Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life



Today, Mary-Anne Mace, New Zealand lace designer extraordinaire, released Biophilia.
(photo copyright of Mary-Anne Mace)
I am so very, very touched that Mary-Anne has freely contributed this design to the Sustain the Sea initiative. She brought tears to my eyes when I saw what she had created, and read her message below.  Here are her words about Biophilia:
“Biophilia is a term first used by psychologist Erich Fromm, and developed by biologist E. O Wilson to describe a hypothetically innate human tendency to feel an emotional attachment to the natural world.

 Regardless of whether the tendency for biophilia exists or not, human dependence upon the natural world and its complex ecosystems is a fundamental truth.  The idea that human wellbeing is utterly dependent upon our positive interactions with the natural world and its biological diversity makes conservation of the planet’s ecological systems imperative. This decades old theory is even more relevant today as we continue to transform the planet in our quest for perpetual economic growth.

This shawl, Biophilia is a part of the Sustain the Sea collection. It is a free pattern, and yet it is not free. I ask that you consider your relationship with the natural world around you, and how your activities impact upon it. Is there something you can do to reverse environmental degradation from your home, in your community? I ask that you actively do something, and continue to do something that benefits the environment. To be effective, conservation and protection of the Earth’s resources and ecosystems must be adopted in the home, and then spread outwards through workplaces, schools, boardrooms, and government departments via policy makers, educators, parents, conservationists, writers, idealists, you and me. From the home to the sea – while environmental degradation may seem an insurmountable by-product of human activity – together we are many. Together we are so many, many people – ourselves a huge, diverse, and imaginative repository of information, solutions and actions that can benefit the environment, our relationship to it, and ultimately our own wellbeing.

Biophilia is a top-down crescent shaped shawl that represents my own connection to and affection for the natural environment. The motifs represent filament strands of entangled seaweed billowing in the ocean currents. Beads are worked at the edge and drip from each picot point.” – Mary-Anne Mace

Biophilia 2

(photo copyright of Mary-Anne Mace)

Thank you, Mary-Anne.

I’m sure you will agree that Biophilia is a stunningly beautiful shawl.  Mary-Anne has very eloquently expressed much of what I feel, and now I have a name to put to it:  Biophilia!

I’ll be casting on for this shawl very soon.  Join me!  Download the pattern on Ravelry – link here.


The flipside

It’s used extensively in Asian cuisine, and its cultivation is a major industry in many Asian countries.  Ancient cultures all over the world made good use of it as a food source.

Nowadays, we know it as a primary ingredient in sushi, the source of agar jelly, and the ‘gum’ used as a thickening agent in a lot of foods, even in ice cream.

Perhaps a little less known is its use in cosmetics, fertilisers and medicine.

It comes in an incredible variety of shapes, colours and forms.  What am I talking about?

Bet you’ve already guessed: it’s seaweed.

Under the sea

We really should not call it a ‘weed’.  The very name connotes something not useful, a nuisance that should be eliminated.  Actually, it has a lot of uses and valuable properties, apart from being a very tasty and nutritious food.  Sea plants would probably be a better word?

Because I spent many years living in Asia, I got to appreciate how delicious seaweed can be.  Some of my favourite food is seaweed salad, seaweed soup and nori sheets. Seaweed in noodle dishes, and as an additional ingredient with mussels, cooked in a broth of butter, garlic and white wine, is truly scrumptious.  You can even bake fish in kelp pockets.  I once had a fresh seaweed salad in a Japanese restaurant, made from at least four varieties of seaweed.  Not only was it very attractive, but it tasted like nothing I had ever eaten (not at all like the often highly coloured green stuff in supermarkets labelled “seaweed salad”), with incredible textures and subtle flavours, and lovely tangy little bursts of seawater that exploded your mouth every so often when I bit into one of the tiny “floats”.  I’ve only ever found it that once, even though I excitedly pored over the menu of all Japanese and Korean restaurants I visited after that, looking for the same dish.  I think I am quite happy to eat only seaweed, and not fish!

