Boston Fine Fibres

Down the quiet roads of country NSW, a quiet revolution is occuring. Alpaca breeder Tanya Boston had fallen in love with her alpacas, but didn’t know what to do with their fleece. She asked around at shows: what did others do? “It’s in the shed” was the regular reply. So Tanya decided to do something about it.

After 18 months of research, Tanya and her husband Jim decided to purchase a Mini Mill from Belfast Mini-Mills in Canada.  Following some intensive training and another 12 months of practice, Tanya opened her own mini mill. She mostly services southern NSW and ACT, but has also delivered to Queensland, Northern NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. Boston Fine Fibres processes batts and roving and yarn from 2-8 ply for breeders to sell under their own name. Jim knits beanies from the yarn to sell at farmers’ markets, while Tanya’s rug yarn and lopi are very popular.

Being a mini mill, it’s possible for Tanya to process small orders – orders as small as a single saddle. It’s a time consuming process though. There are 12 pieces of machinery the fibre needs to pass through during processing, a journey that takes around 4 days to complete each fleece. There’s also the four hour downtime whenever Tanya cleans the equipment to change fibre colours. Tanya’s background in quality control and quality assurance is evident in the care she takes to trace each order throughout the process.

The mill runs entirely on roof-harvested rainwater and solar electricity. Because alpaca wool doesn’t contain lanolin, like sheep’s wool,  Tanya is able to use a gentle detergent and all the mill’s grey water can be recycled to their orchard and paddock. Sustainability has been considered in the mill’s packaging, too: Tanya uses tissue paper and brown bags in preference to plastics.

A big part of Tanya’s work is education. She works with her clients and shearers to help them understand what she needs to get the best out of the fibre. A fleece can lose up to 20-30% of its weight during processing, depending on variables such as how it was skirted. She maintains an open invite to clients and community groups to come visit the mill and learn about the process. She will also provide advice on what products clients could consider making from their fibre.

Luckily for Tanya, as a mini mill operator running Belfast Mill equipment, she can access her own education network. There are 79 mills around the world using Belfast Mill equipment, each have a different approach but they all welcome each other and share information.

Tanya feels the nearby national capital of Canberra provides a good market for the region’s fibre products. After all, the climate means that people are wearing woollens for nine months of the year. The population of public service workers means a lot of black which are beautifully complemented by the range of natural alpaca accessories. Tanya sells her yarn online and though a limited number of specialty yarn retailers.   

In the future, Tanya would like to process more of her own specialty yarn. She’d blend different natural alpaca colours to create heathered and verigated yarns. She would also blend other natural fibres like llama, camel, cashmere, suri and bamboo. Blending dyed silks gives her particular pleasure “you’re really making something special”.

The Facts

Product – Semi-worsted yarns, blended yarns, rovings and batts

Maximum Capacity – 500kg/year

Min Order – 1kg

Max Order – 20kg

Staple Lengths – 50-150mm

Lead time Required for Orders – 6 months

Current Fibre Types Processed – willing to take any fibre, including suri

Prototyping Fibre Types Requests – all natural fibres welcome

Yarn Price – From $132 per incoming kilo  alpaca

Restrictions – Must be well skirted and free of vegetable matter

Water Use – all water collected and reused onsite

Waste Water Impacts – all water collected and reused onsite. Improvements made to soil lead to less runoff and greater retention.

Energy Supply: 100% Solar energy

Contact

Tanya and Jim

Phone: +61 (0) 417 497 940

Location: Queanbeyan, NSW

http://www.bostonfinefibres.com.au

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


Tarcutta Textiles
A visit to this farmer-owned knitting mill that’s soon to close its doors

Words and images by Emily Steele

Denzel Clarke, chairman of the board at Tarcutta Textiles, with his circular knitting machine.

Visiting Tarcutta Textiles in country NSW is like stepping into a welcoming family home. Everything about this farmer-owned knitting mill exudes the gentle warmth, humour and energy of Denzel Clarke, the chair of its board and head of production. The timing of my visit was especially poignant, with the mill due to close its doors by mid 2018.

Tarcutta Textiles was started 25 years ago when Denzel and other local sheep farmers decided to manufacture and promote their own merino wool. When Tarcutta Textiles opened in Tarcutta, a regional town 1.5 hours north of Albury on the Hume Highway, the Albury-Wodonga region was an important national fibre manufacturing hub. Since then, Denzel and his team have seen much of the local industry disappear as the effects of globalisation have meant that cheaper, mass-produced garments have flooded the local market.

