Fellow Artisan: Sally Bowen & Topsy Farms

I am ever amazed at my friend Sally Bowen of Topsy Farms‘ strength, enthusiasm, and creativity. I buy my wool roving for all of my needle felting from Topsy Farms, but also have their blankets, lambskins, mittens, wool pillow and yarn for my dryer balls. I’m a big fan of their high quality, low processed products. The brand new Wool Shed will  have their grand opening on the weekend of Christmas Shopping on Amherst Island November 19&20 10am-4pm, and I highly recommend you visit, for the wonderful products, people, and to see the beautiful new space!

(click to see larger images.)

Sally Bowen of Topsy Farms

I’m a knitter with a bit of a difference – I do most of my work flat on my back in bed.

I contracted Lyme disease 20 years ago. Undiagnosed for years, it prevented my digesting food, so I live dependent upon a feeding machine, ‘eating’ about 17 hrs/day.

I wanted to spend some of that time being useful. It is hard emotionally to become very dependent and inactive, as I’ve always been a working participant in Topsy Farms sheep farm. So I was motivated to relearn to knit and crochet . Discovering this new way to contribute has been very important to my slow healing. In the afternoons and before bedtime (while my husband Ian reads to me) I knit.

Ian started offering hand-made products with our blankets and sheepskins at Trade Shows. We now have a thriving on-line business and an active Wool Shed at the farm. I co-ordinate 10 piece workers who produce our items, but it is up to me to discover and test patterns and ideas. That’s a bit of a challenge for someone unable to go out and meet other knitters, participate in events and for someone as technically challenged as I. I’m slowly learning my way around Ravelry, as SereneSal (a statement of intent) but I’m overwhelmed by the riches of possibility.

My biggest accomplishment so far has been this pullover sweater I made for myself.

sallys-sweater-1I learned how to make dryer balls, then found an extended family member far more artistic than I who could make them. (Roving makes an awful mess in bed).

Needle felted ‘critturs’ hurt my neck and arm too much. A customer with more imagination (though not much more time) than I now makes them for us.

I evolved our Topsy Socks knitting pattern borrowing from others, until it suited our yarn. We have 3 people who make socks, always adding polyester thread to heels and toes to strengthen the yarn. I don’t want to do repetitive work and have found others who like it. Three others, one in Montreal, do hats and thrum mitts, slippers and muffs and other projects. The logistics of getting supplies to them and product returned can be a challenge, as we live on an island, and won’t use mail to add to costs. Our great butcher, The Pig and Olive, provide a drop-off, pickup resource.

Our appliqué hats grew out of my imagination. They can be fun for customers to discover.

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It is important to us all at Topsy to help promote the work of others in our Wool Shed. We carry only products sourced and created in Canada. Our wool bedding is from Alberta, our washable sheepskin and lambskin and our sheepskin mitts are processed and made in Ontario. Our 6000 lbs of wool clip are sent to MacAuslands in PEI, then returned as yarn, roving, blankets, throws, and lap robes. They are beautifully processed, using only soap to retain natural lanolin.
Smaller producers are represented too: yarn bowls by an Amherst Island potter; sheep soaps from Ontario; a new fund-raising lost lamb book by a Kingston church group.  Our own products are carried in an increasing number of locations too, with our yarn in Toronto exclusively at Yarns Untangled, but also in Peterborough, Stratford, and several locations in or near Kingston.

Meanwhile, my pile of WIP’s (works in progress) threatens to increase, as new ideas come my way, and my speed, ability and time remain limited. It’s almost worth being driven to medical appointments (the main reason I leave home) as I can sit upright and knit in the car – it is faster and easier to follow patterns.

But I’m glad my illness taught me to slow down, and to explore the creative possibilities knitting with our yarn.

Check out Topsy Farms online on their website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and in person at 14775 Front Road on Amherst Island.

