Australian Sheep and Wool Show 2014

Last Saturday, our family made the annual pilgrimage to Bendigo for the Australian Sheep and Wool Show. It was a fine winter day, chill but sunny. Bendigo was looking majestic and festively woolly.

The Wool Show was here.

IMG_3581It looks a little bleak doesn’t it but rest assured, there were lots more folks inside!

The Wool Show advertises itself as ‘the biggest of its kind in the world’. I am not really sure what that means…the most sheep perhaps or the biggest show that has sheep, shearing and wool craft all together…mmm, not sure.  Perhaps someone else knows? Anyway, it has been going a long time, continuously since 1877!

Certainly, there is a lot to see if you like sheep or wool. There is sheep showing with many breeds represented including Merino, Polwarth, Corridale, Poll Dorset, Dorper, White Suffolk, Dorset Downs, Romney, Drysdale, Dorset Horn, Hampshire Downs, Ryeland, Perendale, East Friesian, Shropshire, Border Leicester, English Leicester and Cheviot.

The Australian Fleece Competition and Black and Coloured Competition also take place during the show. There is also the North Central Victorian Sports Shears Shearing and Wool Handling Competition, Sheep Dog trials and a ram sale.

The Wool Show also includes a Wool Craft competition with a variety of classes including handspinning, weaving, felting, knitting and crochet using handspun and commercial yarns. Within the Wool Craft sheds you can see lots of folks demonstrating wool crafts including feltmakers, machine knitters, spinners and weavers. There are fashion shows featuring woollen garments and everything on sale including socks, sheepskin products, buttons, mobile sheep dips, spinning wheels, sheep races, BBQs, pocket knives and shoe polish.

And of course there is yarn for sale. Lots and lots of yarn.

You could just go crazy so I think it helps to have a plan. This year I decided I had enough fleeces but I wanted to buy breed specific Australian grown and spun yarn.  What I noticed however, as I foraged amongst the stalls, was the abundance of overseas grown wool, dyed in Australia.  Dyers talked about how hard it was to source Australian grown and spun yarn particularly in fingering (4ply) and laceweights.  Gin and Tonic Yarns source their merino in Australia but have to send the fibre to the UK and US for spinning.

Without exception, all the farmer/yarn producers I spoke to were having to send their fibre overseas for spinning.  Mosely Park used to get their wool spun at a mill just outside Bendigo which has now closed down. Jan was selling her last stocks of the Australian spun yarn.  Tarndie Wool used to get their Polwarth fibre spun in Geelong, however this mill has since closed down and now the fibre is sent to NZ.  Bennett and Gregor used to get their Merino/Corridale coloured fleece spun in Kyneton however since the closure of that mill too, they must send the fibre to NZ.  Similarly, Fairfield Finns and Fibre Naturally must send their sheep fleeces to NZ for spinning.

IMG_3522Why is it that NZ, with much less population than us, can still maintain mills that cater to small farmers? Is this about government support and encouragement? Sending fibre overseas for processing adds to the carbon footprint of the end product and undermines the hard work farmers put in to creating and marketing a local product.  It also adds to the costs and admistrative hassle of producing yarn. To send fibre to New Zealand, the wool must be scoured to high temperatures to ensure that it will not harbour disease in order to pass through customs.

Only the alpaca fibre seemed to be locally spun at small mills. Because alpaca fibre is not greasy, it is a simpler, less costly operation.

Please do love your local farmer/yarn producers, seek them out and buy from them. Even if their on-line shop looks a bit empty, check back often.  These folks are not yarn supermarkets but the actual people taking care of the sheep who are growing that yarn.

I also noticed an increasing number of yarns and fibre being labelled according to breed. Mosely Park, Ixchel, Kathy’s Fibres and Gin and Tonic Yarns were a few sellers with great breed specific labelling.

The other thing I noticed was a new focus on conservation and heritage based farming practices as part of the yarn story.  Gin and Tonic Yarns source their wool directly from New Merino farms. New Merino is a certification scheme that ensures that sheep farms are managed for sustainablity and animal welfare principles.  Similarly Kathy’s Fibres featured White Gum merino, a Tasmanian sheep farm run on conservation principles.  Ixchel were selling rare breed Churro fibre from the Navaho Sheep Project and fibre from rare Norwegian sheep breed Gra Troender.

