Dot Vallence loves the “sheepy” people as she calls them, although she's not one herself.
The long-standing chairwoman of the Woolcraft Committee of the Australian Sheep and Wool Show (ASWS), cheerfully admits she's very much a townie.
“Everyone thinks we must have sheep, but about the closest I can get is an aunt and uncle who once ran a sheep farm in New Zealand,” the ASWS stalwart said.
As a talented crafter and exhibitor herself, Mrs Vallence and her retired bank executive husband Mike became involved in the largest show of its kind in the world after having been previously drafted by family contacts to help out in the Berwick Regional Sheep and Wool Show.
“One of the exhibitors at Berwick said ‘I think you would be a good person to do the woolcraft at Bendigo because someone has resigned’,” Mrs Vallence recalled.
“I remember clearly saying, well, as long as I am only on the committee and, of course, I came home the chairwoman, didn't I!”
Such is the warp and weft woolcraft that after natural fibre leaves the farm gate it knits together all types, even the traditional enemy of the farmer – the rabbit.
Charly McCafferty and her husband Paul, who breed English Angora rabbits at their property in the Yarra Valley, have been exhibiting at the ASWS for the past 12 years.
“I do sell some pure Angora yarn and fibres, but most I blend it,” Ms McCafferty said.
“The Angora fibre goes so well with Merino and heritage breeds like English Leicester and Corriedale and even, nowadays, with Alpaca.
“Even if you blend three to five per cent with other breeds it just takes it up to close to skin wear and that has been a revelation for a lot of people.
“When we started at the show I thought it was an excellent opportunity as a market to let people know about angora yarn.
“It wasn't really known in Australia then and it didn't have a good connotation because first they were rabbits, but also people have no clue how we harvest the fibres and jumped to the conclusion that you have to kill the bunnies to get the fibre.
“But I am actually a bunny hairdresser and spend a lot of time explaining how I clip them and it is actually about sustainable farming and taking care of animals.
“The whole craft scene and demand for natural fibres has just exploded.
“The ASBA has recognised this and works together with woolcraft in such a beautiful way and given small farmers and small producers like us a great opportunity to put ourselves out there.”
From the finest fleeces to the finest finished products, the ASWS is a showcase like no other, as Chrystene Antonis attests.
“Woolcraft is so important in the role that it plays in sharing with younger generations so crafts don't get lost,” the award-winning textile artist and ASBA executive member said.
“For women who work out on these farms it is a great chance to put their work up against their peers and be judged by people who are expert.”
Woolcraft organisers are expecting more than 300 entries across a record 68 categories in response to this year's theme: Homefront.
“It is going to be very interesting to see how people interpret the theme,” chief steward and judge co-ordinator Jay Peterson mused.
“A lot of people will naturally relate that to the wool, but it could be anything really down to a table set for afternoon tea with beautiful knitted tea cosy.”
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