Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Sheep to Shop: Hosiery and Knitted Goods (1924)

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From fleece to yarn education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Wool is graded by experienced sorters and then passes through scouring machines that wash and clean the wool. It is then steam heated and teased and passes through several rollers and a carding apparatus that pulls the wool into a thin layer. The layers are then gathered into strands and put through another machine for the drawing out process. The wool is drawn out in preparation for spinning and put onto different spinning frames that make the yarn.

Curator’s notes

The filmmaker uses a combination of static shots and descriptive intertitles to convey what happens to the wool as it passes through various stages of yarn manufacture. This has the effect of focusing attention on each part of the process and the different machines involved.

Compare this with the use of slow pans and dissolves used in other Made in Australia Council films of the 1920s where the effect is slightly different. In these films, pans paint a broad picture and convey a strong sense of place and space inside the factories. They also place the workers within their context. In this clip, however, the process is segmented and workers appear more incidentally.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white silent clip from a promotional film combines detailed intertitles and film footage to depict the process of converting the fleece of sheep to yarn. The film opens with wool sorters filmed from above and then a shot of a huge pile of greasy wool. From here the film shows machines processing the wool – they scour, card and comb, draw out and spin the wool, with each segment introduced by intertitles that use vivid and at times poetic language. The shots show the workings of the machines with occasional glimpses of the workers who attend them.

Educational value points

  • The mechanisation of the wool industry, celebrated here, took place over a long period and in Australia much textile production was still home based until the late 19th century. It was not until Federation that woollen mills were established on a large scale in Australia. Government promotion of secondary industry in the 1920s boosted the building of textile mills.
  • In 1924 the scouring of fleeces in the factory, as seen here, was a relatively recent innovation in the mechanisation of wool production, having first been introduced in Australia in the 1880s. Previously, the sheep’s fleece was washed on the sheep before shearing. The process of scouring in the 1920s was similar to the process today – the fleece was immersed in a hot-water-and-detergent solution, rinsed, squeezed and dried.
  • The carding process, in which washed wool is prepared for spinning, was so named because workers carrying out the process by hand had used large hand-cards resembling wire brushes. Wool was spread out on one card and brushed with the other to thin it out and remove tangles. The contacting, revolving cylinders shown in the clip performed the same function.
  • Spinning, the final phase in processing yarn and carried out by machine in the clip, is essentially the same process as its earliest version, which involved twisting strands of wool in the hand. Later a spindle was used and next a spinning wheel. Spinning is designed to twist the yarn to give it extra strength. Richard Arkwright devised a spinning machine, known as the ‘water frame’, in 1769. It wound the drawn wool onto bobbins that moved up and down to distribute the yarn evenly.
  • The clip provides a typical, almost archetypal, example of the industrial documentary genre of film. The features of this genre in its silent form are detailed intertitles and the central role of the images in carrying the description of the industrial processes. The people who appear are secondary to the action of the machines, details of which have been filmed in close-up.
  • This clip is an example of a promotional film of the 1920s made to persuade the Australian public of the desirability of buying Australian-made products. The Made in Australia Council funded this film and others like it as part of a campaign that also included the production of posters, leaflets and pamphlets. The Council’s slogan, ‘Wherever you trade, buy Australian made’, was a forerunner of the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign, which was founded in 1999.
  • The clip promotes wool, one of Australia’s most important commodities. Wool production is still the country’s largest and most important form of land use and Australia is the world’s largest producer of wool. For more than 100 years, wool was the product that earned the most money for Australia and at the height of the industry’s prosperity during the 1950s Australia was said to be ‘riding on the sheep’s back’, meaning that wool was the mainstay of the economy.
  • The film that the clip comes from, Sheep to Shop: Hosiery and Knitted Goods (1924), was part of the film collection of a private collector, Harry Davidson (1931–c1980). Private collectors such as Davidson have saved important visual records of Australia’s past. His first collection was destroyed in a house fire but he built up a second collection of more than 2,000 reels, which was purchased after his death by the National Film and Sound Archive.

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All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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