I also counted three stalls selling India Flint style eco dyed merino garments.


Every year I go to the Wool Show, it seems that the Wool Craft sellers get pushed further and further into the dark galvanised iron sheds away from the animals and the rest of the show.  It is so dark in the these sheds, you have to take yarn outside to see it properly.  Fairfield Finns moved their stall to the Finn sheep tent and it was a revelation.  The tent was light and the Finn fleeces, fibre, yarn and knitted products stood alongside the lovely Finn sheep. The President of the Finn Association was there and the tent presented a full circle from animal to farmer to knitter.

Next post, I will share my Wool Show treasures with you.  In the meantime, if you went to the Wool Show, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.



23. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 5 comments

Fibre Journey: Alpaca

IMG_1846This is Rosie. Well, a bag of Rosie’s fibre. Rosie is an alpaca who with her brother and mother live with my parents in country Victoria.

IMG_3478Alpacas originate in the Peruvian Andes and were beloved of the Ancient Incas. According to The Fleece and Fibre Source Book, the quality of alpaca fibre declined after the Spanish invasion which beggars the imagination when considering just how soft and fine the fibre must have been at the height of the Inca civilisation.

IMG_1108This is Chester, her brother. I have no picture of Rosie as she is people and camera shy. So just imagine an all black, more elegant version of Chester.

When my folks got their alpacas shorn for the first time, I took a bag of Rosie home to spin up for them.  Alpacas like to roll like dogs on the ground and her fibre was full of dust and vegetable matter and lots of burrs. Alpaca fibre is renown for its warmth and given the small amount of fibre I had, I decided to make a winter hat for my father. This way he could have something useful and warm and made from his own animal.

IMG_1848This was my first time working with alpaca so I did a bit of research and winged the rest. I didn’t wash it as I would a sheep fleece as alpaca fibre is not greasy. I flicked the locks with a flick carder which opened them enough to release a lot of the grass bits. As I flicked, I blew on each lock, blowing out the dust and more grassy bits.

IMG_1862The staple length was quite short, about two inches and I flicked my knuckles a lot. Those wires are sharp and painful and at the end of every session I had to soak my hands in disinfectant. You hear terrible stories about flick carder infections and I decided that wasn’t a road I wanted to travel.

IMG_1869Again, due to the shortness of the staple, I decided to card the fibre into rolags. This was my first time using the hand carders but under the guidance of the YouTube oracles, the rolags formed airily and fairly consistently. They looked like little furry pets lying there. You could not help but squeeze them.

IMG_2834The next stage was to experiment with the spinning, the amount of twist and thickness of the plies.  The sampling process was documented in a previous post, Sampling for Calm and geeky deets are ravelled here. The yarn was finished with a wash and thwack. At the end of processing and spinning I had 207 m of two ply yarn with 7 twists per inch, approximately 50 grams of fingering weight.

IMG_2927After swatching with different needle sizes to get the right drape and a useful gauge, I worked out stitch counts for head circumference and row counts for length. I cast on 108 stitches on 3.75 mm needles.  This is a slightly larger needle size than usual for fingering weight yarns but apparently alpaca blooms a little after washing and I wanted to account for this. The hat is a simple beanie with a fold over brim for added ear warmth in a broad rib 9 x 9 rib pattern. The crown was shaped with leaning decreases along the edges of the rib pattern every fourth round, finishing with a round of centred double decreases before threading the yarn through the remaining stitches. The finished unfolded hat is 26 cm long for a head circumference of approximately 56 cm. Ravelled here.

IMG_3482This is my first project of entirely deliberate, planned spinning for a specific project. It worked!  I am pleased with the process and the extraordinary softness of the yarn but the processing time for this particular fibre was inordinately time consuming.  It is hard to tell just how many hours are in this hat but the journey unfolded over the last six months albeit in the nooks and crannies of regular life. Here is a list of all the processes that went into transforming a bag of Rosie into a warm winter hat.

  • Flick carding to open the fibre
  • Blowing out dust and plant material
  • Carding into rolags
  • Sampling
  • Spinning singles
  • Plying
  • Finishing the yarn
  • Swatching for gauge and needle size
  • Pattern design
  • Knitting
  • Blocking

Imagine doing that lot every time you needed any kind of garment! There is something to be said for mechanisation and mass production.




18. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, spinning | Tags: , , | 8 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin: July

IMG_1078Welcome to the July opening of the Ribbon Tin. Inside the Ribbon Tin is a monthly series featuring a miscellany of bits and bobs, odds and sods, knicks and knacks, all sorts of interesting things related to textiles and making.

First out of the Tin is a very special quilt.

happy as a clamImage permission Blue Mountain Daisy

It is called Happy as a Clam by Rachaeldaisy from the Blue Mountain Daisy blog.  Made from old jeans and heavily embellished with flowers, lace, birds, butterflies and all kinds of things, the quilt top was then hand stitched to another quilt. Happy as a Clam just won third prize in the Anything Goes Mixed Media Category at the Sydney Quilt Show. This quilt just explodes with seventies psychedelia and bellbottom finery, irrepressible joy and happiness. Would that we all could be Happy as a Clam!

clam backQuilt back. Image permission Bluemountaindaisy

Rachaeldaisy has turned repurposing old jeans into an artform.  I have featured her jeans quilts before on the Ribbon Tin but in case you missed them, have a look at Pockets Full of Posies and The Double Denim Wedding Ring.

Another maker with a flare for repurposing, is Elizabeth from Flaunt, a Victorian upholsterer and furniture maker.  Have a look at her blanket ottomans.

Image permission of Flaunt

My heart goes all soft when I see this…I long to give them a cuddle. Clearly, the association of blankets and comfort is almost hard wired!  These blankets are similar to the ones that are folded in our linen cupboard. They are pulled out for cold nights, indoor cubbies and sick days.

Elizabeth has worked with blankets in her upholstery before, experimenting with different forms in her Extra Blanket piece for the Melbourne Fringe Furniture Festival a few years ago.  She uses all Australian blankets from mills like Laconia, Onkaparinga, Waverly and Physician dating from the 1940s to 1970s.

extra-big-7Extra Blanket, Image permission of Flaunt

Elizabeth has heard the siren song of wool and explains what makes it so good to use for upholstery.

Wool is light fast, strong, naturally dirt and flame resistant and upholsters up beautifully because it has the perfect amount of stretch. It is also naturally biodegradable.

It seems indie furniture makers are just getting it done in Australia at the moment. A mob of them have banded together to make Handkrafted, a new Australian enterprise linking bespoke artisans to customers. Handkrafted works by enabling folks to create a project brief that is sent to subscribed artisans who respond with their ideas. The customer then chooses the artisan they would like to work with.

The showcased work is just stunning.  When I grow up, I would love to have furniture like this, but it would have to come with the same vast, empty light filled interiors.  Until that day, we shall have to glory in our motley crew of second hand, Dear Boy’s inventions and the swedish store.

Currently focused on furniture, the group plans to bring in many other kinds of artisans.  Perhaps we will see quilters, spinners, weavers and knitters making bespoke garments and textiles.

But we don’t have to wait till then, we can make textile heirlooms right now, like Lori from Lori Times Five who is getting ready for an adventure to the Shetland Islands. While she is there she will embroider her travels on this needleworked map.

Lori mapImage permission of Lori Times Five

This is such a great idea, literally stitching in the journey as you go, preserving and creating at the same time, slowing the moments and making pockets of reflection amidst the consumption of experience. This map both encodes places visited as well as memories and experiences in a way that photographs promise but never quite do.

Another one of Lori’s ideas that has stayed with me is her camping kit for knitting. This was the post I first read after stumbling into Lori Times Five through a Ravelry link and I knew I’d found a special place.

Lori times fiveImage permission of Lori Times Five

Take a tube like an oats or pringles tube or even a postal tube, put a hole in the top for the yarn to come out and paste your instructions around the outside.  Clean yarn and handy instructions…genius. What makes this particular item so charming though, are the hand written instructions around the tube.  Handwriting in our world is becoming rarer and rarer and I cherish every sight I get, particularly in the blogosphere.  It is so human.

It was the handwritten note accompanying this freshly delivered postcard that transformed a simple give away into something very sweet and delightfully personal . The postcard was a give away from Magic Jelly, an Adelaide based art, illustration and design business.


Karena penned a different note and illustration for all winners.  Mine included part of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem (whom we love in our house for being the grandson of the builder of the Bell Rock lighthouse…the things you get to know if you have kids eh!)