“Since we’ve been in business, microfibers derived from chemicals have taken over a large portion of the clothing market,” explains Denzel. “These garments have saturated the market at low cost.”

In stark contrast to the economic drivers of fast fashion, the principles of community and connection have always motivated the owners of Tarcutta Textiles, along with a desire to produce garments that will last.

“We’ve sought to create affordable, high quality merino garments with a touch of yesteryear”, says Denzel. “Our merino rugby tops have always been our signature garment. They are an iconic Australian piece and hold meaning for many Australians, whether as a reminder of our farming culture, a connection to sporting traditions, or a link to generations past.”

Amongst the traditional rugby tops in the racks, Denzel points out a group in more unusual colourways, affectionately knowns as ‘the Uglies’. With a nod to longheld sustainability practices, the Uglies are made from leftover yarns that might otherwise be thrown away. “We deeply value our land, sheep and all the resources that go into creating yarn, so we avoid waste wherever we can. The Uglies are part of our suite of anti-waste practices, and we have a lot of fun creating new colour combinations for that line”, says Denzel.

After touring the shop front, where I also see merino jumpers, scarves, cardigans and skirts, we head out to the factory floor. I’m keen to hear the sheep- to- garment process, and to take a look at the knitting machines.

The first step for Tarcutta Textiles is sourcing local merino wool. The wool is sent offshore for scouring, spinning and dyeing before returning to Tarcutta Textiles courtesy of two companies, Macquarie Textiles Limited and Wool Connect. The dyed merino yarn arrives on cones of 19-21 micron yarn; a weight that allows production of soft-wearing garments, explains Denzel.

The factory floor is primarily devoted to knitting the yarn into fabric. The day I visit, the knitting machines are in full swing creating a rich burgundy fabric. Two machines are dedicated to torsos for pullovers, and a third produces sleeves. The room clickety clacks with the machines and I have to lean in to catch Denzel’s stories.

There are two main types of machines here – circular and flat knitters. The circular is efficient and easy, making enough fabric for a cardigan in just six minutes. Denzel explains around 70% of the fabric at the mill is made on the circular. In contrast, the flat knitting machines take up to an hour to create enough fabric for a cardigan and are far more prone to misadventure. For the flat knitters Denzel must regularly circle the factory floor checking for mistakes and making manual corrections.

Up close and personal with the circular knitting machine.

I also see a machine that reclaims wool. This is used when the occasional bolt of faulty fabric is produced. The machine allows yarn to be wound back onto a cone for reuse. It runs at several thousand feet a minute, so it takes around 30 minutes to reclaim a big cone of yarn.

Finally, I’m introduced to a machine that makes button strips for cardigans. Just prior to my arrival it had created six bands to match the burgundy cardigans scheduled for imminent production.

I’m curious as to what happens once the machines have finished their job. Denzel says most fabric is wet finished so it shrinks to size, then pressed and steamed to ensure it doesn’t fray. Next, a seamstress cuts the fabric ready for garment production. Garments are sewn either on the factory floor or in seamstresses’ homes. On the way past the sewing stations we stop to say hi to a seamstress working on 100% merino blue-and-yellow striped tops.

The tour conveniently ends at the tea room. Against the backdrop of the whirring machines, Denzel makes us a cuppa and I have a chance to ask about his experiences at the mill, and what’s led to the decision to close the doors:

Emily: What has life been like, running Tarcutta Textiles?

Denzel: It’s been quite a hard life in some ways, but also rewarding. I’ve had top notch staff, and I’m very proud of the garments we’ve made and of the role we’ve played in our local community and the Australian textile manufacturing industry.

But as with any small business, I’ve worked long hours. I’ve always worked the factory floor. Being the only person who can work and fix the machines brings quite a responsibility. In the early days I travelled regularly for markets, and I’d increase fabric production before travelling so the seamstresses could keep working while I was away. And I’ve always had my farms to manage too, first sheep farms and then we moved to cattle. I’ve still got three cattle farms that I manage as well as the mill.

Emily: How have you seen consumer tastes change over the years?

Denzel: We’ve seen a lot of change. One example lies in fabric weight. We started off using a heavy merino fabric from our top-quality wool, but once everyone started getting ducted heating in homes and offices they stopped buying those garments. We realised they were too heavy for city people, so we moved to predominantly lighter yarn and fabrics.

