The Ashford spinning wheel is a relatively recent addition at Eileen Douglas’s Benambra house and its whisper is only occasionally interrupted by the pop of the 100-year-old slow combustion stove in the kitchen.
If you can’t hear the thrum of the wheel it’s likely replaced by the kettle simmering on the fire, or the click-clack of knitting needles.
A process repeated many times over, Ms Douglas is working with wool sourced from her relatives just a few kilometres down the road.
She has two fleeces ready to work.
But at 86, Ms Douglas thinks they might see her out.
From sheep to shawl
Ms Douglas sits in her lounge room behind the wheel, gently feeding it a steady stream of spun wool.
She is plying two strands together — another step in the paddock to wardrobe process that has played out at her farm over many decades.
At the same time, on a camping stove on the back verandah, a big pot of water is boiling filled with gum leaves sourced from the township of Maffra.
It’s part of the dyeing process.
Later Ms Douglas will remove the spent leaves and substitute them with a ball of spun and plied wool.
“It takes on a dark orange … a great colour,” she says.
Ms Douglas says gum leaves usually produce a “pretty good” colour.
Over the years she has tried everything from moss from under her house to ash from the fire and berries from her daughter’s yard.
“You can use anything if you’re game enough to try,” she says.
Decades of perfecting an artform
Ms Douglas has picked up many tips and tricks over the years.
She started using a dog brush to comb her wool after trying carders.
“I hated those,” she said.
“They just mucked it up and it was too hard to spin.
Now Ms Douglas is passing on her knowledge to the next generation.
“Over the years I have shown quite a few people how to spin,” she said.
“Some get quite frustrated and don’t go any further.
“My granddaughter brought up a girl from Melbourne only at the beginning of this year.
“She didn’t have a wheel or anything, so I just showed her.
“I gave her some wool to take back and said, ‘If you need a wheel, do whatever they do with their phones and advertise for an Ashford.'”
Ms Douglas has had her share of success with her spinning and knitting, including an equal first prize at the Canberra Show in 1995 for spinning and dyeing.
“It was amazing,” she said.
But her feelings about the local agricultural show have shifted over the years.
“I didn’t enter into the Omeo Show after a while, because everybody said, ‘It’s no use us entering because Eileen Douglas will win it.'”
Many years later, as the fire dies down and it threatens to snow outside, Ms Douglas shows off a shawl made from some of the first wool she spun.