Land of the Sun, Home of the Sheep (and Occasional Possum)

We’re going to take a short break from our regularly scheduled adventure-programming to talk about the things that happened during my 3 months in New Zealand when I wasn’t busy climbing mountains and romping on beaches- I’ll give you a hint… There was a lot of knitting. This little corner of the internet was originally created for the purpose of blogging about all the projects I get up to, and it seems that regardless of the mountains in my immediate vicinity, I still find myself needing to do something with my hands.

wheeler and wilson treadle sewing machine in New Zealand

Okay, but I’m a huge nerd about treadle machines is all…

First things first. I met this pretty lady at Jon’s parent’s house: I did a little research and it turns out that Wheeler & Wilson, the manufacturer of this machine, was bought out by Singer in 1905, which means this machine was probably made in the late 1800s. It’s not particularly rare, but it is a very lovely machine, and it’s an interesting combination of things I’m used to on old machines. It has the modern upper threading path, which has changed very little since its original design, but the bobbin mechanism is a different story. The first successful sewing machine was designed in 1830, and this machine used a shuttle bobbin- a long, narrow piece which slips into as bullet-shaped device. The whole mechanism moves in a curved forwards-backwards motion under the machine when it’s sewing. My treadle machine at home has a shuttle bobbin.

treadle sewing machine with blossom fabric for sun cover

I love new projects!

The shuttle bobbin was eventually replaced with a stationary bobbin, which continues to be the standard for modern machines because it’s less prone to jamming, mechanical issues, and being generally finicky. This machine was obviously made during the transition period, because it has a modern style bobbin and casing, but the mechanism still moves under the machine like a shuttle. Very weird, but very cool and clever. She hadn’t been used for a good couple of decades, but she was in great condition regardless. All she needed was a bit of cleaning and oiling, and a new belt. (ebay for 3 dollars, if you’re curious.) The most difficult part was coming up with a project for her once she was ready. That didn’t turn out to be so hard either, though- It’s unreasonably sunny in New Zealand (40% more intense UV rays than the US), so I chose to make a super simple shoulder-covering Sun Protection Device- complete with fringe!

handmade kimono sun cover sewing project

*fringe goes swoosh*

I used about 2 yards of printed rayon fabric, and a couple of yards of satin fringe in two different lengths. I think it’s supposed to be upholstery fringe for pillows and stuff, but it matched my fabric too perfectly to pass up. If you’re curious, and because nobody in the world deserves sunburnt shoulders- I’ve made a diagram:how to tutorial for simple kimono fringe sun coverup

This way I don’t have to write the whole thing out, you see. It’s very simple. You attach the sleeves to the cut slits, and then sew the tops of the sleeves and the shoulder seam all in one go. The only not-pictured step is the binding to finish the front and neck- that’s just a 4″ wide strip that runs up one front, around the neck, (which I trimmed into a slight curve) and down the other side. The shoulders and armholes are french seamed to add stability and hide raw edges, and the fringe is also encased by the fabric, so nothing unsavory is showing anywhere.

back of kimono sun cover tutorial

It’s surprisingly useful in warmer climates to have something that covers one’s shoulders while not being too hot.

See? Easy as pie. And these things sell at markets and such for something like 60 dollars. Really, you could use whatever kind of fabric you wanted- I’ve even seen some with lace. This one happens to match my swimsuit though- and my hair, apparently- which is always a nice touch.

front of sun cover tutorial sewing project


Including the fixing up of the sewing machine, that project was completed in the span of two afternoons. These next two basically occupied the rest of my down-time between adventures, given one took significantly longer than the other.

sparrow song cowl possum yarn handknit new zealand

I really hadnt considered myself a cowl person until…well, until I finished this project…

This pattern is Sparrow Song by Anne Hanson, made with some Possum-Merino yarn I got in New Zealand. Possum is a pretty uniquely New Zealand thing, and it’s very very soft, and very warm- even if the concept is a little weird. Possums in New Zealand are a totally different thing than US possums, though. As for the yarn, it’s a bit hairy and sheds at first, but only a little. Still totally worth it. In other news, I really love this cowl pattern. It’s knit top down, and then the bottom edging is a knitted-on border completed last. It’s a bit ridiculously warm.

fluffy possum yarn red cowl handknit pattern

It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!!!