Emily: How have you managed to stay open all these years, particularly in view of many other mills closing much earlier?

Denzel: I’ll tell you my biggest secret. Having the seamstresses also work in the shopfront has kept the quality of the garments high. It’s been a winning formula for us. The quality of the garments went up and stayed up as soon as we put that system in place. And our customers always enjoy meeting the person who made their garment.

Emily: What has contributed to your decision to close the mill?

Denzel: Sadly it no longer makes financial sense to keep our doors open. There have been several contributing factors. The main one being globalisation. The truth is you can buy a rugby top from a competitor at a fraction of our price. What people don’t understand is that it’s a lower quality garment, from the wool that is used through to the garment production, not to mention the questionable working conditions in some of the offshore factories. The second factor is the highway bypass that was built in 2011. Before that our factory and showroom were on the highway and an important portion of our trade came from passing traffic. Our profit dropped 40% as soon as the bypass was built and it never recovered. And I think the third big factor is that people don’t necessarily understand the advantages of natural fibres and local production anymore. Younger generations are brought up with the mass-produced model and don’t know any different. It’s that thing where they don’t know what they don’t know. 

Before I head off Denzel’s wife Nola and the factory’s seamstress join us around the table. Their easy camaraderie as they joke over who makes the best morning tea turns sombre as they mull over the mill closure.

“It’s the end of an era for us all, and in many ways it’s a sad time,” says Denzel. “We just want to enjoy this last period, hopefully see our regular clients for final visits, move through our last batches of production and see our final garments head off to good homes.”

And with that, Denzel is up and tending to the knitters.

 

To purchase an affordable, high quality merino garment from Tarcutta Textiles before the mill closure in mid 2018, head to the website, or visit the showroom at 10 Sydney St Tarcutta NSW. Everything is 15% off at the time of publication. To find out more about Tarcutta Textiles, contact Denzel on info@tarcuttatextiles.com.au or (02) 6928 7332.


Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill

It is not your typical location for a wool mill. Located close to the state’s tourist highway with local fibre becoming of increasing interest to visitors, Nick and Isabel see opportunity in being part of the tourist trail.  Indeed, the renowned food credentials of the area prove that the locals are good at bespoke, gourmet products.

The yarn produced at the mill is exactly that. Using only natural colours from selected local farms, Nick and Isabel showcase the best Australian fibre products. They produce a range of yarns in wool and alpaca blends and are famous for their  on-trend chunky yarns. Some of their product is hyperlocal, sourced from their own alpaca, farmed on site and available for photo shoots with adoring customers.

We were invited to participate in the making of the mill’s latest yarn collaboration, with local wool farm Tarndwarncoort: ‘The Henry’. This chunky 14ply yarn combines the silkiness of white alpaca with the strength and loftiness of Polwarth wool. We helped out where we could, probably making Nick and Isabel’s job harder! We followed the making of the yarn from cleaning the wool and alpaca, blending, spinning the individual threads and plying into the finished yarn.   Here’s a look at what we got up to:

The Mill

You get the sense that the recently opened mill has begun to find its rhythm. Isabel and Nick have worked hard at fine tuning all of the machinery to produce a premium, unique product.  Nick puts this down to a willingness to play and experiment. They are willing to try any fibre combinations that come to hand.  This commitment to the machinery is matched by business acumen and a clarity of goals. Isabel’s drawn from her business background and pure grit to see their vision come to light.  

The mill is committed to efficiency of resources.  Nick and Isabel are “not Greenies” but the lack of access to mains water, sewerage or regular rubbish collection means that every decision weighed against its impact on the land. The farm makes use of low waste, low resource use and positive impact solutions. No dyes or chemicals are used in the mill so waste water can entirely be reused on site.  All of the water used on farm and in the mill is collected rainwater. Any fibre waste is resourcefully reused as a felted product or in the garden.   Incredibly, their 3kW solar system comfortably covers the farm and mill’s energy needs – this is less energy than the average 2 person family uses!

