I never knew there was a Handweavers and Spinners Guild in Victoria. I had assumed the little shop front near my home with hand knits displayed in the front window was the local yarn store. Not knowing where to begin with my Fibershed project, I decided to start here and see if they had any advice for me.

What’s inside?

The shop is set up in several different layers – there is the members’ gallery/shop area at the front where pieces made by their members are displayed and available for purchase. Directly behind that is a space available for many of their guild’s gatherings; there was a weaving group working there during my visit.

I was amazed at the range and diversity of groups that the guild supported. They have spinning and weaving groups of course, but also natural dying, tapestry and Japanese braiding. A kind volunteer took the time to introduce me to all of their activities, including their yearly retreat in Harrietville, the much anticipated Textile Bazaar (a rummage sale of second-hand yarns and equipment donated to the guild) and regular classes during the year in installments and held as intensives during summer when country members are more likely to be able to join in.

But wait, there’s more!

Beyond the first couple of visible sections, the shop revealed far more than I’d been able to see from the street: behind a partition on the left, there was a gallery area for temporary exhibitions. At the time I visited it was full of textiles from Bhutan, but I have to go back because the current display is of socks in all different designs.

Along the back wall there was a members library full of books, periodicals, newsletters, videos, DVDs and slides. There was also a doorway to a back room, which I think had sink facilities for the natural dyeing group.

On the right behind another partition, there is a resources shop with some balls of wool like I’m used to, but also spinning tools, dye bottles, resource books and tops. Now, here is where I had to learn something, and the knowledgeable shop manager helped me out. Tops are fleece that has been shorn and trimmed down to the best fibre. They can be bought washed or unwashed, dyed or in natural colours. They’re your starting point for spinning or felting and so naturally the guild’s store was full of a variety of tops!

Talking to those who know

I got confirmation that there are wool growers in Victoria (and the far east of South Australia, within the boundary of my project) whom I could buy tops from. The store manager explained that the wool needs to be scoured (washed) to remove oils, lanolin and dirt. There is only one commercial scourer in Victoria (it seems like wool mills might have their own though?) and you need to have a licence to scour wool because it can be quite a polluting process. I’ll also then need to get my top carded (brushed).

The guild members I spoke to suggested I look into felting, otherwise I’ll need to get the fibre spun into yarn for weaving or knitting/crochet. It’s food for thought, and I have very little experience in knitting and weaving, and none at all in felting or spinning so perhaps I can work with some guild members on this project.