A festival of fibre

Rebecca TurnerThe West Australian

The recent Toodyay Fibre Festival was a celebration of fibre in all of its forms, with about 4000 visitors from Perth and beyond attending the event.

Displays ranged from shearing and hands-on experiences with llamas and alpacas to a huge array of crafts using natural fibres, such as felting, quilting and weaving.

Of great interest on the day were several shows by entertainer Syd Davey.

In his show, Sydney or the Bush, Mr Davey spoke about the history of wool and shearing in Australia and demonstrated the historical methods of shearing, including the use of hand shears.

Mr Davey said Toodyay was the perfect location to hold a fibre festival, because historically it was a "real shearers' town".

"It's only a little town but it used to support three hotels with all the shearers working here," he said.

Toodyay's craft community worked behind the scenes to assist with preparations in the lead-up to and during the festival, including Paca Molino mini mill owner Jenny Cornwall and The Fibre of the Gods mill owner Hazel McKone.

Ms McKone, who with husband Michael runs WA's only alpaca spinning mill, said the event was an important meeting place for people with a common interest in the WA fibre industry.

"It provides a great opportunity to educate people on the different fibres available, especially for local producers who are value adding their fibre," she said. "The craft industry is eager to use Australian grown and made fibre products."

THE TOODYAY FIBRE FESTIVAL *

Toodyay Fibre Festival is a great example of a local rural community getting together to encourage people to visit their town.

Festival committee members Peter and Delveen Wakefield, of Avalon Homestead in Toodyay, said the event was originally proposed after a bushfire in December 2009 destroyed more than 30 homes in the Toodyay area.

Mr Wakefield said initially the idea centred on entering the International Back to Back Wool Challenge, in which teams create a specific garment in the shortest amount of time from the "back" of an animal to the "back" of a person.

The challenge has run for more than 20 years.

In 2013, the first WA team competed in the challenge at the Wakefield family's homestead. This was not a public event but initiated plans for the inaugural Toodyay Fibre Festival, held at the local racecourse last year.

A WA team attempted the challenge at the first festival, placing a credible fifth out of 11 teams worldwide with a time of 8hr 49min. 45sec.

Merriwa Jumbucks, of Merriwa in New South Wales, holds the overall challenge record of 4:51:14, achieved in 2004. The team's efforts were recognised as a Guinness World Record.

While a WA team did not compete in this year's challenge, the Wakefields have high hopes for 2016. "We are looking for knitters and spinners to be involved next year in the challenge," Ms Wakefield said.

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