Swallows travel to and fro

And the great winds come and go

And the steady breezes blow

Bearing perfume, bearing love

And finally, an illustration from a classic children’s book a friend lent us recently.

IMG_2750Goodnight Owl, by Pat Hutchins, first published in 1972…I reckon this copy might be that old. Every page has been very well loved, which is just as it should be.






14. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 7 comments

Maldon Made Shawl

I have been a bit of a list person, a should do kind of woman. So I rather surprised myself with this spontaneous treat of a project…a shawl just for me, knit for the sheer pleasure of it, a perfect holiday knitting experience.  I cast on as soon as we unpacked and knitted into every stitch all the delightful moments of our winter holiday in Maldon.

IMG_3150It all started with the yarn, as all satisfying knitting projects do. After my moaning about the lack of locally grown and spun, breed specific yarns, I recently stumbled across Granite Haven, a small fibre farm in the Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria. Cheryl Crosbie raises llamas and Gotland sheep, a rare breed sheep in Australia.  She sells fleece, fibre and yarns from her animals in a broad range of natural colours. Cheryl is just lovely to deal with, sending samples and photographs before purchase and the yarn arrived swiftly, in perfect time for our holiday.

According to the Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook, Gotland sheep are a twentieth century Swedish breed. It resembles fine mohair or an English luster long wool.  The Stansborough Greys of New Zealand are a strain of Gotland. Their fibre was used to weave the elven cloaks in the Lord of the Rings movie.  The Sourcebook suggests that Gotland fibre makes an especially lustrous fine yarn if spun worsted, which I now really, really want to do!

The yarn is a loose, mill spun three ply, in a slightly uneven DK weight. It is a compelling, pleasurable yarn to knit with.  Occasionally, you might find a little vegetative matter but it is easy to remove and I reckon it is a poignant reminder of the shortness of the distance this yarn has travelled from paddock to needles.  It has drape and lustre and over-dyes beautiful as Cheryl’s samples showed.

IMG_3391I had been longing to knit up another Evelyn Clark Shetland Triangle Lace Shawl since making Flame last year as a gift. The pattern was a perfect match for the yarn.  It has knitted up scrumptious and warm, a shawl to snuggle into when the cold winds blow.

IMG_3336The Maldon Shawl was knit straight up from the pattern with no modifications on 5mm needles.  I knit a total of twelve pattern repeats before knitting the border. Details ravelled here. The Gotland yarn didn’t block as strongly as the handspun Polwarth yarn of Flame. It seems to want to return to its pre-blocked state with bounce and undulations. I would like see what cables look like knit up in Gotland.

IMG_3403The colour is a kind of milk chocolate colour or the colour of a dark mushroom pate. The fleece colours change slightly every year.  The browns last year looked more honey coloured. Cheryl’s Gotland sheep also grow silvers and greys, light to darkest black.

IMG_3397If you are intrigued about the Gotland fibre and yarn and you are Victorian, Cheryl has an open day in November to sell fleeces and fibre for spinning. Yarns and fibre are available online from Cheryl and EcoYarns.



09. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , | 8 comments

Winter Holiday

It is school holidays here and we took a family sojourn in central Goldfields area of Victoria where it is crisp and chilly. With an open fire and some sunny days, no one throwing up or injuring their back, it was one of our loveliest holidays in a long time.

IMG_3235We stayed at Maldon, an old, frozen-in-time, kind of place, in a house built in the 1870s. You could see the layers of occupation in places. This is the old corner fence post, right at the back. Visibly cut by axe from a felled tree, it still stands strong and carries a tracery of wire old and new.


The old shed is patchwork of really old framework and layered bits of corrugated metal.  Some of the corrugated pieces had been pressed from printed metal tin sheets, maybe seconds turned into shedding material.

Gold was discovered in the 1850s in Maldon and suddenly this bit of Aboriginal land had 20,000 Europeans smashing up the earth and cutting down the trees.  When the alluvial gold ran out after only two years, the Company mines moved in and dug deep for seam gold. With regular wages and Company money, Maldon grew houses and public utilities like banks, post offices, halls and a school.  At one time, the town sustained sixty hotels (places of beer drinking)! Then in the thirties with the gold now too deep to extract economically and the Depression, the town declined to a thousand people.  It just kept going quietly on after this, its Gold Rush architectural heritage preserved, unaltered until it it became a place of antique shops, book shops and cafes for Melbourne folks to contemplate history.

