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.


We are the Ecosystem

For a couple of days in late October, we joined the Australia Food Sovereignty Alliance Convergence in Canberra. We heard about grazing, geography curriculums, alternatives to organic certification, workers’ rights, and blood products from pastured pigs.

How is that relevant, we hear you ask?

First, a bit of background.

Established in 2010, AFSA was formed as a reaction to food production regulations in Australia weighted towards large scale producers, and unfairly disadvantaging small-scale production. As a body, it is “a collaboration of organisations and individuals working together towards a food system in which people have the opportunity to choose, create and manage their food supply from paddock to plate.”

The AFSA Convergence is an annual get-together for members to meet, share ideas, encourage each other, and shape the agenda and direction for the next year’s board activities.

So why were we there? To learn, and to participate.

As part of a movement towards local and sustainable textiles, Fibreshed Melbourne is working towards the same goals that AFSA is rallying for: sustainable, local agriculture, from farm to consumer, that provides consumers with informed choices in the yarns, textiles and garments they procure.

Not only is AFSA educating the public about food sovereignty issues, and connecting parts of the food processing chain, it is also lobbying government for better policies. It also has a producers’ arm, Fair Food Farmers United (FFFU) established in 2014, to“represent farmers who are at the sharp end of the impacts of free trade, raise awareness about the impacts of cheap imports on farmers, advocate for fair pricing for farmers selling to the domestic market, connect Australian farmers for farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing, and to be a voice for farmer-friendly regulations and standards.”

Huge props to the AFSA Convergence organisers for making a strong connection with the traditional owners of the land. The event was held at the Burrungiri Cultural Centre in Canberra. Issues of land management and custodianship without traditional owner input were frequently discussed, by traditional land owners. Bruce Pascoe, in facilitated conversation with AFSA president Tammi Jonas, provided insight into what the future of farming in Australia could be, if we included First People in more than just the odd conversation.

The local textile movement is still in its infancy, and we have much to learn from the successes and failures of the local food movement.

 

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


Mirrormere Alpacas

It started with sheep. Paula had been experimenting on her permaculture bush block in the ACT. The sheep were part of her strategy towards self sufficiency. Paula’s flock was supplying her with food, but their safety weighed on her mind. She bought an alpaca to guard them…and then bought more, with a few llamas as well. She fell in love with these curious creatures and their range of natural colours.

Paula and her alpaca

Photo by Andrew Lance

Paula values community and relationships. She smiles shyly remembering the friendly welcome the alpaca community gave her. She appreciated and benefited from their help and advice as she learnt the ropes. One relationship she’s developed is with experienced farmer Val, at Qozqo Alpacas. Together, they’re able to contract an alpaca shearer to the district each season. With each shearing, the pile of raw fleece in Paula’s shed grew larger. Paula’s hand spinning couldn’t keep up. Something had to be done. The opening of Boston Fine Fibres mill provided the perfect opportunity. Paula sent some fleece over for processing.

Mirrormere Natural Dyes

Photo by Andrew Lance

For colour, Paula looked close to home first. She made her first dye baths with the wattle and native indigo already growing on her bush block. She expanded into experimenting with eucalyptus leaves, bark and mushrooms. She repeats the hues she likes best. Paula’s quiet modesty belies the stunning results of her work. Warm greys, vibrant terracotta, palest olive green and exquisite taupes.

At each step, Paula has expanded her skill set. She weaves scarves, and would love to make rugs next. Her current experiment is a merino alpaca blend, working with Millpost merino. Watch this space; if successful, the trial might expand to a new, all local product range. Mirrormere is her passion project, squeezed into weekends and spare time when she’s not at her job in the city. Mirrormere is more than a business for Paula. It’s also about loving her animals and finding a way to use the fibre they produce.

Paula has built up an enthusiastic following for her local, traceable products. Mirrormere roving and yarns – both natural colours and hand dyed – are available to buy online.

Paula Mirrormere

Photo by Andrew Lance

The Farm

Stock – 14, with plans to expand

Farming principles: local, sustainable and low impact, while aiming for a high quality fibre product.

Contact

Paula and Graham

Phone: +61 (0) 467 347 279

Location: ACT

https://www.facebook.com/mirrormerealpacas/

 

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


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.

Contact

https://sallyblake.com/

 

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