Archive for the ‘yarn stores’ Category

A couple of weeks ago I made a visit to Pine Hill Farm in Hemmingford, Quebec, about one hour south of Montreal and close to the New York border. As part of an article I’m writing for Spin-Off, I decided to feature Pine Hill as a source of fleece and other spinning fibre in the Montreal region. I’d already seen their product for sale at Ariadne Knits (including yarn made from a sheep whose fleece is inexplicably uniformly canary yellow) and their small Border Leicester flock in scenic Hemmingford seemed like an excellent choice for the article.

When I made contact with the owner, Anna-Maria, she asked if I’d be open to teaching a spinning workshop for her and a couple of friends on the day of my visit. So, with spinning wheel, camera, and a lot of coffee in tow, I made the three-hour drive into southwestern Quebec. The area alternates between apple orchards and stands of sugar maples, and as such receives a healthy bit of tourist traffic in early fall and early spring.

Pine Hill itself sprawls across acres of rolling, rocky land and is home to a few dozen Border Leicesters and crosses, seen here walking back to the barn:

Anna-Maria could name every sheep as it walked by and tell me about the characteristics of each one’s fleece. Most were wary of us but a few bottle-fed lambs walked right up for a pat:

Speaking of the fleece, it was beautiful–Border Leicesters have a medium wool with a high lustre that grows in tight ringlets. I learned that the Border Leicester was the favoured breed in this part of Quebec, brought there by Scottish immigrants and popular because of their strong fleece and hardy constitution. Border Leicester ewes are good mothers and the breed does well in harsher climates. Fleece, on the sheep:

Teaching the workshop was a bit of challenge due to the wheels involved–two participants had antique Quebec production wheels, originally made for spinning great quantities of very fine yarn as fast as possible, and tricky even when in pristine condition. Most of the antique Quebec wheels out there are in need of repair or at least adjustment, and the ones in the workshop certainly fell into this category. I was impressed at the tenacity of their owners, though, who kept spinning despite the wheels’ tendency to suddenly stop working. Everyone spun a bit on my Lendrum and was amazed that spinning could be so easy and trouble-free! I’d love to get my hands on a restored Quebec wheel, actually–emphasis on restored. 😉

Anna-Maria and I also took a trip down to the road to Sue Heller’s farm, home of the annual Roxham Wool Gathering which draws participants from Montreal and beyond (including my friends at Ariadne). Sue’s got a small flock guarded by a geriatric and very well-bred Thoroughbred mare named Maggie. Maggie was initially unsure of these strange woolly creatures but now guards them as well as any dog:

It was great to meet Sue, who has been spinning for years and years. She was surprised to learn of the popularity of spinning in my former home of Colorado, as it really hasn’t experienced the same kind of renewed interest in Quebec that it has elsewhere. I speculated that up until fairly recently, spinning in Quebec was far from a leisure activity–it was work, and there was lots of it to be done to bring in even a small income. Sue told me that on the old Quebec farms, older unmarried female family members (“spinsters,” if you will) were allowed to spin by the fire as cold temperatures caused the wool to break. (Something Sue found out for herself at an outdoor demo in early spring one year.)

Sue dyes much of her yarn herself, and experimenting with a copper mordant (and no dye) she came up with the light green shown in the little rat here. I thought he was Yoda, at first (come on, don’t you see it?):

At the end of a glorious fall day I headed back through the maples and apple farms, over the St. Lawrence river (a few times), back to Ontario. Look for the photos in Spin-Off’s spring issue next year.


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I’m happy to announce I will be teaching my spinning classes this summer in Ottawa at the wonderful Wabi-Sabi. I love the atmosphere and workshop space at this store! The full list of classes offered can be seen here, with my classes being:

May 24 – Fibre Prep Learn how to choose, clean, and prepare a fleece for spinning
June 21 – Beginning Spinning on a Drop Spindle The basics of drop spindle spinning
June 28 – Spinning 2 More advanced techniques on the drop spindle to create a variety of different yarns

Also coming up at Wabi-Sabi is a fashion show for Twist Collective, featuring guest speaker Kate Gilbert and a number of garments from the winter and spring collections (with a sneak preview of summer!). May 2, from 6-9 pm.