So we too contemplated history.  I cast on a shawl on our first day. We played games, read, caught up with friends and made things.

IMG_3152The kids made this beautiful house from wattle tree blossom from the garden and quartz they gathered from the roadside.

IMG_3218We visited country op shops.

IMG_3306Our Dear Boy and I also gave the Djeco parachute kit a go with delightful results.

IMG_3259The shawl grew with our holiday.

IMG_3198I stuck a cushion under my arm to take some pics of a disintegrating wicker chair.  When I put it back, I discovered it had a bat on it!  After checking myself thoroughly for any other bats, I took a photograph of the bat and then turned it back over as I had found it. Ten minutes later it was gone.

IMG_3253We drank of the apples from neighbouring Harcourt.

IMG_3312I cast off on our last day which seemed perfectly fitting (shawly bits next post).




05. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, observations | Tags: | 10 comments

Sheep, sheep everywhere but not a lot to knit

Now don’t freak out, this is a longish post, I’ve been a’readin’ and a’thinkin’…just get a cup of tea.

People who are not from Australia, often assume that because we are renown for producing fine merino, we must be a nation of knitters and spinners.  Unfortunately, this is not so.  Australia is no Iceland that sells local, pure wool yarn at the petrol station and supermarket.

You don’t always find Australian (grown, processed and spun in Australia) yarn at your local yarn store (if you are lucky enough to have one of those) and it is mostly fairly standard, super processed and not particularly exciting. Often, Australian grown wool has travelled to China or Italy and back before we can buy it. Mostly, you don’t even see sheep, except in the distance. Flocks commonly number in the thousands and are managed over vast ranges. The Merino sheep has so dominated Australian popular knowledge of wool, it didn’t even occur to me that there could be other kinds of sheep until my thirties!

I have often wondered why this is the case.  Whilst it certainly has a lot to do with our small population and the decline in wool farming in 1990s, you could argue that the paucity of local wool products was largely set in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through a range of historical events.

404391-james-cookAn artist’s sketch of Captain James Cook and botanist Joseph Banks raising the British flag at Botany Bay in 1770. Source: The Australian

Australia was formally ‘discovered’ by Captain Cook in 1770 for Britain. Despite being occupied by people for over forty thousand years, Australia was declared terra nullius, an empty land. This legal convenience meant that the Aboriginal owners of the Australia, could have their land stolen with impunity without any legal (in the British system) need to treat with the original owners.

At first, Australia was used as a prison colony, a place for disposing of large numbers of people Britain didn’t want, from murderers to union organisers, to starving people stealing bread.

In the early years of Occupation, Australia was never intended to become a wool producer. This happened largely by accident, through experiments by local farmers and convict shepherds.  It was originally thought that the new colony would supply its clothing requirements with a flax industry using New Zealand flax.

Unfortunately, European flax (Linum usitatissimum) is an entirely different species to New Zealand flax, (Phormium tenx and Phormium colensoi). New Zealand flax makes great rope and supplying naval ropes was a significant New Zealand industry until the 1930s.  Even when the right variety was tried, attempts to produce linen for the new colony were not particularly successful and the government began looking to wool production as a way to address the paucity of clothing.

800px-Macarthur_stamp_sheep_1934An Australian stamp commemorating the centenary of the death of Macarthur in 1934, image from Wikipedia

At school, we were always taught that Australia rode on the back of a sheep and that Macarthur was the father of the Australian wool industry.  The common mythos says that he bred up pure Spanish merinos that he received from George III to build the flocks of the new colony to a size that could supply Britain with all its woolly needs.

Australian wool historians argue that the story was more complex, and much cross breeding went on in the early years of European occupation of Australia to breed a sheep that could survive, breed at a good rate and be useful for meat and wool. The first sheep in Australia were bred for mutton and their fleece was very poor.  Over time, by breeding sheep brought from Africa’s Cape and India to Spanish merinos, fleece quality improved.