The Farm

Nick and Isabel have improved the farmland since its previous use as a horse farm and dairy. The soil was compacted and prone to flood when Nick and Isabel moved in. Their implementation of lower stocking rates, paddock rotation of the alpacas, rest for the soil and planting of native vegetation plots has meant that the pasture is now spongy and soft. The alpaca, both suri and huacaya, were happy to come up to us and show off their lovely locks. Great Ocean Road Mill alpaca are bred for dense (2kg) fleece in a range of colours. Keeping them company are two visiting merino sheep, one black. Historically unwanted, coloured sheep are invaluable to mills working with coloured fibre.

The Yarn

The mill’s standard product is a semi-worsted yarn. They also stock rovings, batts and felt products. Excitingly, they have just finished a trial worsted yarn, using carded and combed fibre from Cashmere Connections.

Great Ocean Road Mill produce their own product and take yarn commissions.   You can buy their products  online and at select retailers. Catch Isabel and Nick at most of the big fibre markets.  The mill is open to visitors and with a little notice and you can organise a tour.

The Facts

Product – Semi-worsted yarns, rovings, batts and felt

Maximum Capacity – 3,000kg/year

Min Order – 1kg (note that there will be a minimum loss of 65g for each run plus more depending on cleanliness)

Max Order – 120kg (larger orders will be considered on request)

Ideal Order Size – 5-20kg

Staple Lengths – 7-15cm

Lead time Required for Orders – Winter – 4 weeks; Summer – 2 weeks.

Processing Time – 10 hours of machine time

Current Fibre Types Processed – wool, alpaca and mohair.

Prototyping Fibre Types Requests – all natural fibres welcome

Yarn Price – $24-25/kg alpaca and blends

Restrictions – No dyes, natural fibres only

Water Use – all water collected and reused onsite

Waste Water Impacts – all water collected and reused onsite. Improvements made to soil lead to less runoff and greater retention.

Energy Supply: >95% onsite solar, plus gas. 

The Farm

Area – 8 hectares (20 acres)

Stock – 19 alpaca, 2 merino + 3 agistment alpaca

Seasonal rotation

Own hay as feed

Minimal drenches 

Use no chemicals or soil additives

Contact

Nick and Isabel

Phone: +61 (0) 458 717 260
Address: 1580 Cobden-Warrnambool Road
Ecklin South, Victoria, 3265

http://gorwm.com.au/


Cashmere Connections

I stood outside Cashmere connections, pondering their sign. It promised to process cashmere, angora, alpaca and cashgora. What is cashgora?! Is that an animal I haven’t heard of yet?

I called Trisha to let her know I had arrived; she came out from the workshop to let me in. She’s friendly and casual, but is a wealth of information and a patient explainer! We walked to the storage area, so I could see where the process begins.

The business

A cashmere farmer, Trisha and her husband developed Cashmere connections as a way to add value to their fibre product. They buy fibre direct from farmers and have it scoured at Velieris. Then they card and comb the fibres for worsted, semi-worsted and woollen spinning.

Cashmere connections processes smaller quantities of quality product. They concentrate on local and international niche markets of doona makers and spinners. Their tailored service is key to their ability to process so many different fibres well.

Entering the combing machine

Fibre being drawn into the combing machine

The process

Each kind of fibre is different: suri is dense and slippery; needing carding in small quantities or the machinery jams. Wool and cashmere don’t have the dust issues that alpaca has. Goat and alpaca fibres intended for spinning need dehairing to remove coarse hairs. That cashgora I was wondering about? It’s a cross between cashmere and angora goats.

The machinery at Cashmere connections is deliberately old. New machinery assumes a standardised product and can break fine animal fibres. Older machinery can be adjusted for each fibre type. Trisha even adjusts machinery for each individual batch according to its characteristics.

Before carding, anti-static is added to the fibres. A fine mist of water fills the room that holds the carding machines. The water relaxes the fibres and reduces dust. Fibres come out of carding as a sliver. This is fed into gilling machines three times, or more if suri fibre is being processed. The slowest part of the process is combing, before one last run through the gilling machine.

Exiting the combing machine

Exiting the combing machine. So light and lofty!

The potential

Under a cover in a corner of the workshop, Trisha unveiled a different piece of equipment. It is a repco spinner from the 1960s. Trisha’s been experimenting with is, in the hope she can offer worsted spinning as a service. Its different to other spinners I’ve seen, spinning 2 plys at a time. Trish’s got some lovely sample cones and knitted swatches. The process isn’t to a commercial standard yet. Fingers crossed it will be soon!

