CRAFTS are experiencing a renaissance. Driven by the promotion of the meditative benefits of knitting, with art websites spruiking the mindful benefits of creating wool pieces one stitch at a time, more young people are taking an interest in age-old crafts.
Enjoying the resurgence is handicraft guru Wendy Dennis, known worldwide for her influential Polwarth flock which provide superb craft wool.
“The reason we started breeding natural-coloured Polwarth sheep in the 1970s was because there were heaps of handspinners about,” Mrs Dennis said. “Then it waxed and waned for several decades but suddenly we are seeing the young people taking strong interest in knitting.
“We find the provenance story powerful with young people wanting the single origin, and to know where it all began.”
Mrs Dennis and husband David run a Polwarth sheep and wool growing enterprise on their historic Birregurra property Tarndwarncoort, which was established 1840. Amazingly, the Dennis family still call Tarndwarncoort home 176 years later, farming 202 hectares around the homestead.
Polwarth sheep were developed by Mr Dennis’ great-grandfather Richard in 1880, especially for the Birregurra district, by crossing Saxon Merino sheep from Tasmania with Victorian Lincoln sheep.
This progeny was joined back to the Merino. These un-mulsed sheep, named after the local electorate of Polwarth, are Australia's first breed of sheep.
The Dennises run a flock consisting of 450 head of coloured and 1200 white Polwarth. A percentage are rugged in the cooler climate to protect the average 24 micron fleece from UV damage, VM contamination and wet weather protection – measures taken to ensure the wool is easy handling for handicrafts.
While the sheep cut on average six kilograms per head annually, a double skirting program means only half of that is processed for spinning.
The coloured wool is marketed primarily to those interested in spinning, knitting and weaving and is desirable because it produces naturally coloured yarns.
Wool is scoured at EP Robinson, Geelong, processed into tops at Cashmere Connections, Bacchus Marsh and spun in New Zealand. A portion is also being processed by the Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill, Timboon.
“It is a niche market producing wool for handicrafts and the Polwarth breed is perfect for it,” Mrs Dennis said.
“The fleece can be up to five inches in staple length and is all soft handling wool.”