Whilst Australia did eventually have woollen mills for processing wool and turning into cloth, the bulk of the wool clip has always been sent overseas for processing and imported back as cloth. Significantly, the Australian wool industry developed parallel to the industrialisation of wool processing and we have never really had a significant cultural tradition of cottage spinning and weaving.  Australian sheep fed the English factories and kept Britain competing with the United States in woollen cloth. Charles Massey refers to the Merino as the first animal genetically modified to suit industrial machines.  With its long staple length, strength and fineness, Australian Merino was well suited to industrial spinning and weaving.

800px-Victoria_Mills,_Bolton._Botany_Wool_Mill_TM65Victoria Mills, Bolton, UK, image from Wikipedia Commons

In the early part of the eighteenth century, sheep farmers experimented with different kinds of country to run sheep in. In Tasmania, early sheep farmers used fire technology learned from Aboriginal land owners to maintain their sheep runs.  Aboriginal people have routinely used small burns to regenerate grasslands to preference grazing marsupials and thus increase the capacity of traditional hunting grounds. Early sheep farmers learned this method and used to fire the grasslands regularly every three to seven years to keep down inedible scrub and increase edible grasses. Researchers can actually read the burning history of the landscape through tree rings!

Major wars were fought between the traditional land owners and the new occupiers between 1820 and 1830 over these land grabs in Tasmanian. Similar points of tension and conflict arose on the mainland as European sheep farmers extended their holdings.

The first few decades were spent breeding and improving flocks and they were managed in much the same ways as in Britain, with shepherds tending flocks. Then we had the Gold Rush in 1851 and men left the land, schools and offices to make it rich in Ballarat. Suddenly, there was a massive labour shortage and a lot of sheep.

With no labour, fences were used to enclose sheep in vast runs.  Shepherding never returned to Australia and we got really good at building fences. Museum Victoria has an extraordinary collection of barbed wire, including many imported from the United States.  In the 1880s, devices such as, the Walker Wire Strainer gained huge popularity. The wire strainer could be incorporated into a fence and left there, boundary riders periodically checking and re tensioning wire fences to keep sheep secure.  Fencing paddocks became the preferred option for farmers as it was cheaper than employing shepherds to tend free roaming flocks and fences enabled farmers to separate stock for breeding purposes, decreased mortality rates and increased fleece condition.

IMG_3055Advertisement from the Australasian, 1886

George Fairbain (1816 – 1895) was a sheep farmer near Larra near Geelong and ran a million sheep. He wrote of the Walker Wire Strainer,

‘I consider it a very great advantage that it remains in the fence, requiring only a small steel rod about a foot long as the lever to be carried to strain a slack wire at any time, so that boundary riders have no excuse for the fencing not being always kept in perfect order. It not only saves straining post [s], but quickens the process of erecting wire fences and is thoroughly efficient and economical.’

As stock numbers increased, so did disease and parasites. Scab and ticks were treated by shepherds individually and laboriously. In the early 1840s, pastoralist and explorer William Lockhart Morton (1820 – 98), a former Scottish engineer, invented the sheep dip.  The sheep dip was a narrow trench or container full of a chemical solution to kill parasites and infection. The sheep were driven through, fully immersing themselves and then scrambled out the other side.  The sheep dip enabled thousands of sheep to be treated for scab in a single day.  Just in time for the Gold Rush!

building sheep dip nsw libBuilding a ‘plunge dip’ on “Langi” for dipping sheep – Reefton, NSW 1938, with permission from NSW State Library

William also invented the drafting gate, a swinging gate and wooden race system that enabled just two people to sort thousands of sheep.  Prior to this, shepherds literally handled every sheep to be sorted, lifting and throwing sheep into pens. Hand drafting was slow and resulted in many injuries both the sheep and shepherd.  The drafting gate, developed through the 1840s, transformed sheep handling and permitted flocks to keep expanding despite the massive loss of labour experienced during the Gold Rush.

sheep drafting 2 nsw libSheep drafting, Scheyville Farm 1939, with permission from the NSW State Library. You can see the swing gate being worked by one man in the bottom right corner.

Historical events as disparate as, but not limited to,  the declaration of terra nullius, the failure of flax growing, successful breeding experiments and the thirst of British factories for wool, enabled wool to become a major primary export for Australia. The Gold Rush and the resulting labour shortfall and timely inventions such as wire for fencing, fence strainers, the sheep dip and drafting gate shaped the way Australia farmed sheep, exponentially increasing flock size.  They shaped the sheep themselves and they shaped the relationship of our wool to the rest of the world.  We produced and sold raw materials as colonies often do.