Cashmere connections has a small shop on site, but you can also find their products online. They sell beautiful throws and exquisite single fibre and blended tops. You might manage to meet Trisha in person; on occasion she holds a stall at the natural fibres market.

Yarn samples

Yarn samples


Velieris

Tucked away in an industrial pocket of Braybrook, Velieris manufacture beautiful carpets and rugs. I visited because they offer scouring as a service to other textile businesses.

Fibre first

Rocco, the production manager showed me around on the day. We started in the scouring room, which was piled high with bales of fibre. Velieris buys wool and alpaca fibre from co-ops who gather local fibre in a central location. The fibre is sorted for quality, length and colour at the co-op, then delivered to Melbourne. Velieris also buys fibre from Peru and NZ to make up the quantities they need.

Scoured fibre

Scoured fibre

The company scours for doona and pillow manufacturers, local processers and UK spinning mills. Velieris accept orders between 1000-50kg, which makes their service accessible to smaller players.

Clean it up

Bubbles!

Bubbles!

Velieris use an eco soap in their scouring bowls. The first four bowls have soap; their water is steam heated. Effluent from scouring goes through their water treatment plant to remove the soap. Some chemicals are used at this stage. They also need to cool the water down before it is released. Their sludge, all the dirt removed in scouring, goes into landfill.

Water treatment

Water treatment

At this stage, if the fibre has been processed for an external company, Rocco bales the scoured fibres up and sends them off. All the carpet fibre moves to the next stage of mixing, carding and combing.

Mix it up

Velieris specialise in luxury naturally coloured products. They use a weighing machine to mix colour ‘recipes’. Eliminating the dying process reduces water usage and retains the softness of the wool and alpaca fibres Velieris use.

Weighing machine (green, on left) and carder (grey box on right)

Weighing machine (green, on left) and carder (grey box on right)

There’s no need for dehairing, because this fibre is destined for carpet. The fibres are sucked into a huge carding machine, then transfered to combers. Melbourne’s manufacturing history feels very close when you’re standing next to these old, but still powerful machines.

Combing machines

Combing machines

The combed fibres are gilled twice to even them out before spinning. I loved watching the fibre snake up into the gilling machine!

The resulting slivers are then spun and plyed into carpet yarn. The yarn is tufted before heading to the loom to be woven into carpet. Velieris do moth proof their carpets, but they are happy to skip this step at the customer’s request.

Weaving it together

Carpet maker

Carpet loom

The carpet loom is a thing of wonder. I couldn’t capture it all in a photo, so I’ll try to describe it. You have the loom up one end of the factory of course, but what you see is more like a yarn blood system. Leading into the loom are about 10 metal frames. Each frame holds about 10 cones of yarn. Each cone of yarn is strung through the frame, to the loom to make the warp. The whole system takes up about 15 square metres. It’s impressive.

Once woven, the carpet gets checked over by hand for any blemishes like loose threads. It’s trimmed to create a neat consistent top, then sent off for backing. Velieris makes the carpet entirely at their Braybrook workshop, except for the latex backing. This is done by an external specialist in Melbourne because it’s cheaper.

Checking for blemishes

Checking for blemishes

Side line

There was one row of spinning machines that weren’t running when I visited. These machines were bought in error – they are fine yarn spinners. Rocco’s been experimenting with them to get a good product to attract a buyer with. He can get a 270 tex yarn. He’s met a group interested in returning fine yarn spinning to Melbourne, but they don’t yet have the skills to use the machinery. Will we see fine yarns in this Fibreshed again one day?

Carpet and fine yarn samples from Velieris

Carpet and fine yarn samples from Velieris


Victorian Wool Processors

I didn’t expect to be visiting a wool scourer. There’s a view in crafting circles of Australia that wool scouring has left Australia. It turns out that scouring does still exist. Victoria Wool Processors was as interested in having me visit, as I was in visiting them.

Getting started

David, the managing director of Victoria Wool Processors (VWP) showed me around the factory. He was open about the environmental challenges of scouring, and passionate about the potential of wool as a natural material.

Raw wool bales on a conveyer to be broken up

Raw wool bales on a conveyer to be broken up

VWP purchases wool directly from Australian farmers, to meet orders from overseas mills. The raw wool arrives compressed in bales and is broken up before scouring.

Scouring

VWP use one million litres of potable water a day as well as 100,000 litres of bore water. That’s down from 1.3 million litres of potable water during Melbourne’s last drought. David is working to use less potable water. The alternative is bore water, which needs desalination.

