Find out more about wool farming in the Bega Valley with passionate producer and supplier, Tabitha Zarins, from Tabandy Farm in Candelo.
Tabitha is not only a small wool producer, but also a wool enthusiast- who sells her beautiful hand made products at the local Candelo markets. Candelo is a town in south-eastern New South Wales, Australia. The town is located in the Bega Valley Shire local government area.
She has a small farm that produces mixed wool fibres such as sheep’s wool, as well as camel fibre, which she then sells to other spinners and felters in the local area. But there’s no pulling the wool over the eyes of this wool hobbyist.
Tabitha now keeps up to 60 different sheep of mixed fibre content including Merino, Perendale and a bit of Suffolk. All of Tabitha’s wooly wonders are not only hand processed, but their also homegrown.
Tabitha loves to work with wool she describes it as ‘alive’ fibre. It’s warm in the sun and it cools with the cold nights and as Tabitha says it connects you to the earth.
Initially, she first taught herself to spin over 20 years ago with a pet goat. Then in 2007 she learnt to felt by joining a local felting group in her community. Naturally, her enthusiasm for wool blossomed and she then started experimenting with different fibres and washing, carving and making wooly wearable’s for the markets such as hats and scarves.
Tabitha started her own little sheep farm about 5 years ago where she started doing everything from hand with a small flock of around 6 sheep.
At the time she did all the shearing, washing, dying and carding of the wool. Although now days she gets a local expert to come in to do the shearing and sends off the wool to Melbourne to be processed- she still does all the washing and dying at home. After she dyes the wool it is then ready to be sold to other local spinners, as well as using it herself to create felt wearable’s such as hats and beanies.
Tabitha likes to keep her wooly business local. So she often employs other locals, neighbors and friends to help produce products for her stall. They normally use her wool to then spin such delights such as beanies, French berets, hats and even sheep pillows!
BACKGROUND ON WOOL:
Wool is the fibre that grows on a sheep’s body. Sheep are normally shorn of their wool once a year. Tabitha typically sheers her sheep twice a year.
Wool once shorn of the sheep is then known as ‘fleece’. Once the fleece is collected it is then cleaned and removed of any dirt or feces. This process is normally referred to as ‘skirting’. The fleece is then washed in soapy water or ‘acid bath’ to dissolve grease and any vegetable matter. Once the wool has dried, it is then ‘picked’ which is the process of opening up the locks of wool and turning it into a web. It then goes through a ‘picker’ machine. This opens the locks up and normally adds spinning oil to assist the wool fibres in sticking together. One this step is completed it is then normally ‘carded’. This is a series of combing steps that can be completed with small hand cards that look like brushes or larger scale machines, which comb the wool from a series of drums. It is then that the wool is ready for the final stages. The final step in the carding process is called ‘Roving’ which is where the wool is then divided into small strips called pencil roving’s. These roving’s are then placed onto spools at the end of the card, which are then placed onto a spinning frame to make yarn.
Wool is one of the most absorbent fibres available. It absorbs moisture when it is damp and cool and insulates dry air next to the skin when it is warm. This makes wool a popular fibre to wear in both warm and cooler climates
Wool as a fibre is known to be so resilient that it can be bent 30,000 times without even breaking. And that’s not all. Wool also has a natural elasticity to it, which allows the fibres to be stretched to as much as one-third and then spring right back into place.
Tabitha loves to do natural dyeing. She uses Australian made dyes with no residue. The dyeing process that Tabitha uses normally takes around 45 minutes.
HOW TO DYE AND CARD YOUR WOOL:
- 2 buckets, 1 hot bath
- Spoon for stirring
- Citric acid
- Drum carder (Picture to right)
1. Wash the fleece in hot soapy water in a bucket.
2. Get the dye bath ready and put the dye into a dye pot, which should contain boiling water that’s set to simmer.
3. Add citric acid into the dye pot. The citric acid is important as it lets the dye fit to the fibre. Ensure you are wearing gloves and a mask when adding the citric acid.
4. Then stir the dye. You don’t have to use all the dye you can use different amounts to achieve a variety of shades.
5. Put the wool in a separate bucket for the final rinse before the dye bath.
6. Then place the washed wool into the dye bath and fully submerge the wool into the dyed water. Ensure that the wool is evenly distributed.
7. Then place your wool out to dry naturally in the sun.
8. Once the wool is dry you can put it through a small drum carder. This opens and separates the wool’s fibre. It also combs all the fibres into the same direction. Put it through the carder 2-3 times.
9. Then comb the wool off the drum cover and it is now ready for spinning.