It seems that wool culture in Australia has always been dominated by export imperatives and mass scale to service those imperatives.  In the handmade community, there is an increasing desire to connect with the producers of raw materials and understand where things come from.  I feel it is harder to do that here. I can’t send a fleece off to be scoured and spun and it is hard to support micro yarn businesses using local fibre because they are so few. Maybe I could save my pocket money and buy a mythical mill and produce yarn from small breed-specific flocks that are managed sustainably, knitting could be made a compulsory subject in primary school, every residential block could have a communal weaving loom and you could check out spinning wheels from the library. I will also live in a cabin near a mountain in the city with a view over a lake.

Garran, J. and White, L., Merinos, myths and Macarthurs : Australian graziers and their sheep, 1788 – 1900, Australian National University Press, 1985

Kirkpatrick, J. and Kerry, B., People, Sheep and Nature Conservation – The Tasmanian Experience, CSIRO, 2007

Massy, Charles, Breaking the Sheep’s Back : the shocking true story of the decline and fall of the Australian wool industry, University of Queensland Press, 2011

Gerald Walsh, Pioneering Days – People and Innovations in Australia’s Rural Past, Allen and Unwin 1993








28. June 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 9 comments

Mess o’making

Somehow, I seem to have accumulated a number of works in progress.  And somehow, I am still working on all of them…kinda.

IMG_3134Here is a mess o’knitting in the corner of our couch. It is mostly spread all over the couch but here it is resting. There’s the body and a sleeve of a cardigan in there, waiting for another sleeve and unification to become a real garment instead of bits.

Over here is a muslin (but in calico) of a tunic dress to be fitted.

IMG_3146This is supposed to be desk but at the moment it appears to be a kind of holding area for projects almost begun or almost finished.

IMG_3145There is a sock in there, well the beginning of one. That is actually having a rest right now.

IMG_3144Over there is some mending and altering of a late sixties dress which has waited three years for taking in and hemming…it still waits for hemming but expectantly now.

IMG_3138And over here is something that did get finished recently. A skein of alpaca intentionally spun after sampling. To my surprise and delight, it is exactly the number of twists per inch I had aimed for.  Woollen preparation but worsted spun, it awaits its inevitable transformation into a warm hat.

IMG_2925Pineapple Stacks has been spotted in the wilds of the blogosphere being knitted as a companion to a cardigan for a grand daughter.  The Sweaty Knitter said many kind things about the pattern. I feel both thrilled to see it in action and also relieved that the instructions yielded up the predicted hat and not a pterodactyl.

All kinds of projects for all kinds of time, for time spent waiting, for free afternoons or for evenings after the children are in bed. Do you have projects for particular kinds of time?


25. June 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, sewing, spinning | 6 comments

The Winter Sun

It the Winter Solstice on this side of the world and it is just starting to get properly cold. It has been a very long Autumn, some trees still have leaves to drop and others have shown Spring blossoms…it is all very confusing.

IMG_2948We spent a lovely Winter’s morning at Heide Museum of Modern Art. Heide was established in the grounds of a former artists’ community set up by John and Sunday Reid in the 1930s.  They supported significant Australian artists such as Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker.

Before I had children, I would visit exhibitions inside the Museum and now with my children, we visit the sculpture gardens, Sunday’s old kitchen garden and the wilderness that leads down to the banks of our beautiful Yarra river.

This is Our Dear Boy’s favourite sculpture.

IMG_2958And this is Our Dear Girl’s favourite.

IMG_2951But this is the best place of all. A giant oak tree which fell over years ago but continues to grow.  It is beloved of all children and is simply known by all as That Tree At Heide.

IMG_2971Whilst my children scramble, climb, slide and collect acorns in beanies, I knit in the sunshine.  Everyone who walks past marvels at the tree. We talk about the tree. People remember trees they climbed as children.

IMG_3013Knitting in the sunlight, next to this massive creature of sunlight is probably a pretty good place to contemplate the Winter Solstice and the return of the sun.  Happy Solstice.