In a problematic and cruel twist of fate, however, I have only been able to wear it about twice because it is very warm and, because New Zealand’s seasons are opposite from ours, I’ve essentially had two summers in a row withย  about 3 weeks of winter in between. By the time my next trip is completed, I will have had four consecutive summers without a full winter in between. I probably won’t get much use out of this cowl in that span of time, but I’m certainly going to try.

Here’s the next (and significantly larger) project:

IMG_3590Leaves of Grass by Jared Flood. The pertinent information for both of these projects can be found in more detail on my Ravelry page, if you’re interested in making them. This is a circular shawl knit from the center out, and has yet another knitted on border. I think knitted on borders are my favorite technique in knitting. The only other thing that comes close is gusset heels…

circular pi shawl knitting new zealand

Because I’m (not so) secretly a huge nerd

IMG_3599The other particularly exciting thing about this shawl is that it’s an Elizabeth Zimmerman Pi Shawl. There are only four increase rows in the whole project- in between each lace pattern. This allows you to substitute in any other lace stitch if you’re not feeling whatever’s written in the pattern, since you aren’t limited by needing to match increases. I didn’t make any changes to this one- maybe next time.

I cast on for this shawl a day or two before I left for New Zealand, and I finished it in the Los Angeles International airport on my way back home. Not that I was working on it constantly, but it took basically the whole three months. It was actually pretty great travel knitting. The only awkward part was when I dropped my ball of yarn behind my seat on the return flight, and had to employ the gentleman sitting behind me to retrieve it. He was a good sport, though.

The last part of this crafty little side note is more of an in-progress sneak peek, because it’s getting a blog post all to itself later on. One of my favorite things to do on warm summer evenings (in December, I’m actually still not over that weirdness)- was hunting for sea glass on the beach. We’d drive to the beach after dinner, stop for ice cream, and walk along the beach looking for pieces of sea glass.

new zealand sea glass beach pottery shards

I still can’t believe I finally got to hunt for sea glass. No beaches in the midwest, you see…

This is a photo of what we gathered after the first ice-cream laden evening. I wanted to make myself a necklace, but ended up finding enough pieces on the trip that I decided to share the love a little bit more than originally intended. We found so many pieces that I had to leave most of them behind, but the others- well, you can find some of them here if you’re curious, but the details will come later.

You’ve probably noticed that not everything in the picture is sea glass- there are also ceramic shards, although they’re a much rarer occurrence. According to the all-knowing interwebs, they’re called ‘beach pottery’- and I will let you know as soon as I figure out what I’m going to do with them.

I’m a material person. I like stuff, I like projects, and I am the kind of person who needs to have something to do with my hands, pretty much all the time. I may have been in New Zealand to see the sights and climb the mountains, but I had just as much fun with my projects and I’m especially happy knowing that I can still get my materials and work on things there, since I’ll be going back for a whole year in a few months. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to wear my knitting around even though summer’s almost here…

(next time, mountain-adventures. I promise)


2 thoughts on “Land of the Sun, Home of the Sheep (and Occasional Possum)

  1. kathleen says:

    going to NZ in March 2016….which beach were you at to find the sea glass…I would love to find some NZ sea glass for my collection

    • Kat says:

      You’re going to love it! I’m so happy to be living here. I found the glass in this post at Takapuna Beach on the north shore: The pieces there are few and far between, but the ones you do find are often more unique. Lady’s Bay is another good one with LOADS of glass- but the glass isn’t as unique (mostly brown and green from beer bottles off the navy ships in the harbor) and also, Ladies Bay is a nude beach so be prepared for that ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope you enjoy your trip- I’d love to see what you find!

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