Spinning a future for Suri-Merino

Alpaca Yarn Lady reignites wool processing in Victoria

News
Aa

Robyn Betts has created an exclusive range of knitwear which celebrates Victoria's growers and wool processing industry.

Aa
Shear passion: Robyn Betts' intricate knowledge of fibre production and processing has earned her a spot in the shed during the Toland's shearing.

Shear passion: Robyn Betts' intricate knowledge of fibre production and processing has earned her a spot in the shed during the Toland's shearing.

Known as Violet Town's Alpaca Yarn Lady, Robyn Betts has created an exclusive range of knitwear which celebrates Victoria's growers and wool processing industry.

The new range known as Grace Knitwear was launched recently and combines traceable Suri alpaca and fine merino wool which Robyn hand selects directly from local growers.

"I bred Suri Alpaca's for 15 years in the Strathbogies and during that time I made a commitment that I wanted to commercially process Suri fibre into a knitting yarn with Merino fleece," Robyn said.

"Suri Alpaca doesn't have any crimp and it is lustrous, slippery and silky, with no fibre memory, so once blended with the Merino crimp it becomes a luxury yarn.

"If you spun Suri on its own it would just drop - that is why it is difficult to work with and difficult to process but the Merino fibre gives it something to grab onto."

The knitwear fashion range is manufactured using Suri wool from Baarrooka Alpacas, Strathbogies, and 18-micron fine Merino wool from Toland Merinos, Violet Town.

It has been a labour of love that has taken eight years to master the complex supply chain and to find processors willing to gamble on Robyn's Suri dream.

Those supporters include Cashmere Connections, Bacchus Marsh, for the scouring, carding and combing, and then Bendigo Woollen Mills, Bendigo, for the spinning.

One of the last automated knitting machines in the country is operated by Con Skapetis of Geccu Australia, Melbourne, who makes the garments.

"I think people need to take a risk in processing different types of fibres and that is what these companies have done, particularly Bendigo Woolen Mills in spinning Suri Alpaca," she said.

"All of us have worked together to create this amazing product without government grants or industry support," Robyn said.

"It's all about building relationships, having everyone understand and respect each part of the process, and working bloody hard to tweak it."

Joining forces: Toland Merino's Simon Riddle, The Alpaca Lady's Robyn Betts and Baarrooka Alpacas' Julie Wilkinson at the launch of Grace Kntiwear.

Joining forces: Toland Merino's Simon Riddle, The Alpaca Lady's Robyn Betts and Baarrooka Alpacas' Julie Wilkinson at the launch of Grace Kntiwear.

On a mission to understand the supply chain better, Robyn completed her wool classer certificate at Dookie Agricultural College in 2010.

"If I didn't know what I was looking for and I couldn't have those conversations directly with the grower, I would accept anything," she said.

"Simon (Riddle, Toland Merino) and I talk about another production line of shorter staple fleece to link in with shearing twice a year.

"It will be a whole new production line of 80-90 millimetre staple which is woollen processing, not worsted. We are working together the entire time."

This intricate knowledge of fibre production and processing has earned her a spot in the shed during the Toland's shearing.

"This season's Merino wool is extraordinary due to their consistent breeding and stable nutrition," she said.

"Growers need to find a way of getting back in touch with the supply chain and not just sending their fleece to the auction floor and forgetting about it.

"It's a privilege when I go to Toland's when they are classing and I am a part of that process - we work together to develop the product lines.

"You need that fleece knowledge and there is huge interest in products with this local provenance."

Robyn hopes the growing movement for consumers to know where their food and fibre comes from could help reignite Australia's wool processing industry.

"I've managed to retain wool processing in Australia and for the first time, commercially process Suri Alpaca with Merino," she said.

"We nearly have it right, there is always room for improvement."

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by