I wonder why we treat our approach to the sea so differently to land?  On land, we have learned that it is not a good idea to upturn an entire forest, just to get at the birds and animals living in it.  We no longer wide scale hunt wild creatures for food, having learned that it is better to farm them (besides the point that there just aren’t enough wild animals left in the world to eat).  We know that it is better for our health to consume more fruit and vegetables, and limit our protein intake.

But when it comes to the sea, we continue to hunt the last vestiges of the large wild creatures of the sea, we continue to trawl the sea bottom, destroying what has taken years to grow, and all the ecosystems associated with it. And in proportion, largely ignore the plant life, its health benefits and fast growing, sustainable and portable properties, in favour of the fast-diminishing, protein-based creatures that inhabit it.

See the fish?

If I was a clever fishing company, I think that about now, I’d be thinking of what I could do to diversify, to enable my business to continue growing in the future.  You only need to visit an Asian food store or restaurant to see the potential of seaweed, and what delicious foods you can make with it…


In fact, from what I have read, there are moves afoot to develop the seaweed industry in New Zealand, particularly karengo, which is the New Zealand equivalent of nori.

Most New Zealand seaweed is edible, including the varieties you see pictured here.  I haven’t yet tried Neptune’s necklace (below), but the red seaweed above is absolutely delicious – it tastes like the sea vegetable version of mussels.  I rinsed it in clean water and ate it raw.  Yum!  The eldest boy told me I was a freak.  Hehe!

Neptune's necklaceA seaweed I have long been curious to try is sea lettuce.

ulva LactucaI grew up in Tauranga, where it is very abundant and becoming quite a pest.  When I was a girl, large blooms were commonly associated with sewage run-off, so I was never really tempted to eat it.  Nowadays, research indicates that the weather is blamed for its abundance, instead of pollution (although excess nutrients in the water do contribute to enhanced growth).  But imagine if instead of the bloom being seen as a nuisance, its advent was welcomed with annual excitement, and it was harvested with abandon to be made into tasty food!? Maybe even a seaweed festival coming out of it?  Instead of people groaning at the cost to ‘clean it up’, there would be people paying money to have a permit to harvest it!

Ulva lactuca

Seaweed is not only tasty, but it has excellent health benefits. In New Zealand especially, we should be eating more of it – seaweeds are rich in the minerals that are deficient in New Zealand soil.

I believe that with proper care and management of our oceans, we can continue to enjoy the bounteous wonders and flavours of the sea.  We just might have to cultivate our palates a little more, to make room for yet more delicious flavours and textures!

As you might have guessed, this post is also the introductory thought behind my latest design.  Watch out for the Ulva Lactuca shawl pattern tomorrow – my Christmas present to you. 🙂


I came across some very interesting sites about seaweed when I was researching for this article. Have a look at some of these links to find out more fascinating facts about, and recipes for seaweed:


All rivers run to the sea

“Where does the water in the drains go to mum?” asked my youngest boy one day. It was raining, and he was watching the water run down the channels on the side of the road.  We were on our way to school when he came up with that question, so we had a brief conversation about the difference between stormwater and household waste water, and how the water that ran down the drains on the road went into the storm water system and straight into the streams and sea.

I showed him the stormwater catchpit at his school, which has a great plaque next to it:

Stormwater sump

It also gave me an opportunity to teach him how it important it was that rubbish and chemical pollution didn’t get washed into those drains, because it all ended up in the sea, polluting it and killing and harming aquatic life.

Remembering this conversation prompted me to look at exploring another way to give back to the sea:  by ensuring that our water is as clean as possible before it gets to the sea.  It’s true that not every river runs to the sea, but the vast majority of them do.

Here are just a few of the simple things that can be done to sustain the sea.  I thought I’d share them here because I didn’t know about some of these until recently, and others I thought didn’t make much difference until I tried, and then saw how much it was needed.

