18 October 2021

After 50 years, Bookham's Barb Shannon is still comforting generations of babies

| Sally Hopman
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Barb Shannon sewing heirloom blanket

Barb Shannon at work on an heirloom blanket at her family property, ‘Talmo’, at Bookham, near Yass. Photo: Sally Hopman.

About 50 years ago, countrywoman Barb Shannon was asked by a friend to make her a baby’s heirloom blanket as something special for the newborn.

Today, the children of these children are still asking Barb, who lives on her family’s NSW sheep farm just outside Bookham, near Yass, to make baby blankets for the next generation.

No two of the pure wool bassinet-size blankets are the same. Each is embroidered with rabbits or other farm animals; cute ducks and puppies, little ones wearing petticoats, others carrying baskets of knitting; rabbits carrying baby ducks on a lead, others in gingham dresses carrying little bags, and others wearing the best of smiles and the most old-fashioned of undergarments.

They even stand on embroidered grass on the blankets – tiny little animals on a mission to make children and adults, and anyone else with a beating heart, fall in love with them.

Barb has been making the blankets for as long as she can remember. She spent much of her early life travelling around NSW as her father was a bank manager. After she married James Shannon, the couple settled at ‘Talmo’, near Bookham, where they raised their three sons and produced fine wool.

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The embroidering of that first blanket then became a way of life for Barb. She retired from working daily on the family farm about 10 years ago and spends her evenings making blankets for even more generations to enjoy.

“I used to do them every day,” she says. “But now I do them more at night because I can’t bear to watch television.”

Everything remains hand-done, from the binding that connects everything, to the little knitting baskets complete with balls of wool.

In the early days, the blankets started selling through word of mouth. Barb would make them for friends, then other friends would see them and put in an order, too.

No two blankets are the same, except for the quality of the wool. Although Barb says the problem these days is a lack of wool manufacturers.

“There were about five manufacturers when I first started making the blankets,” she says. “But now I think there’s only one left.

Embroidered rabbit on blanket

Every rabbit is different on Barb Shannon’s heirloom blankets, but this little lady is clearly a favourite in her attractive gingham number. Photo: Sally Hopman.

“First we tried to get some from China, but it smelled like chemicals. Now I end up buying double blankets – you can get some made as a combination of alpaca and wool from a mill in Victoria – which are really lovely.

“But I must say I prefer to use fine wool because that’s what we grow here.

“A lot of the old mills closed 10 years ago, and we couldn’t get the scouring done – all the machinery was sold off. It really is such a tragedy you can’t source much of it now. There was a good producer in Tasmania, but there were a lot of transport issues getting the wool up here.

“These days, we just get the wool blankets where we can.”

When Barb started making the blankets as a business, they were so popular she sold them to about 20 different stores around NSW, but “I’m 79 now”, she says, so they are now sold mainly through her daughter-in-law’s shop in Yass, Merchant Campbell, and a shop in Sydney’s Double Bay, as well as through word of mouth.

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“My favourite orders are the ones I make for people I know,” says Barb. “That gives me the greatest pleasure.

“I often get calls from people who have had them themselves as children and want them for the next generation. They might send me their one from when they were a child – some have had a rough time you can tell, but to me it just means they’ve been loved.

“One fellow rang me and said, ‘I’ve finally found you, I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’ He had one of the blankets when he was a child with little dogs on it. He was 32. I got him to describe the blanket to me because I couldn’t remember what it looked like, it was so long ago.”

Barb makes the blankets today pretty much the same way she did 50 years ago. She starts from scratch with felt, cuts out the rabbit shapes and builds up the little animals with pants and petticoats so they stand out from the blanket.

Nothing much stops her when she’s working on one. It can take her about eight hours to create one bassinet blanket, usually only roping in her sister or another family member if she’s running behind.

“I still don’t think of making these blankets as real work,” says Barb. “I retired from working on our farm at 65 – now that was real work.”

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on The RiotACT.

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Love this story know the lady A beautiful person making beautiful heirlooms

Beautiful work!

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