21. June 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 6 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin: June

IMG_1078Welcome to the June opening of the Ribbon Tin. Inside the Ribbon Tin is a monthly series featuring a miscellany of bits and bobs, odds and sods, knicks and knacks, all sorts of interesting things related to textiles and making.

IMG_3050Look at these beauties from Shanghai Lil and the Scarlet Fez. Aren’t they luffley… all stacked up in a sweet smelling tower of hand made soap.  In the stack are Riviera Escapade, Smokey Joe, Evening Star, The Emperor’s Chai, The Fez No.1 and Madame X.

Greenwood coverI have been listening to Death and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood, one of the Phryne Fisher mysteries.  I delight in these novels, they are my favourite companions when I am spinning or sewing.  The novels are all set in 1927, mostly in Melbourne and they overflow with historical detail that makes you feel as if you are reading about something that just happened. Phryne is a heroine of magnificence: confident, intelligent, fearless and wicked. In this adventure, there is a lovely scene where Phyrne realises the soft, elderly receptionist busy knitting at her desk is a crack decoder for the secret service. Of course she is. It reminded me of the Belgian grannies knitting train times in code for the Resistance on the Craftivism blog which featured in an earlier Ribbon Tin.

And because all things historical and textiles seem to me to be inherently interesting, I have also been exploring the Great Tapestry of Scotland as seen through eyes of Kate Davies, the Scottish knitwear designer.  Kate has curated the most wonderful images of a work that many of us are unlikely ever to see in situ. If you look on her blog and scroll through the Tapestry series of posts, you will be amazed.

Scotland tapestryThis image is from the Scottish Parliament’s Facebook page.

The tapestry is a historical narrative work in the vein of the Bayeux Tapestry. It is the greatest act of needlework I have ever seen. 1000 needleworkers took 65,000 hours to make this. The subject matter is breathtaking, from famous battles to the model factory town of New Lanark and knitting in the Shetland Islands.  This is everyday history, full of stories and colour, workers and soldiers, mums and dads, great people, fish, kilts and factories.

The work itself is extraordinary. Everything from geological formations to the wrong side of knitted garments have been rendered in joyful, skilful stitches. The Tapestry website documents all the stitches used in the work. The needleworkers have their names stitched into their panels so unlike the anonymous nuns of the Bayeux, these folks, mostly women can be acknowledged for their great skills and contribution.

Brooklyn Tweed has just released its first children’s collection of knitwear.  Beautiful stuff as always but I think roll necks on kids are ill conceived. Don’t they just pull it and say it’s choking me and then refuse to wear it ever again?

And finally, the construction of Neuschwanstein Castle in paperboard.  We hope it will be some time in the making.



19. June 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 7 comments

Walking the neighbourhood

I love living in the northern suburbs of Melbourne but sometimes it becomes so familiar, I stop really seeing it. Last weekend, the kids and I went for a walk, a meandering and rambling kind of walk.  We took the camera and we looked.

IMG_2860We saw some chickens grazing on a nature strip next to the road.  Their daytime corral was a wired chrome table frame.

IMG_2867We exchanged some books at the local library. This wondrous little library is made of an old bright yellow filing cabinet on its side and is part of the worldwide Little Free Library movement.  These little tiny libraries are located in neighbourhoods and are simply a collection of books that folks can swap, borrow or donate to.  Our kids think it is marvellous.

Look at what we picked out.

IMG_2871One of the books, the book about farming even had old livestock insemination records interleaved in the pages! The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the treasure though.  I stumbled upon this a couple of years ago but had forgotten all about it until I saw a copy here.  Told through letters, it is an intriguing story of a group of ordinary yet remarkable people on the British island of Guernsey, set just after German Occupation.  Mary Ann Shaffer was in her seventies when she wrote the novel.  It was her first and only novel and when her health declined, her niece undertook the final editing for publication. It is my addiction at the moment.

IMG_2879Then we wandered through the back alleys.  I love these places.  This is where you can see the layers of occupancy in the neighbourhood.  Sheds and fences added to and patched from the twenties and thirties till now. Rust, wire and ageing timbers, layers of improvements, mending and fixing by generations of home owners. Not pretty but absolutely fascinating.

IMG_2881IMG_2892The kids notice all kinds of things…an old can concreted into the edge of a shed floor, grass in gutters and the insides of pipes.

IMG_2916 IMG_2905 IMG_2885

14. June 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 11 comments

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