  • Don’t wash detergents (eg car or driveway washing) or pour chemicals down stormwater inlets. The detergents and/or chemicals will wash down the drain and straight into the streams and sea, where they will kill both freshwater and marine life.  Instead, take your car to a car wash where the water can go to a treatment plant, and take unwanted chemicals to safe disposal centres.
  • Pick up that discarded can, plastic bag or plastic bottle sitting in the gutter (quite problematic on rubbish collection days around here), and put it in the rubbish.  It will stop it from being washed into the stormwater system and onwards to the sea.  I am so thankful that we don’t have the situation here like in Hong Kong for example, where swimming in the sea meant the unavoidable experience of plastic bags brushing against your legs like a swarm of jellyfish.
  • Engage in a beach cleaning day.  I am always surprised at how many bags of rubbish get picked up, even from beaches that look clean.  The less junk in the sea, the less potential to harm marine life and leach pollution.
  • Plant more plants and have less non-porous surfaces (eg. concrete) around the home.  This acts as a natural ‘sink’ to prevent excess pollutants entering the storm water system during heavy rain.

Ultimately, everything we do ends up affecting the health of the sea (read on below to see why I say this).  If we can help to nurture the sea from the land, that would be something wouldn’t it?

Here are a couple of links to more information:

Natural Resources Defence Council – Water

Preventing Water Pollution from your home

As I delved into this topic, I also learned of a new thing I hadn’t been aware of until this week:  Ocean acidification.  Why is it important?  I urge you to watch this short video. To put it lightly, the message is critical.  I feel very concerned that I hadn’t known about this before.  Why aren’t there more news articles about this?

Then questions started to form in my head.  How can the ocean become acidic? Isn’t it alkaline given it’s salty?  And how does the addition of carbon dioxide to sea water make acid?  Fortunately, I found all the answers: here and here and here are a few links to helpful information if you want to read them (just google ‘ocean acidification’ and you’ll find more).

The essential points are that the ocean absorbs a huge amount of the carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere (between 25 – 50% depending on the sources you read).  We used to think this was a good thing, until scientists recently realised that when carbon dioxide dissolves into sea water, it forms carbonic acid, locking up calcium that is needed by marine life to form their shells.  This chemical reaction also lowers the pH balance of the sea, which is now 30% less alkaline than it should be (hence, acidification).  The more acidic sea water is already starting to dissolve the shells of sea creatures and prevent their effective reproduction as the lower pH damages and kills the young.  If we think of all the marine life that has a shell – from coral, to the tiniest plankton and krill (that form the essential food base of so many fish and sea mammals), to the crabs, oysters and shellfish that we all like to eat, the implications to the food chain and balance of life in the ocean are immense. Predictions are that in 40 years, the sea could have become so acidic that coral reefs will cease to exist and mass extinctions will occur.

Don’t we have a solution? I wondered.  Indeed, there is – use less fossil fuels, as we all know.  I also read some interesting research that indicates that fish play an important part in the re-calcification of the sea.  Apparently, all bony fish excrete calcium carbonate pellets as a by-product of “drinking” sea water.  When excreted, these calcium carbonate pellets dissolve, putting calcium back in the sea.  This is yet another reason why we should be leaving more fish in the sea.

Indeed, all “rivers” run to the sea, and I am ever more convinced, as I delve into how we can sustain the sea, that it is critical to do more than we ever have thought necessary to do.

Watch out for the Tidal hat tomorrow.

Tidal hat


Sustain the Sea: The Orange Roughy Mitts

Welcome to the first design from my new series collection, Sustain the Sea!!

Orange Roughy Mitts

The Orange Roughy Fingerless Gloves.

This pattern is a mid-length fingerless glove.  I have selected a ‘scale’ pattern to highlight its fishy tribute, with the seed stitch thumb further hinting at marine origins.  The stretchy bind and ribbing represents fins.  The colour is that of the orange roughy fish.

Full detail

These gloves are knitted to a tight gauge to prevent stretching during wear.  They fit the arm like a second skin, and will keep you nice and snug on those crisp autumn and winter mornings.

Sizing:  One size.  Fits the average woman.  Approx 25cm/10″ long and 18cm/7″ around before wear.  Worn with between 0 – 2″ negative ease.