Fellow Artisan: Mayo Underwood

I have known Mayo Underwood for several years, thanks to the good people at Topsy Farms. I am an enormous fan of her ceramics, and am rapidly growing my collection! Mayo’s ceramics can be found at Christmas Shopping on Amherst Island at the Weasel & Easel (open Nov 19 10am-4pm & Nov 20 1pm-4pm), and at the Island Gallery & Little Gallery (Nov 19 & 20 10am-4pm).

(Click for larger images.)

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Mayo Underwood

I pretty much taught myself how to throw a pot in my kitchen, using a neighbo(u)r’s not-too-powerful little wheel when my kids were toddlers.  To keep my kitchen as clean as I could (working in clay can get quite messy), I used almost no water and developed my own way of ‘throwing dry’.  It’s not a common way to throw pots and I eventually taught and demonstrated the method in the U.S. and Canada.

Finding clay and getting to ‘play’ in it is something for which I’m grateful every single day.  I wake up thinking about new ways to work with clay and different things to try.  Something just evolved from one of my just-waking-up ‘what if’ moments. Now, as I’m beginning to produce these pieces, the pieces I make and put up for sale get bought almost instantly.  I’m delighted that these new ‘friends’ are finding good homes!

I hope y’all find something you love to do as much as I love playing in clay.

Check out Mayo’s Claypen.

Fellow Artisan: Don Woodiwiss

Woody and I have only met virtually via email, but this is a small community we live in, so I’m sure our paths will cross soon. I saw his gorgeous photographic work in person a few weeks ago at the All Island Art & Craft Show at The Lodge here on Amherst Island. Woody’s home gallery will be open for Christmas Shopping on Amherst Island on November 19 & 20 from 10am – 4pm.

(click to see larger images. Images copyright Woodiwiss Photography.)

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Don Woodiwiss

The Island Gallery in my home allows me to share my images with others, get feedback and meet people. I also have creative ceramic pieces by Mayo Underwood displayed. The Island Gallery is open from May to September by chance or appointment. 613 217 9326

Although all photographs, I use different non-traditional methods of display including plexiglass mounts and prints on brushed aluminum. Pieces range from $120 to $650. Notecards and unframed prints of my images are available starting at $4.

Photography for me is the magic of capturing that next image. Seeing the world as moments in time to be recorded. Revealing to those I share with, stories and beauty in our everyday world. The wonder that is our world is but a click away.

My collection of work can be viewed at woodiwissphotography.com.

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All images copyright Woodiwiss Photography. Used with permission.

Fellow Artisan: Home Thrown Pottery by Esther Schletz

Esther will be at the Elora Handmade Market with home thrown pottery. Come check it out, along with food, live music, and 50+ other makers at the Wellington County Museum & Archives Barn on Sunday, October 23, 10am – 4pm.

(click to see larger images)

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Home Thrown Pottery by Esther Schletz

Products: Pottery

Price Range: $2 – $200

How did this all begin:
I’ve always been artsy/crafty. Trying any creative thing that I could find. Almost 3 years ago my mother in law asked me what I would want for Christmas, and all I could think of was pottery lessons. So that’s what she got me. After the very first lesson I was completely hooked. A year after starting I joined the Guelph Potters Guild, and within a year and a half I had bought my own pottery wheel and 2 kilns and started to set up my own studio in the basement of my house. Now, if you’re trying to find me, that’s the first place to look

What were your goals when you started? Did they change?
I was just looking for that next great hobby that would keep me busy for a few months. I never anticipated it turning into something to share with people outside my family. Now I can’t imagine NOT doing pottery, and my long term goal is to make this my full time career.

What inspires new products?
I am still new enough at this that everything that I come across inspires new ideas. Studying forms in nature has given me some interesting ideas. I’ve recently started incorporating actual leaves, branches, stones, etc into some of my pieces (as texture). I also love looking at what other potters have done, on Pinterest and Instagram, and try to figure out how they got the shape or glaze combinations and then try it out for myself. But as I am still fairly inexperienced in this medium, I would say that the potter’s wheel and I are still learning to dance with each other. Some times the wheel decides what a lump of clay is going to turn into, and sometimes I wrestle it into submission and actually make exactly what I had intended to from the moment I wedged the clay.

