About seven years ago, Fiona Durman decided to invest in a small herd of Suri Alpacas for the family’s Lake Albert property and take up the textile art form of weaving.
Now a familiar sight at markets across the Riverina where she sells a spectacular array of hand-woven garments, Fiona said it all started with an empty paddock.
“We wanted some animals, but I wanted to be able to use their fleece, so I just did a bit of research on what we could have and what I could use,” she said.
“We came up with alpacas and the idea of weaving.”
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Fiona and her husband migrated to Wagga from the UK in 1987. The arrival of her mother Roswitha, after 30 years of living on opposite sides of the globe, inspired the creation of Ashculme Textiles.
“She’s very much a textile artist, so we started it together,” Fiona said.
Combining her mother’s skill with a sewing needle and her own passion for handmade objects of beauty, the pair set about turning fleece to yarn, yarn to fabric and fabric to garments.
“The hardest part was finding the loom that I wanted, but I finally did,” she said.
“Then I bought a few books, taught myself and a couple of years later went up for a residency where I learned much more.”
Fiona quickly decided to outsource the spinning to achieve a finer product and instead focussed on weaving and dying the yarn from her little herd.
“Originally I was just using the natural colours and then it was a natural progression to learn about dyeing,” she said.
“I started with a few commercial dyes and then went to natural dyes. Now I’m doing far more dyes with eucalypts and also slowly starting my own little garden of dye plants.”
She explained that the eucalyptus leaves deliver a surprising array of colours.
“I cook up a whole heap of leaves, or you can also pack the leaves tight with the yarn, and then cook that and it infuses the colour into the yarn,” she said.
“You get the lovely grey greens, but some of them come out red and orange and bronze.
“I suppose that’s what I like about it. You never really know exactly what you’re going to get.”
As her skills increased, Fiona began to share her craft with others, starting with her grandson and his friends.
“These little boys just loved the looms and couldn’t get enough of it,” she said.
“Then adults started asking for classes as well. So I thought, ‘yeah sure!’.”
From initially making scarves and ponchos, Fiona and Roswitha expanded their “paddock to product” range and have found a growing market for their wearable artworks.
“It’s all very much trial and error, you have an idea and you try it out and if people like it, you do more and if they don’t, then you don’t,” she said.
“Slowly we’ve streamlined what works and they sell really well now. I also have products in half a dozen different shops.”
So with the product sorted, the question remains – how are things going in the paddock with the notoriously feisty alpacas?
“They have attitude!” Fiona laughed.
“Absolute attitude, so much personality but they’re really easy to look after as well,”
Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.