You need:  70g of high twist wool sock yarn.  For this sample, I have used Fibre Alive Merino Mania in a one-off colourway, wonderfully named “Orange Roughy”. An available alternative in the exact same colour and style of yarn is Knitsch 100% New Zealand merino sock yarn in Charlemange.

Other suitable alternatives available overseas include in the US, Koigu KPPM, Madelinetosh Tosh Sock, or in the UK, high-twist BFL sock yarn or the merino/nylon/ stellina sparkle 4 ply such as the ones brought in to New Zealand by Doe Arnot). Any yarns with the same sock weight, with high wool content and in high twist spin will be suitable to get the same effect as you see above.  Wool is important for its stretch, and the high twist gives the “scales” definition.

Needles:  2.25mm (US1) DPNs

Gauge:  10 sts x 14 rows to 2.5cm / 1″ in scale stitch pattern

Skill level:  Familiarity with knitting in the round and ability to read charts would be useful.

Download here: Free pattern: Orange Roughy Fingerless Gloves or from Ravelry.  In return, I ask that you ‘pay me’ by buying “good choice” fish when you next decide to have a fish dinner. 🙂

Orange Roughy Mitts

My thanks to the oldest boy for his fantastic photography at Makara Beach.

About the orange roughy

I have chosen to tribute the orange roughy to begin this series.  This fish heads the “do not eat” and “worst choice” list on all “Best Fish Guide” lists that are currently produced by any marine conservation organisation.  In fact, it is arguable that this fish should be on the menu at all as there is no truly sustainable way of catching this fish.

The orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) is a bright red, deep sea fish.  Its colour fades to a light, pinkish orange after death.  It is part of the slimehead family, and also known in other countries as deepsea perch, sea perch, red roughy, hoplostete orange, granatbarsch, pesce arancio, beryx de nouvelle-zelande, or rosy soldierfish (Wikipedia).

New Zealand and Australian orange roughy stocks were discovered in the 1970’s.  Since then, although quotas have been reduced in recent years, and several fishery areas closed due to over-fishing, most populations of orange roughy stocks still open to fishing are now only one-fifth of their original unfished size in the 1970’s. In fact, orange roughy in Australia is listed as “Conservation Dependent” and protected under national environmental law. (Australian Marine Conservation Society)

The orange roughy is extremely long-lived – as far as we know, it can live up to 150 years.  The fish are caught around sea mounts using bottom-trawling as they congregate to spawn or feed.  Most caught fish are around 30 – 40 cm long (their size at approx. 20 – 30 years of age) although they can grow to twice this size.  Very little is known about orange roughy reproductive habits.  It is likely that individual orange roughy do not spawn every year once they reach maturity at 20+ years, and when they do, the fish release less eggs than other species.

In addition to the obvious consequences of catching a slow growing, low-fertility fish as it is in the process of reproducing, bottom trawling destroys sea floor species assemblages and fragile seamount habitats, where the fish are found.  It effectively bulldozes the sea floor demolishing black corals, lace corals, coral trees, colourful sponge fields and long-lived bryozoans, some aged at over 500 years old (Forest & Bird). Deep water sharks and other non-target fish species are also caught.  Endangered seabird and sea lion by catch has also been reported.   Little is known about deep sea environments.  What harm are we causing besides the obvious destruction?  What are we doing to the deep sea eco-system by removing this important part of the food chain?

Due to its long life, the orange roughy contains high levels of mercury in its flesh.  It is also very low in omega-3 fatty-acids, making this fish a much less nutritionally suitable fish for human consumption than other species.

Current statistic indicate that orange roughy is mostly exported to the USA (69%) and Australia (18%), with some to the UK, Europe and China. Orange roughy is also sold in New Zealand.

Although quotas exist for this fish, it is admitted that it is unknown whether the levels permitted by the quotas are sustainable.  Statistics indicate that once exploited, orange roughy populations have not recovered.

After reading the facts, I believe that fishing for orange roughy is undoubtedly not sustainable in any form.

Please do not eat orange roughy.


