News

Wool adds to fabric of farming

By John Lewis

From the paddock to the beanie — spinner and weaver Tanja Waterman grows her own wool from her flock of nine sheep on her idyllic hobby farm at Miepoll.

She then turns the wool into practical things like socks, scarves and beanies.

Tanja’s tiny lounge room has all the usual things: sofa, chairs, table; but the space is dominated by something else — a collection of spinning wheels in a corner.

The wooden wheels, treadles and bobbins come from a time when clothing was made at home, slowly and patiently, using natural fibres grown on the land.

Tanja had always knitted and sewed, but she started spinning and weaving her own garments when a neighbour gave her and husband Andrew three lambs about five years ago.

They now have nine sheep of different breeds — Border Leicester-Merino crosses, Bond, Southdown, Corriedale and Polwarth.

She selects wool from the different breeds to suit her clothing projects.

‘‘Southdown is springy and strong and good for socks. Merino and Polwarth is softer and good for beanies and scarves,’’ she says.

Tanja reaches into a bag and brings out a handful of raw, unwashed wool shorn a few weeks ago.

‘‘It’s lovely and soft,’’ she says.

The raw wool is washed in dishwashing liquid, then put through a drum carder to separate the strands, combed to soften it even more before it’s spun on the wheel and then wound through the loom.

Tanja also enjoys experimenting with natural dyes made from eucalypt leaves, walnut or wattle which bring dark browns, soft greens and yellows, and warm reds to the yarn.

‘‘I’m not keen on chemicals, so I choose plants that have enough tannins so you don’t have to use chemical agents like alum as binding agents.

‘‘Spinning, weaving, knitting — it’s hard to explain just how relaxing and meditative it all is.

‘‘It’s good for your mental health too.’’

Out in the paddock, Tanja calls her flock of waiting woolly jumpers and they come bounding up.

She calls them each by name and feeds them Weetbix, reserving a special piece for the biggest sheep — Anakin.

‘‘I’ve raised him since he was five days old. I made a beanie from his wool and put it on his head — it was really funny, but I think he liked it.’’