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Fibre of Memory

May 30, 2017

I just watched a really great podcast called Fruit Knitting. Yes, I know I am late to the scene, so many folks have told me to watch Fruity Knitting but readers, I move s-l-o-w-l-y these days.

Anyway, I finally caught up and watched a recent episode featuring an interview with Tom Dennis who farms Polwarth sheep on the family property Tarndwarncoort in Victoria where the Polwarth sheep breed was first developed in the nineteenth century. Known now as Tarndie, this is the farm where I bought one of my very first fleeces. As I listened to Tom’s stories and the family memories bound up in Tarndie, I got to thinking about how yarns and fibre of known origin intertwine stories of place and time between the farmer, the sheep and the maker.


Some of Tom’s story about the history of the Polwarth and the Dennis family property have become bound up in my stories of visiting the farm to purchase that fleece. The material artifact of the fleece itself passed through the hands of his family and passed into the hands of my family, the Dennis family stories embedded in the fleece are now overlain by the life of knitted garments in my family.

I remember my visit to Tarndie so vividly. The drought had broken but the land was still parched. The Black Saturday fires had shocked the whole country just a few months earlier. I was pregnant with my second child. We were on our way back from a holiday on Kangaroo Island and we stopped in on our long drive home. My partner chatted with Tom in the yard, our toddler son played with the dogs and Wendy Dennis (Tom’s Mum) helped me choose a fleece in the old, stone fleece room.  The smell of lanolin was heady, the chocolate and greys of the fleeces were so rich and exciting, it was almost impossible to choose.

With a difficult pregnancy and then a newborn, I didn’t get to spin that fleece for years but a single skein of fingering weight yarn became a newborn cardigan and beanie. That beanie was the first thing my daughter wore. A short time after she was born, our temperatures began to drop rapidly. We were wrapped skin to skin in a heated air blanket and her wonderful dad dashed off to find the beanie. For the first hour of her wee life, wrapped up next to my body, she wore only her tiny gumnut beanie made from the fleece of the sheep raised by Tom and his family at Tarndie.  My dear girl thrived. And so Tarndie and the sheep who are raised there became an poignant part of our lives and our story.


The actual fleece became the main yarn of the Yoke of Endurance and of course, the recent Final Project Spencer. These garments have their own stories which are irrevocably intertwined with Tarndie.


Thank you Fruity Knitting for sharing that fascinating interview with Tom Dennis. The Dennis family have played an extraordinary role in wool production internationally and are a significant part of the current renaissance of the local fibre production industry. Knowledge about farmers, their experiences and the significance of their sheep are vital to maintaining an ethical, sustainable and dynamic fibre scene for the benefit of makers and generations of future makers.

It is not all worthiness though, Fruit Knitting is a delightful watch, Andrew and Andrea are comfortable and professional, they have a real sparkle together, the show has a diverse, interesting format and the Australian accents are like water in the desert to my ears! I haven’t explored the previous episodes yet but their interview line up looks impressive.

Do you have a favourite Fruity Knitting episode I should check out or a perhaps a story about some yarn/fibre from Tarndie?

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  1. I really love watching Fruity Knitting. I love how they set up really thoughtful interviews, they spotlight knitters around the world, and they never talk about yarn as something to conspicuously consume. It’s such a wonderful show.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story about your first fleece from Tarndie. It brought memories back of the first things I knitted for my little one too. I hope you’ve shared it with the Dennis family as well. It’s stories like that that really highlight how we are so connected by materials. The wool is both abstract/symbolic and highly practical/useful/material and it can hold all those stories together in its fibre. Beautiful!

    (PS Was listening to an audio podcast and thought of you. It’s a new one called Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet, only two eps so far)

    1. Dear Becca, that was a really clear concise review of Fruity Knitting, thank you! You are so right about the non-consumption part, it’s something that really bothers me about a lot of other podcasts. And yes, I think materials and making certainly bear much more exploration in the anthropology of things (I guess I mean contemporary things here). I shall check out Mrs M’s Curiousity Cabinet. My sister in law used to have a shop called Wunderkammer and I have a curiousity about curiousity cabinets!

  2. I really enjoyed your post about the Tarndie fleece. I’ve listened to 2 Fruity Knitting podcasts… Tom of Holland and Japanese Knitting… and really liked both of them.

    As an aside, there is still something wrong with your formatting or something. The lines of your post jump up and down making it hard to read and does the same thing as I’m replying.

    1. Thanks Elaine, I did hear that Tom of Holland had been interviewed on Fruity Knitting. Gosh, I really need to sit down and have a proper catch up with their previous episodes. So sorry about the gremlins – wordpress automatically updated and everything has gone a bit strange. Will try to fix.

  3. OH MY! That blog gave me chills…….I may have mentioned but I have some of Mrs. Wendy Dennis’s Handspinning wool. It was the Reserve Grand Champion, Sheila Co I do not know if that was her name or another designation. It came to the states many years ago, the woman died and her daughter gave it to a friend who gave it to me. Just the other day I was looking at a box full of flicked Polworth and thinking I finally found a shawl pattern I want to use with it. No idea how much I have but it is a LOT. I will definitely look for that interview. That would be frosting on the cake for me! I do believe I wrote to the Dennis’ telling them I had some of their wool.
    The other information on this card is division/class/group and the cost. the was 58.50 and the final bid was 72.00!

    1. I did ask for stories and that one is a cracker Susan! How curious that you, all the way over in the wilds of the US have Tarndie wool and that it came to you by such a circuitous route. How fabulous!

  4. I’ve only just watched this Fruity Knitting podcast, Rebecca – and have so enjoyed it. Deeply moving to read about your connection to the lovely Tardie fleece and how simply wonderful is your handspun, handknitted Spencer. I’ve been scanning more photo albums from my Australian family in Melbourne in the 1920s (my grandmother’s wedding album!), and listened with particular interest to the history of Tarndwarncoort – how courageous the early settlers were – and the difficulties didn’t stop there. I’ve also got a little bit of coral-coloured handspun polworth and silk yarn – so precious it’s never been knitted, but one day the right project will present itself 🙂 Stories, histories intertwining through people’s lives.

    1. Tales within yarns kayderouge! So glad you enjoyed the podcast, how fascinating to listen in the light of imagining the experiences of your own family. I wonder what that little polwarth and silk skein will become one day and then what tales and stories will intertwine from the North to the South?

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