Already the driest continent on earth, Australia is in the grips of a severe drought that many farmers claim is the worst in living memory. The lack of water poses serious threats not only to crops but also to the fate of sheep farms and the wool they produce–making the work of sheep stations like Millpost that much more crucial.
Since 1922, the Watson family has raised Saxon Poll Merino on 3,000 acres at Millpost, located in Bungendore in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. After following conventional agricultural practices for decades, their cleared land had been made vulnerable to erosion. In 1979, young college graduate David Watson stumbled upon the book Permaculture One. He was so inspired by what he read that he returned home with his wife to put these principles into practice on the family land.
Over the next 40 years, they set about transforming Millpost’s land into a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem complete with replanted native grassy woodlands, a reliable water supply, wildlife corridors and shelter belts, and a restored soil environment that captures carbon while sustaining wildlife and humans alike. Because they use alternative methods to prevent flystrike, the sheep are not mulesed. Ella Edwards wrote about Millpost for Woolmark; you can read the full story here–I highly recommend it.
Rising land values in recent years have pushed the family to look for ways to diversify operations. With the generous help of White Gum Wool’s Nan Bray, they decided to stop selling their wool at auction (after which they never saw it again). Instead, they now produce their own yarn for handknitters. Not only does the yarn help support Millpost’s work, but it also lets them practice another tenet of their philosophy: providing what they grow to the community around them.
Until recently, finding a true local yarn in Australia has been surprisingly difficult, with most of the wool being sold to global buyers and exported. Australia’s wool-processing infrastructure is still lacking for Millpost-sized operations, so the farm sends its wool to New Zealand for processing and spinning.
Today, the Millpost yarn is available direct from the farm to a global audience online. For this review, I purchased a trio of skeins in the DK weight.
Doughy and delicious, my skeins demanded squeezing the minute I opened the package. They are succulent and soft while conveying an underlying strength. This is not a wimpy yarn.
The fibers have been combed in the worsted preparation and then spun into a perfectly balanced three-ply construction.
Casting on and knitting was so easy, it almost felt like the yarn was knitting itself. Back and forth I went, with knits and purls forming with equal ease.
Merino always has the potential to be lively because of its extraordinary crimp. Sure enough, after just a few rows, my yarn began kinking up on itself. A quick dangle of my needles released that excess energy.
Thanks to the yarn’s roundedness and clear definition, I was able to knit by touch alone on knit and purl stitches alike. I encountered no knots or dramatically irregular areas that would’ve marred the appearances of my stitches–though every once in a while I would spot a tiny pill-like tuft in the yarn, which was easily plucked.
Blocking / Washing
Worsted-spun yarns tend not to move much during the wash. All the shorter, crimpier, crazier fibers have been combed out. You’re left with longer fibers that are tightly combed and twisted in place. Still, I hoped that the wash would release some of the wobble in my stitches.
My faint pink swatch took quite a bit of dunking before it was fully saturated with water. There was no noticeable bleeding in the wash. Some swatches will relax to the point of feeling like wet tissues, but my swatch of Millpost Merino stayed tight like a washcloth.
After a good rinse, I blotted my swatch dry on a towel and prodded it back into shape. There was a vague hint of a bias, which I rather expected from all that built-up energy, but my swatch dried pretty much square.
I can’t remember ever saying this about a superfine Merino yarn: I had a hard time producing pills in my swatch. Only after far more abrasion in every possible direction and on multiple kinds of surfaces did tiny wisps of pills begin to form.
Otherwise, the only sign of wear and tear was a gentle softening and blurring of the fabric surface, which only made the swatch look more inviting to me.
The magic, I suspect, is both in the quality fibers and the construction. Combed, tightly twisted multiple-ply yarns such as this one will automatically perform well. But if the fibers aren’t strong, they’ll still snap and cause pills. Stressed sheep can produce weak wool. So, kudos to Millpost for raising happy sheep.
Knitters in Australia, rejoice! You have a glorious yarn of local fibers that’s readily available without any exorbitant overseas shipping charges. Considering how dearly you’ve been paying all these years, it’s only fair that you should be rewarded now.
For knitters beyond Australia, prepare to pay. Shipping of my three skeins to the US was AU$25, or the equivalent of one skein. This did give me pause.
At the same time, I strongly believe in what Millpost is doing. They’re new to our world of knitting yarn, and I want them to succeed. For me, the extra cost felt like a “principle tax” I was willing to pay. In US dollars, the cost is about $18 per 100g skein, which is actually in line with, or less than, other superfine Merino farm yarns. I considered similarly priced (and even much more expensive) yarns that don’t carry nearly as deep of an ecological story, and I made my purchasing decision from that place.
Millpost’s commitment extends beyond sheep and wool and even permaculture to working with Australia’s indigenous people. As part of an ongoing initiative, they recently hosted Ngambri Elder Aunty/Dr. Matilda House and a group from The Australian National University Fenner School’s Indigenous Cultural and Natural Resource Management course.
Bolstered by a new yarn business, who knows what else they might accomplish?
Follow Millpost’s Instagram account to keep up with what they’re doing.
Yarn Name: Millpost Merino Superfine Yarn
Manufacturer: Millpost Merino
Fiber content: 100% superfine Merino wool
Gauge: 24 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US 6 (4mm) needles
Average retail price: AU$25.96/skein [as of May 2019, approx US$17.92)
Where to buy online: Millpost Merino
Weight/yardage per hank: 100g / 250 yards (228m)
Country of origin: Fiber grown in New South Wales, Australia, spun in New Zealand
Manufacturer’s suggested wash method: Gentle hand wash.
Review date: 5/16/19
Color used in review: Dusty Pink
Source of review yarn: Purchased at retail from Millpost Merino