knit | look | spin

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?