A different kind of gold in the Victorian Goldfields

My kind of gold – fibre from Bendigo Woollen Mills and historic kilns at Bendigo Potteries.  

three balls of carpet wool from Bendigo Woolen Mills

Carpet Wool

Carpet wool seems to be a rare commodity these days. I am not aware of any wool processing plants that still make carpet wool in either New Zealand or Australia. When I see some rug wool on sale I tend to grab it. In the case of the lovely blue wool in the photo above, I took all they had in stock, which was ten 50g balls. There was no more of any colour on the shelves. For good measure I also grabbed a couple of cones of 3ply which weaves up beautifully in scarves. Having said that, Bendigo Wollen Mills cater to knitters much more than weavers and have some beautiful yarns.

The photos below are from the nearby Bendigo Potteries where a miner was digging for gold but found clay and decided to return to his original trade of being a potter. 


two brick bottle kilns and a horizontal kiln  at Bendig Potteries

I learned that these are called Bottle Kilns

close up of a brick bottle kiln at Bendigo Potteries

Bottle Kiln


Collette Dinnigan at the Powerhouse Museum

Sharing my photos from the Collette Dinnigan exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Dinnigan Gowns Dinnigan Dresses

The exhibition was beautifully staged and featured lovely gowns for tall, willowy women with tiny waists and no bust – people like Nicole Kidman, who was pictured in one of the gowns on the red carpet.

Ms Dinnigan has moved on from high fashion and has applied her design skills to a large number of other areas including girls wear, which is being sold by the German discount retailer Aldi, in an unexpected alliance.

Dinnigan Girls

Notice how muted the dresses appear in contrast to the background.

The girls wear at the Powerhouse was charming and traditional. It’s no surprise that when the designer’s clothes went on sale at Aldi they attracted a huge amount of interest, including, reportedly from shoppers who would not normally go shopping at a discount supermarket.

Crochet Dish Cloth

dishcloth2I took a crochet project along on my recent trip to Bangkok, wanting a project that was portable and didn’t involve any tools that might get confiscated by airport security.

You can’t do too much damage with a 2mm crochet hook and a ball of mercerised cotton. I actually don’t believe you can do too much damage with a pair of nail scissors, either, but I once had mine confiscated on my way  to board an early morning domestic flight. I see it as security theatre …but that’s another story.

This dishcloth measures 29cm x 24cm and I plan to use it as a pot holder. We’ll see. I stopped crocheting when I ran out of yarn and selected a rectangular shape so I can fold it double to protect my hands. I also added a hanger in case I decide to use it as a general wiping cloth.

I modified the pattern by starting with a chain of 75 stitches rather than 25 and took it from there. It was easy to make, though the finer yarn I used meant that progress was slower than if I’d used the kitchen cotton yarn referenced in the pattern. I can also attest to the fact that the pattern is very forgiving of errors. I made several, but I can’t find them now without looking very hard.

Cotton Dishcloth

Cotton Dish Cloth

The crochet hook came from Spotlight and was a last minute purchase on departure day. It was the worst quality of bendy lightweight aluminum. Yes, it was cheap, but it wasn’t worth any money and I won’t be using it again, except maybe to clear a blocked drain. My grandmother used stainless steel crochet hooks. I need to go and find hers.

Shibori Indigo Dying Workshop

I recently participated in a shibori indigo dying workshop held by the Council of Adult Education in East Melbourne.

Our teacher Colleen Weste, is a former weaver, enthusiastic textile artist, silk painter, nuno felter and shibori expert.

Colleen had us prepare synthetic and natural indigo vats. Her experience was such that she was very relaxed about the process – she knew what would work and what wouldn’t and didn’t express any particular concern about stirring this way or that. Some of the books I consulted ahead of the course were very particular about stirring direction.

Indigo vat preparation showing the indigo flower

Indigo Flower

The book I found to be most helpful in preparing for the workshop was A Handbook of Indigo Dying. The author Vivien Prideaux described fabric preparation (scouring) methods for plant based and animal based fabrics and covered shibori techniques in a straightforward way.

I’m not a huge fan of silk so chose to prepare lengths of cotton for scarves. I bought washing soda at the supermarket (the brand name in Australia is Lectric, available at both the national chains) and immersed my fabric in a stock pot of simmering water mixed with about 2 tbsp of washing soda and 1 tbsp of Lux soap flakes. That stayed on the stove top for about 30-40 mins, then I let the fabric drip dry and added it the to the family wash load at the next opportunity.

I was lucky enough to find a stock pot at my local charity shop and have reserved it for scouring and dying as dye manufacturers warn against re-using dyeing equipment for food preparation.

My classmates purchased silk scarf lengths from Colleen. This gave us the opportunity to compare results. My double dipped cotton came out a much inkier indigo blue than the single dipped silk scarves that had a more delicate violet hue.