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A few weeks ago I took a quick trip back to Colorado to visit family and friends. I stopped by my old LYS, where I’m pretty sure I ended up leaving Maggie Casey with the impression that all Montreal knitters are drunks. She asked me to say hello to Sally Melville and her daughter Caddy when I got back to Ottawa, which I happily did at their recent book signing at Workshop back in Ottawa.

I also went with my dear friend Naveen to check out the two yarn stores in Boulder that have sprung up since I moved away in 2007. One is Gypsy Wools, at the corner of Broadway and Pine (I think?)–doesn’t have a website yet but the owner assured me one is in the works. Almost all of their stock is unique to the store, from hand-dyed yarns to local fleece sold as batts, with an emphasis on rare and heritage breeds. I snapped up the following batts, made from a prize-winning Merino/Teeswater fleece:

Then there’s this, which excited me almost as much as the fibre:

That’s a salvaged bobbin from an old mill. At a mere $2.50 apiece, I knew I’d found the perfect nostepinne I’d been looking for! The ridges do a great job of holding the yarn and I love that it’s a reclaimed piece (the mills of North America are a fascinating, if often rather dark–child labour laws were enacted partly as a response to the conditions in those mills, part of textiles history). Here it is with a center-pull ball of some organic Shetland wool from Ontario:

Next up, I spin horse hair… really!

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Using a basic, any-yarn/any-gauge mitten pattern from Kate Gilbert, I dashed off these mittens a few weeks ago:

Unfortunately, while the first mitten fits great, the top decreases on the second were completed after I’d had a few bottles of St-Ambroise Blonde, resulting in a mitten that really doesn’t match the first in terms of length and fit. I’ll probably rip back and redo it.

The yarn was Ella Rae Kamelsoft, severely discounted in an oddball bin at a local yarn store. It’s a 75/25 blend of merino/camel and is extremely soft, but the loose spin probably means it won’t be all that hard-wearing. I don’t buy a lot of yarn anymore because of how much spinning I do these days, but it’s still nice to work with a decent millspun yarn from time to time.

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I first discovered Philsophers Wool a few years ago, when I stumbled upon a book of their Fair Isle sweater patterns in a library in Colorado. Since then I’ve admired them for their commitment to producing local, natural, and fair trade yarns–unlike most wool buyers, Philosophers Wool pays farmers a fair price for their fleece (think a couple dollars a pound, versus a few cents from most wool buyers) and still make a profit.

Last month I was staying not far from the PW farm in Kincardine, ON, and jumped at the chance to see the farm in person. What transpired was a lovely visit, including good conversation with the owners, Ann and Eugene, a tour of the farm, and the chance to model their newest sweater designs in exchange for some yarn (look for me on the new sweater kits if you see their booth at Rhinebeck this year). The local/organic ham sandwich Ann made me for the drive back was a treat, too. Yum. Now for some photos:

A few members of the farm flock of Dorset sheep:

This chicken kept a close eye on me as I wandered near the coop:

The full palette of yarn colours, as seen in the foyer:

I also bought some roving, since I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spin some of their wool myself. It’s now spun, skeined, and waiting to be made into hats or mittens (or possibly sold as is).

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Clearly I deserve some sort of award for Blog Neglect, but the briefest of updates as to my goings-on in fibre arts these days:

– More classes at Ariadne;

– Devoting time to building an inventory to sell at Puces Pop this October (hopefully);

– Handpainted spinning fibre. By me.

With all this going on, I think I need a real website…

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I’m excited to say that I will be teaching an intermediate level spinning class, Spin 102, at Ariadne Knits in June. Having taught a lot of people the basics of spinning, I’m happy the lovely ladies of Ariadne are having me back for a workshop on fine-tuning your spinning skills: it’ll cover different drafting styles, working with fibres other than wool, and other skills for creating the yarns you want. There will be lots of fun fibre to play with, including carbonised bamboo and hand-blended batts.

I’ve been having such a fun time teaching my learn-to-spin classes, so it’s great to be able to offer something at the next level. There’s another workshop in the works at Ariadne too… one on working with raw fleece and fibre preparation. Look for info on that next month!

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