​The raw wool drops into the first scouring bowl, a dark mix of greasy wool, detergent and dirty water. David surprised me by explaining that at this stage, dirty water is better for cleaning the wool! The wool is agitated and moved around by metal forks. It then passes through rollers to press out the water, grease and dirt. The wool drops into a new scouring bowl to start the process again. In total, there are seven scouring bowls in VWP’s system.

David explained that fresh water enters the system at the last, cleanest bowl. It travels down the system by gravity; each bowl’s height is lower than the previous bowl. Eventually it reaches the first, dirtiest scouring bowl. Here the water is drawn off to separate out the dirt and grease. That water is then recycled back into the dirtiest scouring bowl.

Wool grease

Wool grease

The separated wool grease is packed up for export to make into lanolin. Lanolin is used for personal care products,  lubricants and even vitamin D suppliments for livestock. It’s a useful ingredient, and contributes to 50% of VWP’s income.

Solid waste collected for fertiliser

Solid waste collected for fertiliser

The remaining solid waste is collected in huge piles at the back of VWP’s property and composted. After 6 months the grass seeds in the mix have died off and its likely to be a useful farm fertiliser.

Scouring gives a 52% yield, which means that around 48% of raw wool is actually grease, sweat and muck. Wow. The scouring process removes most, but not all vegetable matter. Depending on the end use, vegetable matter is spun off during top making, or VWP removes it by carbonising the fibre.​ 95% of VWP wool is scoured for bedding products, the remaining 5% is carbonised for fashion fibres.

Carbonising

During carbonising, the fibre drops into a sulphuric acid and water bath, then neutralised in an alkaline bath. This process repeats two more times; the acid dries the seed. The next stage heats the fibre up to 110 degrees celcius, which dries the seed further. Finally, the fibre drops into a line of crushers, which reduce the seed to a dust that is removed.

acid bath and crushing machine

An acid bath (left), and crushing machine used during the carbonisation process

The acid bath is recycled for two weeks. Only the water in the bath needs topping up because it evaporates over this time. The acid and alkaline baths are combined to neutralise them before disposal. The seed dust from the crushers is pure carbon, so that is added to the solid waste to aid composting. The workers in this section wore face masks because the air is dusty.

I asked David why the extra effort of carbonising is worth it. He explained that it softens the fibres, which is useful with fashion products. The process is also very good at removing vegetable matter. This is a particular issue for Australia, because of the sticky burrs we have in the paddocks.

Last steps

Whether it is just scoured, or carbonised as well, the wool is bleached with hydrogen peroxide.

Drying tube

Drying tube

The drying machine contains huge perforated barrels. The wool drops on the outside of the first barrel and air sucks from within. This spreads the wool flat across the surface of the barrel and dries it. As the barrel rotates, the wool passes to the next barrel, moving the fibres around so it dries evenly.

Dried wool

Dried wool

The dry wool is then sucked up into a pipe that runs along the ceiling of the factory. This gets it to over to the baling machine in another part of the factory. It’s quite Willy Wonka-esque!

Walking over to this section of the factory felt like Christmas. The dried wool dropped from the ceiling pipe into one of several huge piles on the ground. It was gorgeous. The wool is quality checked one last time before being passed to the baling machine.

The bales are so heavy, David has strict safety rules for how they should be handled.

Baled wool

Baled wool

The business of scouring

Victoria Wool Processors scour 3% of Australia’s total wool clip. The company employs 17 people. Its activities generate the same level of waste as 80,000 people (per year?). Labour and waste disposal are David’s two major costs of business.

Currently most VWP product sells directly to mills in South East Asia and China. Their production calendar is organised around the Northern hemisphere buying cycle. David would like to expand sales to Europe, a market that demands solid eco credentials.​ It’s a good time to do this. At current exchange rates, the cost of scouring in Australia is competitive with China.

AWP's Central control and monitoring system

VWP’s Central control and monitoring system

​It was fascinating to see VWP’s machinery in action. I felt welcomed by the staff, who were curious about my visit. They clearly had a comfortable relationship with their boss. I can see that David is motivated by environmental as well as commercial concerns. It’s interesting to see the solutions he’s come up with so far.