I pre-hemmed the long edges of one length of cotton using my quarter inch hemming foot, which is great once you get going but is a PITA to get started with tweezers required. If anyone out there has good tips on that, please comment. I left the other lengths unhemmed but sewed them together on the long edges to make a double thickness. I had been aiming for a deconstructed look but changed my mind on that as a design strategy when it had come out of the vat and dried. Raw edges just don’t look ‘finished’ to me so I decided to finish that scarf with a row or two of hand stitched hemming using fine dusky pink embroidery thread, which makes that scarf officially still a WIP at this point.

Colleen guided us all through a pole wrapped scarf first up, to ensure we all come way from the workshop with something we could wear. Next she wanted us to try a sampler on a small square of cotton. My sampler was on a large scale and used clamping at one end, some ties in the middle and then insertions and stitching at the other.  I felt the overcast stitching across a fold showed the most promise and I’m keen to try that again when the weather gets a bit warmer and I have got my hands on some indigo powder.

The clamping was an innovation that I’m sure has been tried before but was my own idea at the breakfast table that morning. I was looking at the UHT milk carton and thought I’d try cutting it up to use in place of wooden blocks to use as a resist. I didn’t have any wooden blocks to hand and besides, Tinkerer can get a bit tetchy about ‘wasting’ marine ply, though he’d probably throw me an off cut if I asked nicely. The UHT carton worked brilliantly.

Update: If you’re looking to learn shibori from a dying and technique perspective, don’t waste your money on a book entitled modern Shibori by Silke Bosbach. I just borrowed it from the library and I will be taking it straight back after leafing through it for a few minutes. There’s not a lot there for the learner.

While I know shibori masters invest many hours of labour achieving perfection in their craft, the opportunity also exists to get a fast and satisfying result, as proven at the workshop. There’s a lot to like about indigo dyed shibori fabric.

A Visit to Petlins Weaving Supply Shop in Sydney

This post was edited on 12 September 2015 to remove references to payment methods  after Petlins got in touch and requested an amendment. I have also removed references to the context in which I made the visit, which was in the beginning of 2014. This post represents my impressions and opinions on that one visit. You will see from the comments that Petlins is a highly regarded supplier, one I understand is valued by many Australian weavers.

table loom on display at Petlins A trip to Sydney gave me the opportunity to visit Petlins, one of a handful of suppliers of weaving yarns and looms in Australia. They are located in the Sydney suburb of Rhodes, near the former Olympic village, easily reached by train.

If you visit the Petlins web site you may make the observation that it’s not super easy to use and that it’s a little dated in terms of page design. They have a wide product range and I can testify that the ordering process works well and your goods arrive quickly. Delivery costs are reasonable, fixed at $10 per order, with delivery within Australia only.

The owners (Peter and Linda, I believe) were polite though busy. Linda was happy to help me select a suitable warp for my rug-making while Peter busied himself with preparing some orders for despatch.

The store was little more than a storage area and the displays were …. hmm….let’s say functional. The cottolin was displayed on shelves comprised of polystyrene boxes – quite a contrast to the mouth-watering display of the same product at a specialist yarn supply in a regional town in Sweden. Demand for weaving products would be much higher in Sweden and the Swedish shop I’m thinking of was in the main shopping area in town, so the comparison is unfair.
Both Peter and Linda are weavers and there was a lovely krokbragt rug on the floor. Linda told me she had once done a course with Peter Collingwood, the famous maker who literally wrote the book on rug weaving.

A visit to Petlins is worth it if you want some advice or want to see their products in real life, otherwise, their mail order service is an excellent alternative.

I came away with a couple of reels of Canadian linen rug warp (the Swedish was too expensive for my budget) and another 500g of 8/2 cotton. Linda was quick to point me in the direction of a more reasonably priced warp yarn after I gasped at the price of the Swedish yarn and she was generous with encouragement and suggestions on how to use it. I also accomplished what I set out to – I visited the bricks and mortar store and can report back. The photos were taken with permission.

Jim Thompson House and Jim Thompson Factory Shop – Bangkok

Boiling Silk Cocoons at the Jim Thompson House Museum

Boiling Silk Cocoons at the Jim Thompson House Museum

The Jim Thompson story is a fascinating one. A trained architect and former CIA agent, he is credited with reviving the Thai silk industry in the period after World War II. He settled in Bangkok and transported traditional teak houses from regional locations to form his home, collecting an art collection at the same time. In 1967 he disappeared in mysterious circumstances. His Bangkok home is now the Thai House and Museum and visiting it richly rewards the visitor.