Forest & Bird Best fish guide

Current Fisheries information

NZ Fisheries Site – the Orange Roughy

Wikipedia – the Orange Roughy

Mar-Eco – the Orange Roughy

Greenpeace – the Orange Roughy

Australian Marine Conservation Society Sustainable Seafood Guide

Blue Ocean Institute – Species Score Card


Giving back.

Today, I am proud to announce the launch of a free pattern collection called “Sustain the Sea”.

Sustain the Sea

I have been thinking hard about how I can meaningfully support faster change in the direction of truly sustainable fishing.

You remember how I got very upset over reading the article on the state of the ocean?  

The level of upset has increased now that I have been doing a bit of reading to understand more.  It has motivated me to need to do more than just not buy seafood.

I spent ages writing and rewriting this post about the motivations behind this collection, but in the end, I decided that it would get too bogged down in detail and probably end up sounding  ‘preachy’ if I tried to explain too much in this one post.  How does one tell the story of the entire ocean in one post?  It’s not possible.

So I’m going to tell you one fact which I have learned now, and leave it at that for the time being:

85% of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished to full capacity

– The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Read the full report here.

And I’ll let the collection tell more of the story of the sea as I release the patterns over the next few weeks and months.

I could of course, have left things at financially supporting organisations such as Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, the World Wildlife Fund, Australian Marine Conservation Society and many other similar organisations who do good work in pointing out just how much is broken and encouraging change in the right direction.  I do actually already sponsor one of those organisations, just in case you are wondering.

However, I believe it’s no longer enough to pay some money, think you’ve done your bit, and continue life as normal.  I think the facts show that this is not enough.

This pattern collection is something tangible that I can do for the sea.  It’s a way of inviting knitters to join me:  by knitting the free patterns, and in so doing learning more about the health of our oceans, it may provide food for thought towards what an individual can do in a meaningful way to contribute to the health of the sea and truly sustainable ways of harvesting from it.

Why will my patterns be free?  This is a grassroots movement.  The patterns have been designed to aid to individual empowerment.  I do not wish to financially benefit from, nor necessarily align this campaign to any one organisation.  Asking for money also prevents those who might not/cannot pay for the pattern from using it and missing out on an opportunity for involvement.

By making my patterns free, the energy generated from this pattern will go to where it is meant to go – individuals doing something demonstrable to show support for responsible and sustainable fishing; encouraging individuals to think about and hopefully causing some personal action to begin pushing the fishing industry faster in the right direction through their informed shopping choices.  It’s not just about New Zealand, and I encourage you to find out more about fishing issues in your area.   It was heartening to read the comments from my last post about this issue, so my patterns are my gift to you to use as your personal tool for promoting change if you so wish.  

I hope that over time, by the process of contributing to enhanced awareness of the issues that are already being pointed out by experts, my gift to the Sea will be that more people care, and by caring, do something to sustain the sea, from which so much good comes.  More information about this will be provided in each pattern release.

I believe it’s up to all of us, every single one, to use the power of our wallets, minds and actions to promote change and actively demand sustainability and responsibility towards the sea.  Ultimately, it is the compounded effect of thousands of individual voices and actions that end up producing the most powerful result.

The first pattern from this collection will be launched tomorrow.  Watch out for the Orange Roughy Mitts!

Orange roughy mitts


The ocean is broken

I decided today that to do my bit for this planet, and leave something for future generations, I must no longer eat fish.

Why?  Because of this:

It’s a heart-breaking read.

It’s not just because of this article.  I’ve long been worried about wasteful fishing methods, and hoped, in the past, that the supposedly increasing focus on sustainability would eventually fix things, but I’ve lost faith in that.

It’s time for all of us to act, the little people.  To stand up for what we care for and a future for our children.

New fishing methods are being developed that will help to reduce by-catch.  This is a good start, but I think we need to do more than that.  Marine farming?  Even those methods need to improve, but it’s still better than ravaging our natural resources.

In the meantime, I can think of no louder statement than to say I will no longer buy fish until I see the planet’s marine resources replenishing.