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The Knitter Met Two Farmers

As our wool bale is making it’s way from Victoria, where it was scoured, to Orange in NSW where it will be milled into yarn we thought it a good time to introduce you to Imogen. Imogen is a knitter, indie dyer and pattern designer from the Blue Mountains and will be responsible for adding some exquisite splashes of colour to our yarn. And she just might be (a tad) more excited about this wool project than we are. So here’s Imogen, in her own words:

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My journey to wool? For me it started with knitting. Well at least the desire to learn to knit. I was taught to knit as a child.  I’d been fascinated in my late teens and in my twenties but didn’t have enough knowledge or interest to pursue the craft. I admired knitting but anything beyond “plain and purl” seemed daunting.

I moved to the Blue Mountains about ten years ago. At the time I was a keen sewer and the self-titled “cool Aunt that makes stuff”. One day I fell into an internet wormhole looking for toddler pinafore patterns and bumped into a blog. This blogger was a knitter. She had photos of knitting. I was intrigued. I badly wanted to make the amazing garments I saw.  I fell in love, madly deeply in love. This still happens to this day. This is what makes me start a new project. That pattern and wool. It is that rush and love and enthusiasm to make. But also it is more than this – to be able to pick a different yarn, in other colours, in my exact size.  My own version. Mine. With those images and what came with it was this desire to make.  Somewhere in my head it went from “too complicated” to “I must pursue and learn this”.

image2_smallLiving in The Blue Mountains and working in Sydney gave me three hours a day to get this.  I purchased some very strange bamboo variegated chainette 8ply and anodised metal 4mm straight needles. I had just changed jobs, so feeling full of new beginnings, I got myself a copy of Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman. I read the book eagerly. The first thing I made was a Tomten (in some wild variegated acrylic). On Elizabeth’s advice I ditched my straight needles for a pair of circulars (I got for $1 at Vinnies – I still have these out of sentiment – those straights have long gone though).

More advice from Elizabeth – use wool – actual real wool from a sheep. Ok. Right. Wool. I could do wool. Wool – that warm, natural, sustainable fibre. Next trip to the shops I checked out the wool. All the fun stuff I liked seemed to be made in far flung exotic places like China or Turkey but just not here, Australia. I have nothing against things being made overseas, but I could not wrap my brain around knowing that we have a lot of sheep here and I couldn’t find any fun local wool.  I found an Aussie indie dyer on ETSY – wool – Australian wool. Hand dyed in Melbourne. How could I resist a yarn called “BLUEBERRY PARFAIT”?  I didn’t. I got more indie dyed wool. Tried different brands of needles. Got more wool. Knitted lots of things. Got more wool. Knitted a lot more. Got a job in a wool shop. Got even more wool. I knit many more things.

IMG_6616_smallThen, about a year or so ago, I thought I’d have a go at hand dyeing wool. Looked like a bit of fun so why not? I ordered my first 10 blanks skeins of 4ply high twist sock wool. The wool was from South America. Those ten little skeins from South America triggered some thinking. I knew Australian grown wool existed, I knew about the micro mills. I wanted the yarn I dyed to come from here.

My Instagram feed was sprinkled with stories and wonderful photos of traceable yarn. Yarn from farm to needle. Happening both here and overseas. I started to ask questions about local processing? I wanted to buy more yarn with providence, so where is my wool coming from?  Who are the woolgrowers? How great would it be to know the sheep? To know they came from one place, to know the farmers, the mill owner and have input into yarn specifications. Why is it cheaper for wool to be sent out of Australia scoured, carbonised, spun, dyed and then to come back to be sold? Why can’t we make more fleece into fibre here? Why can’t I make fleece into fibre?

IMG_6637_smallThis is where I think things get a bit woo-woo. As all this is whirling about in my little head, a newsletter came into my inbox from High Steaks Farming. I’d been buying my lamb and beef off Agness and Anthony sporadically for a couple of years and in this newsletter they were about to start shearing.  I placed a meat order and asked about their fleece. This is where our chats about wool begun.

It is now a year on and shearing happened again a couple of weeks ago. Anthony and Agness kindly invited me over to the farm so I could be there when the bale was made. This bale has just been scoured in Victoria and will soon be making its way back to New South Wales.

To the mill.

To be made into yarn.

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