What’s the most challenging part of your work?
There are numerous challenges when working with clay. The first is making sure that I wedge (knead) the clay properly so that there are no air pockets. Bubbles in the clay can tear your piece apart at the very moment that you think you are almost done. Another challenge is finding the right glaze combinations. Each glaze reacts differently to other glazes (or even to other clay bodies). Sometimes two glazes will react where they become extremely runny. This can cause the glaze to run onto the kiln shelf and, besides ruining a perfectly good piece of pottery, can also make extra work by needing to break the piece from the kiln shelf and then having to spend hours grinding the shelf to make it usable again. The last major challenge is dealing with the Kiln gods. Each item I make has to be fired twice ( about 18 hours is spent in the electric kiln). The first time is called Bisque firing. This is where you “cook” the clay so it becomes hard and has less of a chance of breaking. Clay has a lot of water in it. And even once it’s dried for a few weeks, and feels dry to the touch, there is still a high risk of things exploding in the kiln if you don’t time temperature increases properly. And on the second firing there is, as I previously mentioned, the chance of glazes melting to the shelves or even to other items next to them.

What do you do when you are not working on your business?
I am a mother of 3 wonderful children, (aged 14 to 22 years old), a loving wife, and as my “day job” I am an Administrative Office Assistant and a Supply Secretary with the school board in our area.

Find Esther’s work on Facebook and Instagram @estherschletz.


All images used with permission.

Fellow Artisan: Handmade by Kate

Kate Shaver will be at the Elora Handmade Market on October 23. Come check out her hoop art 10am – 4pm!

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Handmade by Kate

Products: Embroidered Hoop Art

Price Range: $20 – $80

How did this all begin?
It all started as something to do for fun. I thought I should get a hobby, so I picked a unique one at that. I never stitched a thing in my life before, so I thought it would be a different challenge! Finding all I needed to know on Pinterest helped!
Then, about 1-1/2 years into this hobby, it became what I am today: a ‘mini entrepreneur’ (as I see it!) creating custom hoop art for all sorts of folks; family, friends, strangers 🙂
I love it & hope I can continue doing it for years to come!

What inspires new products?
I’m always getting inspired by fellow embroideries, artists & creators. I try to always change up my designs so I never get to bored with the same old.. Most things that inspire are me are humorous, yet crude slogans! Things that seem relevant to my & other peoples lives & pretty flowers!

What makes your work unique?
Well I think “Hoop Art” is not your average craft, but I think it’s one of those things people just need to have for their homes and unique spaces.. And it has definitely come a long way since my grandma’s or great grandma’s stitched. But like I said I’m always changing up my designs, so that gives me artistic freedom to create & put forth my own inspired ideas and bring them to life. I also add a personal touch with a hand stamped marking on the back of each hoop 🙂

What’s the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging thing I’d say would be trying to achieve more stitching techniques & going out of my comfort zone. I usually stick to the same colours and making everything symmetrical, but I’ve started to out grow those habits. Now that I’m becoming more & more comfortable with my skills I find it much easier to do so!

What’s the most fun part of your work?
I LOVE DOING HOOP ART. Even with being really busy (still just as a hobby, I do have a full time job!) creating and designing on my spare time, cramping my fingers, hot glueing my finger tips off, and of course pricking them with my needle, at the end of the day, I don’t see it as a chore or burden, I see it as a time to express my creative side! 🙂

Handmade by Kate can be on her website,  Facebook, and Instagram @handmadebykate_.


All photos used with permission.

Fellow Artisan: The Urban Hedgehog

I will be at the upcoming Elora Handmade Market on Sunday, October 23 from 10am-4pm with Miriam and Cheryl of The Urban Hedgehog. I look forward to seeing their adorable children’s items in person! Come see us in The Heritage Barn at The Wellington Museum & Archives 536 Wellington Rd 18,  Elora, Ontario.

