I have to admit, I’ve never really thought much about where wool came from. I knew it came from sheep and all, but how it got from animal to my yarn shop, well, I was a bit vague on that. I am now considerably more educated though, thanks to a trip to Australia’s National Wool Museum.
Housed in a beautiful bluestone building, the museum is in Geelong, about an hour’s train from Melbourne central. It’s not a large museum, but there’s still plenty to be learnt inside. The downstairs gallery was (disappointing) occupied by some dinosaurs when I visited, but the first floor galleries had what I’d come for. Gallery 1, ‘The Wool Harvest’, focussed on sheep and shearing, while Gallery 2 ‘From Fleece to Fabric’ looked at the processing of fleece.
I spent far more time in the second gallery, as I’m not overly fond of sheep (I was bought up in a dairy farming district). The gallery shows how fleece goes from a rough, dirty material through various stages of carding and combing to become a beautiful, useful thread, which is then woven or knitted. There’s plenty to touch, with samples available at every stage of the process, and hand machine examples of carding, weaving, and sock-knitting. There were even children there having fun. In a wool museum. Who’d’f thought.
The focus is definitely on the production and processing on yarn; there’s very little on retailing yarn or home production of clothes. This is understandable, if disappointing. The museum relies largely on volunteer labour and there’s only so much it can do. And, let’s face it, it’d probably only be interesting to knitting geeks. Of course I can gather this information myself from books like The Loving Stitch, but it would’ve been nice to see what a wool shop looked like in the 1920s, what patterns were available in the 1930s, or how home knitting was involved in the two World Wars. But I understand the time and money constraints that museums work within, so I’ll keep a hold of this little dream of mine until I win Lotto and can donate a bundle to the museum.
Aside from this little grumble though, the National Wool Museum is thoroughly enjoyable and well-worth the trip out to Geelong.
National Wool Museum, 26 Moorabool Street, Geelong
Open: Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:00pm, Saturday to Sunday 10:00am to 5:00pm
More Visitor Information (Entry fees, parking, public transport)
My notes on wools processing and the captions on the photos are brief. If you’d like to know more about wool process from the comfort of your own home, Australian Wool Innovation has a good website.