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December 2017 – Fibreshed Melbourne
Sally Blake

Eucalyptus Leaf Dye Diary, 2016. Eucalyptus dyed wool, silk and linen. Photo courtesy of Sally Blake.


“There was all this knowledge tucked away in drawers. I wanted to get it out.” Natural dyers are great experimenters. But there aren’t many ways for others to use their accumulated knowledge. Canberra based visual artist, Sally Blake wants to change that.

It was natural for Sally to explore natural dyes. She lives in a city full of gardens and surrounded by bushland after all. For Sally, natural dyes are the result of a lovely relationship between humans and nature. The pigments were always present, but dye colours wouldn’t exist without human intervention. Sally began experimenting with plants from her own garden, and from friends. Documenting the results in a diary encouraged more questions and bigger ideas.

Eucalyptus Leaf Drawing 4, 2016. Pressed leaves on paper. 106 x 60 cm. Photo courtesy of Sally Blake.


In 2016, Sally set out to create a Eucalypt dye database. She partnered with the Australia council for the Arts. Rangers at the Australian National Botanic Garden (ANBG) provided access to the eucalypts in their collection. They helped Sally identify and responsibly harvest leaves and bark. It was important to Sally to use a method that presented meaningful comparisons. She used the same volumes and weights for all her dye experiments. She used different kinds of fabric (wool, silk and linen) and mordants (alum, iron and copper) systematically. The results are online, along with more detail on Sally’s process. The strong colours of Eucalyptus melliodora and Eucalyptus mannifera are Sally’s favourites. The Rangers at the ANBG liked seeing what colours their eucalypts produced. They look at these trees in a completely different way now.

Sally began to think of eucalypts as “holding the country together”. These trees have adapted to almost all the ecosystems in Australia. In many ways, Sally reflects, their roots hold the land together and their leaves shade us all. Mantles created with the dye database colours express this idea physically. Each mantle displays a design inspired from weaving patterns. Sally chose each design for its ability to look different from close up and far away.

Eucalyptus Mantle 3, 2017. Eucalyptus leaves and eucalyptus dyed wool, silk and linen on paper. 56 x 76 cm. Photo courtesy of Sally Blake.

Many people approach natural dyeing by looking to create a particular colour. Sally recommends a different tact. Start in your own garden with the colours that are there and then work out. This way you’ll get the palette of your, local area. Most of all, have a go. Sally teaches natural dyeing classes at the ANBG and the Canberra Environment Centre.

Sally’s next project will focus on the 46 eucalyptus varieties that are original to Canberra. The stories she gathers about these trees will highlight our relationship to them.




This site visit was generously supported by Fibreshed California and photographed by Andrew Lance.


Qozqo Alpacas

We were noticed within a few seconds of exiting our car. Buddy the labrador bounced delightedly. He wagged his tail from a polite distance to welcome us to Qozqo alpacas. Val and John followed shortly with a more sedate, but no less welcoming manner.

We sat down to home-baked morning tea as Val told us the story of how they became alpaca farmers. They first kept Angora goats on the property. With foxes a problem in the region, Val purchased some alpacas to guard the herd. It wasn’t long before the easy, inquisitive temperament, stunning colours and soft fleece of the newcomers won them over. Val and John selected their herd based on colour genetics from around Australia. They purchased huacaya and suri alpacas for their colour range and fibre quality. They now supply breeding stock, guard animals and pets locally and overseas as well as raw fleece, processed yarn and hand knitted garments.

Newly shorn alpacas

Photo by Andrew Lance

The show circuit has been an important source of support and encouragement for Val and John with many broad ribbons, including the best grey huacaya in the National a couple of years ago. Befriending a show organiser lead to an introduction to a shearer from New Zealand. Now that shearer stays with them each year when he shears their alpacas, and those of the local district. Val and John pay it forward by helping local alpaca farmers with advice.

Val always had an eye out for ways to utilise and value-add to the quality fibre her herd produces. She contracts the local mini mill, Boston Fine Fibres, to spin a range of light weight yarns for sale. She’s gone one step further and drawn together a team of knitters to produce hand made garments for sale. The result is the most exquisite and soft range of products we’ve seen from a farm. Baby clothes and shawls form the largest part of the collection. Given their hand made nature, the garments are priced generously. Val and her knitters challenge themselves with new and interesting patterns. The range of styles, particularly lacework, is testament to their skill. Qozqo’s products are available through local retailers and through their online store. It is worth making a direct enquiry because not all products are listed online.

A range of handknitted shawls from Qozqo alpacas

Photo by Qozqo alpacas

Finishing our cups of tea, we walked over to the pen to greet the alpacas. Newly shorn, their lithe bodies were on show without their usual dense coats. Val and John’s breeding program has resulted in the full range of natural alpaca colours. They have a large herd for Australia, numbering around 300 animals. Val checks the herd twice a day during birthing season to ensure all is well and check out any new arrivals. This is particularly exciting when breeding for grey, because she never knows what will pop out!

Val told us she believed a cria had been born a couple of hours ago. We headed into the paddock in the hopes of catching a glimpse. Walking across the paddock, we got our first clear look at the view from Qozqo over the valley. The farm is in an incredibly beautiful setting.

Photo by Andrew Lance

We watched the alpacas form a line as they traversed the paddock. They approached the new mother, each animal stepping up to nuzzle the newborn cria. As we made our goodbyes, the newborn was already gambolling around the paddock under the gum trees.

The Farm

Area – 200 hectares (494 acres)

Stock – 300 huacaya and suri alpaca

Vet designed biosecurity program


Val and John

Phone: +61 (0) 412 887 857

Location: Williamsdale, ACT


This site visit was generously supported by Fibreshed California and photographed by Andrew Lance.