(please click on images below to see their Etsy listings)

Fox superhero placemat Fox bag

The Urban Hedgehog

Products:  Modern, minimalist items for children

Price Range: $15-$105

How did this all begin?
In February this year, at a family get-together, we decided it would be a good idea to combine our abilities, and thought we would open an Etsy store – just to give it a try.

What inspired you to do this work? 
Our love of sewing and crafting.

What were your goals when you started? Have they changed? 
Before we started, we just wanted to be able to sell one item in the first 3 months. After setting up the shop on 7 July, we have already sold over 50 items, and created a wholesale relationship with a local retailer. We hope to open our own stand-alone website next year, and work with more local people.

What challenges have you had? We found it hard to locate the fabrics we wanted, and to set up the services we needed to start – Etsy shipping, etc. Most challenging is finding the time to create our products. One of us has 2 young children, and the other works full time.

What inspires new projects? Our natural surroundings is our biggest inspiration.

What makes your work unique and truly your own? We have our own handdrawn designs printed, and our creativity.

When is the best time for you to work in the day? For Miriam – when the children have gone to bed. For me, I find the weekends are best when I’m not feeling rushed.

Tell us a bit about your creative process. We come up with an idea, get together, and try to find the materials at the right price. We create a pattern and make the item. If it sells, we make more – if not, we move on to the next idea.

What do you do when you’re not working on your business? Miriam is busy with two young children, and until recently wrote weekly articles for a parenting resources blog. I work full time, and when I’m not working, I’m stitching!

What advice do you have for artisans just getting started? We don’t feel we can give much advice having just started, but the best we can do is to advise that you work hard, advertise your store everywhere, and go to all the markets you can.

What is the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice we’ve received is that starting a new business is like blowing up a balloon – you need a good couple of puffs to start it off, but afterwards, although you still have to keep blowing you don’t need to work quite as hard!

You can find The Urban Hedgehog on Etsy, Twitter @HedgehogUrban, Instagram @theurbanhedgehogPinterest and on Facebook.

raccoon doll

(All photos used with permission)

Next month of shows

With the new move, I ended up backing out of several shows and a couple of applications, and I’m glad I did since I lost about 3 months of production time. However, this has left a little bit of leeway for a few new endeavours, including some very local ones!

Next week, my work will be a part of The Lodge on Amherst Island‘s All Island Art & Craft Show on Saturday, October 8, 2016 (Opening Reception 2pm-5pm. Sales Start at 2:30pm.)
Come enjoy some refreshments and see what your neighbours do when the drapes are drawn! Fine art in the show will remain hanging until November 8, 2016.

Also in October, I will be a part of the Elora Handmade Market on Sunday, October 23 from 10am-4pm, for which vendor fees will benefit the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington.

Elora Handmade Market 2016

It is located in the Heritage Barn at the Wellington Museum & Archives. I have family in Elora and Guelph and look forward to this little show (actually, not that little – more than 50 artisans!) in this gorgeous location (see below) immensely.


HandMade Market in Jordan, OntarioAfter that, I’ll be back in the Niagara region in Jordan, Ontario at the Honsberger Estate with over 90 artisans for my 3rd HandMade Market on November 4, 5, & 6. I do love this market for its lovely location, amazing fellow artisans, great food and drink. Also, seeing shoppers with a delicious glass of local wine in their hands as they shop handmade just seems so civilized.

Studio Georgeville,I will also have some of my work (a small selection of hats, sheepy dryer balls, catnip balls, and a variety of ornaments) in Studio Georgeville in Georgeville, Québec (southwest of Sherbrooke) as a part of their annual Christmas show, starting on November 19, 2016.

I have a couple more shows after that, including being a part of the Christmas Shopping on Amherst Island tour, but they will have to wait for another day when I have a few more details to share.