Thursday, November 28, 2013

Re-inventing the art of sock making, in Tasmania

I have seen Mongrel Socks in a local shop in Cygnet but had no idea about the story behind them until now…... I bought some for my mother last winter and she LOVES them.

A couple of pre-World War Two era knitting machines, a cappuccino steamer and some experimentation can make a business.

imageHelen and Laurie Timms used to sell woollen socks in Hobart that had been made in Launceston at the Tamar Knitting Mills.

When that factory closed down, rather than buy socks from interstate, the Timms decided to have a go with making the socks themselves to sell.

To do this, the Timms needed some knitting machines. So they bought two old models from the Tamar Knitting Mills.

"We got friendly with the manager and we used to sell the socks they made on the machines," says Laurie.

The Timms bought two of the machines, one made in 1927 and one in 1930.

"Took us two years to get the second one going and it turned out to be a very simple small part," says Laurie.

imageThe machines chug away in the Timms' shed in Cambridge now, making a pair of socks in 10 minutes, producing the socks a string, like sausages.

When they took the machines the Timms knew nothing about making the socks.

"We thought 'How hard could it be?' and it was really, really hard," says Helen.

The socks they make are made with pure wool with some nylon in the heel to make them long wearing, but other than that the socks are pretty much just the same as when the machines were new, close to 100 years ago.

Once the socks are knitted, there's a bit of sewing around the toes and the socks are steamed, to shrink the wool so the socks don't shrink when you buy them and wash them.

The steaming is done by hand, using a coffee machine they bought in Hobart.

The name of the Timms' company, Mongrel Socks, has come to have two meanings.

"The name for the product came about because of the nature of the multicoloured knit, so it's a real mixture, a mongrel," explains Helen.

"But actually it has turned out to be much more descriptive of the machinery. It's given us merry hell."

Despite the problems the Timms had in the first two years, and the fact that replacement parts have to be improvised or custom made, they have no plans to modernise the machinery.

There's little point, explains Laurie, as the newer machines work in rather than same way anyway, only using computer programs and perhaps working a little faster.

But the Timms don't plan to mass produce their mongrel socks.

"Tasmania can't compete on mass produced items, so we really have to target niches," says Helen.

It did take the Timms a bit of searching to be able to find a Tasmanian wool supplier, becase all the best wool was sold overseas before local producers could get it.

But they've currently got a local wool supplier, producing certified Tasmanian, non-mulesed merino wool, adding to the Tasmanian nicheness of the socks and small business.

Interview with Helen and Laurie Timms by Jo Spargo, featured on Your Afternoon.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Raw Milk…. a heart-wrenching look at why people want it

Watch the first bit and, if you don’t want to watch all 41 minutes then skip to 33 minutes and watch to the end.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In case you don’t have a garden….

but you have a can….. and no can opener…. this could be VERY useful next time you go camping!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Favourite Food Page

Although I have only put 5 entries on my Favourite Food page at the top of this blog so far, they truly do epitomise what excites me, with food. As soon as I step out the back door I am in my vegetable garden. My clothes line has just enough room to swing and is surrounded by vegetable garden on all sides. To get to the chook yard I walk through it. To get to my green house or little tool shed or the back gate requires walking one of the vegetable garden paths. If you are just starting out growing food, I would highly recommend this set-up!

Not having to deliberately go to the vegetable garden means I see it every day. I can pick things at their most perfect or notice if something is getting damaged by snails, is becoming overgrown by something else or is drying out or about to go to seed.

It is often those unplanned pickings, fresh from the garden, that end up being sensational on the plate. There is no need for additional flavourings when food is grown and eaten like this. I find it hard to explain because if you have never done it, you will just think it sounds a ridiculous claim.

To me there is a lot more to food than just a few seconds of taste.

  • There is the experience of growing, picking and preparing it, that swills around in my head.
  • To me the enjoyment of feeling its goodness equals or even exceeds the taste, while I am getting it ready to eat.
  • Then there is the actual effect it has on my body and mind, sometimes lasting for hours….. all a bit hippy-sounding? I just love tuning my food and body. After all, this is what all other creatures and most other humans instinctively do but we western humans have to learn by listening to our inner workings and trying to understand what they are saying!

Bon appetit!