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The Smell of Wool: Are we Missing Something?

shearing at BendigoBack from the Bendigo Wool and Sheep show. At the 1000km mark on the way down I wondered “What was I thinking?” but it was really great and worth the road trip to meet up with other like minded weavers and yarn lovers.

We had the opportunity this time to actually look around at the show  and in particular the hall of sheep, sheep shearing and prize winning fleeces. When I walked into the shearing shed I was overcome by the smell of wool, something I can’t convey due to the limits of the internet.  So familiar and comforting  bringing back memories of my first days of spinning, when my daughters were very young and when getting hold of a raw fleece was the only way to spin! No pre-cleaned and dyed coloured batts or rovings. Anyway it was compulsory to spin in the grease with the natural lanolin and get tetanus injections every few years- wonder what happened to those ‘rules’. Well, I really do know what happened to them. They were based on what we needed or aspired to at the time.The ultimate being a garment that would last for years of wear and fit for its purpose. Now we’re mainly creating for a much different purpose.

14.1 micron woolWhen I walked into the sheep and wool pavillion I swooned over the impressive show fleeces. This one pictured was 14.1 micron Merino! Although I really like and appreciate all the colour and pre-cleaned quick-to-use batts now there was, in retrospect, a very strong connection to the animal and the land when you have to sort the fleece, comb it, spin it then dye it. I’m glad I was able to do that at the time. However, the pre-coloured adventures have  opened up Art style yarns in spinning and I like seeing how changes in technology and availability trigger new ways of doing things that fit into our lives better for the times.

I also wondered about the sheep and the Agricultural  industry behind it all. Are they to go the same way as our woollen mills and textile industry? Are they next? Let parts of the whole slip and what supports it all.  Or are the handspinners, handweavers and hand knitters the only ones now giving meaning to the value of growing wool, at least in an Australian context? Many, many years ago I was trying to source some very fine merino Australian wool yarn. I spoke to a company in Melbourne and he said that I would have to buy a container load full of the yarn as they don’t sell to smaller concerns. Now I probably wouldn’t be able to even have that conversation about yarn. The Nundle Woollen Mill claims to be one of the last, if not the last, woollen mill in Australia doing all processing here. But sadly no yarn suitable for weaving in general. Bendigo Woollen Mills do have some yarn that can be used for weaving (2ply) including a tapestry twist on request but unsure of their entire processing abilities in Australia.

1964 Australian Textile Industry

From Sydney Morning Herald – 18 May 1964

I’m compiling a page on Australian Textile links. Hopefully historical as well as current.  Many weavers from the past don’t have profiles on the net and I may have to honour them by providing a booklist etc. too.  It has only just  started and there is so much missing. If you have any ideas for something that could be included I would like to hear from you. Although I’ve always collected Australian material the impetus for this started with this article from 1964 on our huge and apparently successful textile industry, now all gone. An yet we still wear and need clothes, carpets, interior fabrics…

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Meg #

    Same here. And once in a while a courageous weaver gets NZ merino spun to weave, but buying from them is, again, extremely expensive.

    But I am glad I don’t have to get tetanus shots to weave!

    July 29, 2014
  2. A thought provoking post Kaz and something I often wonder about. With the superb quality of wool from Australian sheep, it seems a great pity it has to be shipped off-shore, processed, spun into yarn and then imported back into the country. With weaving yarn in particular being virtually unobtainable here with the demise of our textile industry, the materials taken for granted a generation ago have in fact become luxury items today. Perhaps the yarn stashes and stores of our mothers and grandmothers will be highly sought after by the current and next generation of handweavers!

    July 31, 2014
  3. Gail Ellis #

    I too remember the days Kaz when we could buy some raw fleece from a local craft shop and the wonderful smell and feel of the lanolin on my hands. I still manage to source some raw fleece ( although not merino ) from a small grower in Tasmania who sells online – Corriedale or Border Leicester which are more for rugs or carpets but still wonderful to spin and dye.

    August 7, 2014

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