Wool2Yarn

I’d been given a contact name and an address to visit but had no idea what to expect. It turns out I’d been directed to Wool2Yarn’s factory shop and fibre mill. They’re located close to the Nepean Highway.

Let’s go shopping

The factory shop is welcoming and inspirational. The space is like a trendy store: full of beautiful products, without feeling cramped. They sell yarn (pure alpaca or blends), Gotland sheep roving, and a range of beautiful hand knits made locally. I would love the little grey capelet in the photo below for myself! The range of yarns includes Salvation, which incorporates fibre reclaimed from the milling process. Knit kits provide all you need to make a garment in one convenient package.

The factory store at Knit Alpaca

The factory store at Knit Alpaca

Get to work

Best of all was visiting the workspace at the back where all the fibre mill equipment is! Belinda runs this workshop with her husband Alasdair. They were alpaca farmers and they’ve poured this wealth of knowledge into the  mill. I was intrigued that Belinda can tell if an animal has been sick. A sick animal’s fibre will break during spinning.

I got to see the dehairing machine remove scratchy guard hairs from the fleece. Belinda keeps trying to find another use for these waste guard hairs. There’s so much vegetable matter in the fleece, they’re only good for reseeding grass! Next up was the carding machine. It has a fascinating range of different brushes to align the fibres.

Machine spinning yarn

Single strand yarn winding on the spindle

At this stage Belinda separates out tops for the felters and hand spinners. The rest are drawn out into rovings for the spinning machine. She will spin strands back onto themselves in different combinations to make multiply yarns. Last step is the steaming machine. This relaxes the fibres after all the ‘excitement’ of spinning. I couldn’t work out how to photograph this curious contraption. It consists of a thin tube on one end, which the yarn gets sucked into. The yarn is then connected to another tube a few meters away to complete the process.

Alpaca yarn

My first alpaca yarn stash!

The yarn is wound onto a cone for machine knitters. Hand knitters can choose from twisted skeins or rolled balls. I took home some of their single balls. They’re small, but proving to be good inspiration!


Cashmere Connections

I stood outside Cashmere Connections, pondering their sign. It promised to process cashmere, angora, alpaca and cashgora. What is cashgora?! Is that an animal I haven’t heard of yet?

I called Trisha to let her know I had arrived; she came out from the workshop to let me in. She’s friendly and casual, but is a wealth of information and a patient explainer! We walked to the storage area, so I could see where the process begins.

The business

A cashmere farmer, Trisha and her husband developed Cashmere connections as a way to add value to their fibre product. They buy fibre direct from farmers and have it scoured at Velieris. Then they card and comb the fibres for worsted, semi-worsted and woollen spinning.

Cashmere connections processes smaller quantities of quality product. They concentrate on local and international niche markets of doona makers and spinners. Their tailored service is key to their ability to process so many different fibres well.

Entering the combing machine

Fibre being drawn into the combing machine

The process

Each kind of fibre is different: suri is dense and slippery; needing carding in small quantities or the machinery jams. Wool and cashmere don’t have the dust issues that alpaca has. Goat and alpaca fibres intended for spinning need dehairing to remove coarse hairs. That cashgora I was wondering about? It’s a cross between cashmere and angora goats.

The machinery at Cashmere connections is deliberately old. New machinery assumes a standardised product and can break fine animal fibres. Older machinery can be adjusted for each fibre type. Trisha even adjusts machinery for each individual batch according to its characteristics.

Before carding, anti-static is added to the fibres. A fine mist of water fills the room that holds the carding machines. The water relaxes the fibres and reduces dust. Fibres come out of carding as a sliver. This is fed into gilling machines three times, or more if suri fibre is being processed. The slowest part of the process is combing, before one last run through the gilling machine.

Exiting the combing machine

Exiting the combing machine. So light and lofty!

The potential

Under a cover in a corner of the workshop, Trisha unveiled a different piece of equipment. It is a repco spinner from the 1960s. Trisha’s been experimenting with is, in the hope she can offer worsted spinning as a service. Its different to other spinners I’ve seen, spinning 2 plys at a time. Trish’s got some lovely sample cones and knitted swatches. The process isn’t to a commercial standard yet. Fingers crossed it will be soon!

Cashmere connections has a small shop on site, but you can also find their products online. They sell beautiful throws and exquisite single fibre and blended tops. You might manage to meet Trisha in person; on occasion she holds a stall at the natural fibres market.

Yarn samples

Yarn samples