The museum can only be visited as part of a guided visit. The experience is well-managed so you get just enough time to have a look around before your are shepherded on to make way for the next group. It’s a popular tourist destination that does get busy, helped, I imagine by its central location within an easy walk of the National Stadium BTS Sky Train station and the ever popular MBK shopping centre.

There is a loom on site, but it has not been restored to working condition so the insights for the weaver are few, though they did have a beautiful young woman to spin silk and pose for photographs.

Silk Spinner at Jim Thompson House Museum

Look at the Girl, not the background

The other side of the Jim Thompson story are the Jim Thompson retail outlets which sell silk fabrics, scarves, clothing, bags and homewares. These retail outlets are dotted around places that tourist frequent, including on the museum grounds and Bangkok airport. Prices are high and for the bargain (or at least discount) hunter, there are six factory sales outlets in tourist friendly locations around Thailand, including Bangkok.

We visited the Jim Thompson Factory Shop in Bangkok and found it to be a good retail experience. The outlet shop  has a good range of upholstery fabrics in silk, linen and more, plus furnishing items.


The address is 153 Sukhumvit Soi 93. To get there on public transport take the BTS Sky Train to Bang Chak station, use  Exit 5, then walk up Soi 93. You can’t miss the Jim Thompson Factory Shop as it’s a stand alone four or five storey building on the left hand side of the road and it has the name out the front.

The view from Bang Chak BTS Sky Train stop

The view from Bang Chak BTS Sky Train stop

The Jim Thompson Factory Shop is open daily 9am- 6pm. If you looking for high quality, well packaged gift or souvenir items, this is a good place to go.

Buying Fabric in Bangkok

Bangkok is so far the best place I’ve been to buy fabric. Better than Hong Kong, better than Sydney, better than Melbourne, better than San Diego, better than Singapore and better than Auckland.

There is the possibility of civil unrest or terrorist activity in Thailand but these things can happen in our home locations, too, so keep an eye on your country’s travel advisories, the Bangkok local media and do your best to anticipate if there might be trouble ahead. We did those things, but no-one can predict an unpleasant event like the Erawan shrine bombing that happened on our last night in Bangkok. It was very distressing to hear of the loss of life and injuries, not too far from where we were staying. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

Street view over Sampeng Lane from the local overpass.

The start of Sampeng Lane from the local pedestrian overpass.

I heartily recommend Jills Quilt Site for its excellent Sampeng Lane map and her general advice on buying fabric in Bangkok. I printed out her Sampeng Lane map and brought it with me but sadly didn’t consult it until I was well past China World Mall.

I did go to Phahurat Market though and loved every minute of the fabric shopping there. They had a good selection of upholstery and dress fabrics and plenty of notions. Unexpectedly, we even stumbled upon a stall of Swedish collectibles and bonded with the Thai Muslim proprietor over our shared love of flea markets, known as loppis in Swedish. We didn’t share too many words, but loppis was one we all know.

Getting to the Phahurat Market and Sampeng Lane using Public Transport

We took the underground train to Hua Lamphong station (3 Baht for a visit to the rest room there and BYO paper, by the way), then the the number 7 bus to Phahurat Market, which is right next door to a Sikh temple. If the bus goes over the river and you haven’t got off yet, you’ve gone too far. The bus conductor was apologetic when this happened to us but it was easily fixed by boarding the next bus going in the opposite direction. No harm done, except for 20 Baht worth of additional bus fares. Which is nothing when you get paid in dollars.

Phahurat Market is a building, not a street market. It has four levels of clothes and fabric mostly, and a tasty food court on the fifth floor. I can recommend the chat samosa, a vegetarian samosa accompanied by a chickpea (garbanzo) curry. In a tropical country, if in doubt, go vegetarian. That’s my advice for maintaining stomach stability. It worked on this trip.

I bought some beautiful blue linen Phahurat Market, a bargain at 200 baht for 2 metres (and yes, I bargained, just gently, to get a small reduction.) We then headed back towards the station along Sampeng Lane, where I bought a sarong, something that is a holiday ritual for me. Every trip to Asia brings a new sarong for the collection. My beloved picked up a seam ripper on Sampeng Lane for literally pennies and we both enjoyed the adventure of exploring this part of town. The Sampeng Lane shops have home shrines within them, which was an eye-opener.

Here’s the loot:

A scarf, some linen fabric and a sarong.

A: Handwoven cotton scarf (180 Baht.)Purchased at Central World in support of HM Queen Sirikit’s birthday.

B: 2 metres of shirt weight linen fabric (200 Baht.) Purchased at Phahurat Market.

C: Cotton sarong of approx 1.8 metres length (250 Baht.) Purchased at Sampeng Lane. Probably Indonesian origin.

Put on your walking shoes, pack your fan and your water bottle and go have some fabric fun on Sampeng Lane. You’ll end your day hot and tired, but happy.