ll be here working away, slowly, so feel free to join in!


*Giving the term “windowpane plaid” a whole new meaning! So it can be called The Windowpane Dress.