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      Earthy tones of eucalyptus creates unique textiles at Ashculme
Fiona Durman models one of her Ashculme Textiles capes made from alpaca fibre produced on her lifestyle block at Wagga Wagga.

Earthy tones of eucalyptus creates unique textiles at Ashculme

Fiona Durman can’t go for a bush walk around Wagga Wagga without coming home with an armful of exotic eucalyptus leaves for use in creating a range of natural dyes.

The muted hues from moss green to earthy reds created by the eucalyptus dyes are at the heart of her woven garments and textiles produced from alpaca fibre. 

Fiona and her husband Cliff emigrated to Australia in 1987 from the United Kingdom after falling in love with the wide-open spaces, sense of opportunities and friendliness of the locals during a holiday.

Cliff gained initial work as a mechanic at a Wagga Ford dealership while Fiona worked as a family day carer.

“Australia was so dynamic – if you put in the work, you could make a go of it and I wanted to be part of that. Fortunately for us it has worked out that way,” Cliff said.

He has retired from a career in mechanics to work alongside Fiona growing their alpaca fibre business, Ashculme Textiles – named for Cliff’s home village in Devon. 

Fiona’s parents, Michael and Roswitha Spence, made the bold move to follow their daughter’s family from the UK to Australia aged 84 and 80 respectively. 

Roswitha worked making costumes for the London Opera, teaching textiles and quilting, instilling a great love of fabric, yarn, sewing and textiles in Fiona. Aged 88, Roswitha continues to help Fiona today in the business.

The Durmans run a small alpaca herd on their lifestyle block at Lake Albert, using the fleeces in a paddock to garment process to create the range of woven clothing and textiles.

“Having the alpacas gives customers the complete picture of start to finish,” Cliff said.

The Suri alpacas are shorn each October with the fleeces processed into yarn by mills at Macclesfield, Vic, and in NSW at Queanbeyan.

Fiona uses both the natural and dyed yarn to create a range of scarves, shawls, cowls, wraps, ponchos, capes and clothing.

She has a collection of seven wooden looms of varying sizes and all with their different idiosyncrasies. 

“On the Japanese floor looms, your feet are used to raise and lower the warp threads which means you can weave creatively - it is a meditative type of weaving,” Fiona said.

“The larger looms involve much more physical work, but I can make wide pieces of cloth.

“I only use natural dyes and the alpaca fibre takes the dye in a more muted way than Merino wool.

“We source leaves and bark from various eucalyptus species in nature reserves and along the Murrumbidgee River – the tannin and chemicals of each species produce different colours.”

Favourites are the Argyle Apple and lemon scented gum.

Fiona runs weaving workshops at her Lake Albert studio for adults and retails the Ashculme Textiles products online and at markets at River & Wren Wagga, Handmade Canberra, Old Bus Depot Market, and Canberra Wool Expo plus retail outlets in Wagga, Tumbarumba, Temora and Braidwood.

Ashculme Textiles began exhibiting at the Henty Machinery Field Days in 2018 and is back again this year in the Country Lifestyle pavilion where Fiona will be demonstrating weaving on a Japanese floor loom. 

“I will have a range of capes, ponchos, headbands, ear warmers, beanies, cowls, scarves, throws, Ashculme teddies for children and alpaca yarn for crocheting,” she said.

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