Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show
This weekend was the Bendigo Wool Show. It's the biggest wool show in all of Australia bringing together sheep, their farmers and wool craft. At the last minute, I cancelled all of my classes, rented a room off Airbnb, and headed for a weekend away. It was spectacular. I love to travel with my husband, but every now and again I want to do something that doesn't interest him in the least bit. This was one of those trips. I left John at home.
I had a fantastic weekend! The show was excellent. Imagine sheep, farmers, fiber, and makers coming together to share their craft. It was phenomenal! I was out of my league in so many ways and took lots of notes. Hearing people talk about Polwarth or Corriedale sheep, having grown up in Chicago suburbia did me no favors here. I first got into knitting because I wanted to be more involved in the production of my garments. I wanted to understand how my clothes are put together and the amount of work that goes into making a garment. This is only half of the story though. My explorations have led me to hear about different fibers, production methods, and animal welfare.
The show was a great introduction to wool production in Australia. I was in the right place with my lack of knowledge about sheep varieties and novice interest in wool spinning.
To start off the weekend, I headed straight for the woolcraft stalls. I needed to get comfortable before jumping into the sheep shearing tent. There were over 300 exhibitors ranging from raw fleece sold by the family who farmed it to outdoor companies with base layer merino for expeditions.
My absolute favorite part of the show was wandering around to talk to these farmers, makers and designers. They have so much warmth. It was clear that a large part of their daily joy comes from the work they do. My favorite people were Wendy and Dave Dennis from Tarndie Homestead.
A quick hello led into discussing sheep farming in Australia and the US (they noticed my Americanness pretty quickly) because Dave used to work in South Carolina. Wendy and I talked about Barbara Kingsolver. I showed them the pattern that sprung to mind as soon as I saw their yarn. It was a lovely way to begin my Saturday morning. They were, after all, the first stall I visited that morning. Wendy and Dave breed Polwarth sheep. Their ancestors developed the Polwarth line. Their farm and family is even mentioned in the Wikipedia page about Polwarth sheep! Not that I always use Wikipedia as a resource, but it's still pretty cool. Meeting this couple was a wonderful way to start off the day.
The yarn I bought from Wendy and Dave is incredible. It has an ever so slight shine to it that merino lacks. It is not as soft as merino, but it definitely isn't scratchy. Instead, I would say that it seems tougher than most merino. I can't wait to start knitting with it. I even talked to Wendy about sourcing her yarn for my dyeing adventures!
After leaving Wendy and Dave, I found a really unique drop spindle. If you're not aware, a drop spindle is a post, usually shorter than one's forearm, with a weight that is used to spin or twist fiber to make yarn. The use of a spindle is a good introduction to spinning. It helps the spinner get a feel for the twist in the fiber and slowly perfect their skills.
I bought a 25g (midweight) spindle with a sprocket look to it. It spins evenly and goes for a really long time.
Next up in the fair excitement is IxCHeL Bunny. Charly, the main spinner and dyer, was at the show selling her wares. She dressed up both days in quirky outfits with bunny ears to accessorize. I've not used angora before because a lot of angora farming is really bad to the bunnies. A lot of people made a beeline to IxCheL's booth. Charly answered patiently answered questions about her companies practices. I feel pretty good about giving her fleece a try.
Yes, I bought some bison fleece. Who knew bison fiber was commercially useful?
If you're looking for something born, bred and produced in New South Wales, look no further than Karoa Fibres. They told me the only body of water our fleece crosses is the Murray when it is spun into yarn! Their yarn was definitely a bit tougher than some at the show. They cross Merino with Bond. I still don't know much about what this means... but I will find out! I bought a bit of roving from their stall. It's a natural grey color and much softer than the yarn they had available.
Finally, I hear so many yarn shops around Australia say that production mills don't exist in country. It doesn't exist which is why all of our wool gets processed overseas. From now on, I can say that's not true. Wool 2 Yarn is located on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. They process fleece from Australian farms!!! I can't tell you how excited I was to hear this. Alasdair was at the show. We talked as much as anyone can at a busy booth. I hope to try out his yarn for my dyeing venture in the near future.
Can you see the subtle flecks of brightness in these skeins? They are a solid color, with an ever so slight 'pop' of color in them. These are reserved for family members, but I will share pictures once they are knit up!
Then there were the outdoor clothing companies. Ofcourse, Icebreaker had a stall. I do love my Icebreaker leggings. In fact I was wearing them that day and told the rep I had them on... I neglected to pull up my skirt and show her. She didn't ask to see, so we were good. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about another company making base layer merino clothing. XTM performance apparently outfitted the last Australian Winter Olympics team. How didn't our paths cross until now?
Oh well, I bought a shirt. I'm putting it through the paces, wearing it to work, on the plane and climbing. A full review of the shirt will be coming soon.
All in all, I can't wait to share information about these companies with my indie dyer / spinner friends who have small businesses. If we want our customers to support local businesses, we should do the same. I met the lovely people behind these brands! I am excited to report on things made in Australia.
Here are a few teasers from the woolcraft section of the show.
Their was a fashion show taking place in one of the pavilions. This was a very unexpected event as I didn't know about it, and new experience for me. Here are a few photos from that one... yes I sat in the front row. I figure you need to jump in on the deep side when trying something new.
Then there were the sheep. I saw sheepdog trials, sheep shearing, and a fleece competition. This part of he show was entirely new to me. I don't have much to say about it except that it was totally cool! This show gave me a lot of resources to learn more about the sheep in Australia, how they are bread, what they are used for and what they look like. I couldn't tell you the difference between the sheep in these photos. Regardless, their piercing looks struck a chord.