Sheep shearing

3 shearers at Topsy Farms
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Last week I took my boys to Topsy Farms on Amherst Island, Ontario (a short ferry ride from Millhaven, between Prince Edward County and Kingston) to see the sheep shearing. I have known the daughter of one of the farmers since we worked together for the first time at a cafe in Kingston during homecoming weekend of my old alma mater, Queen’s University, in 1993. When I started knitting again, back in late 2008, I made my first ever hat from their wool. I currently use their natural (undyed) wool yarn and roving for my Sheepy Dryer Balls and their (perfectly suited for needle felting) roving for my needle felted ornaments and catnip balls.

I’ve been to the farm many times over the years, worked in the Wool Shed some afternoons, been on some sheep drives, visited during lambing to feed the foster lambs, and done a few needle felting workshops there as well, but I have never made it to sheep shearing. I figured the boys were old enough to behave themselves and even help a little if possible. I just wanted to take photographs and see the process (although I have been recruited to help in my own little way next year. I fed 2 of the roustabouts – my friend and her husband with whom we stay when we go to Amherst Island. Next year I will feed all of the helpers).

This is a little (er, actually make that a LONG) bit of photojournalism for you. I’ve always been curious about the whole process (being a knitter), and maybe you have, too. This post is meant to take the mystery out of the process.

So a week ago Tuesday we went to the farm to check it out. We were greeted in the field behind the barn with some shorn sheep:

(note: click on any photo for a bit of a closer look.)

Topsy Farms shorn sheep
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

The shearing takes place in the barn, upstairs. The photo below shows the basic set-up, which was greatly enhanced this year by the observation deck and stairs (to said deck) built by one of the farmers (2nd generation), which mostly kept us photographer types out of the way of the shearers and roustabouts (helpers that are not shearers). A word about the shearers: they are hired professionals that shear all over the province. One of them (the youngest of the 3) goes further afield, hailing from Gaspé, Québec. They were on the island shearing for several days, on 3 different sheep farms. They spent 2 days at Topsy Farms, and we were there for day 2. (Day 1 was raining. The problem with shearing in the springtime is that it apparently never fails to rain the night before or on day 1 of shearing.)

Topsy Farms shearing barn
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Basically,  there’s the skirting table in front (with 3 roustabouts working around it), you see the stairs up to the observation area behind , straight down to the left is the shearing area, and on the left out of the photos behind the wood panels is the second last waiting area for the sheep.  To my right (from where I took the photo) is where the huge wool bale bags hang.

The first step for the sheep is waiting. They wait in big pens downstairs, and are encouraged along up the ramp and into big pens upstairs and eventually into 3 little pens with swinging doors, 1 for each of the 3 shearers. So there is a roustabout who keeps the sheep in supply.

Topsy Farms sheep waiting to be shorn
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Next, the shearer chooses a sheep to shear from their own pen:

Getting a Topsy Farms sheep to shear
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And they shear them, very quickly, in a couple of minutes. I have to say, I was surprised by just how happy the sheep were during the whole process:

Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

At the end of the shearing, a roustabout stands by picking up the fleece (which comes off, miraculously, in one piece!) in a certain way.

Topsy Farms roustabout with a fleece
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And the sheep get directed out a swinging door (one for each shearer, it’s all extremely streamlined):

Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

The swinging door leads to a ramp outside. Sheep don’t like to get their hooves wet, so these sheep (and the rest) are a little dubious about jumping off the platform into the muck.

Topsy Farms sheep post-shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

But eventually they go for it and join the others on the grass.

Topsy Farms post-shearing field
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

The fleece is picked up in a specific way so that they can toss it out onto the skirting table flat:

Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

At the skirting table, roustabouts pick off the manure and the chaff. Here’s a little time-lapse video I took that sums it up pretty well:

Then the fleece gets rolled up and put into the big bale bag clamped behind them. There is another bale bag clamped to the left on the floor where the dirty wool gets swept. That wool is separated and used for things like rugs or things that will not be next to the skin (clean wool is used for blankets and yarn).

Topsy Farms roustabouts
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Speaking of sweeping, it is a big part of the roustabout’s work. Keeping the area clear of wool for the shearers and for the roustabouts as well.

Topsy Farms
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms sheep shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Nicer fleeces get selected out and put in a pile for customers who are buying full fleeces to choose from.

Topsy Farms fleeces
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Once the bale bags get a bit full, they are packed down using “foot power”. This is where my boys come in.

© Lynn Wyminga 2015
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

They are not really heavy enough to do the work at the end, which is done by bigger people.

Topsy Farms wool bale packing with foot power
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

When the bale bag is full, it is unclamped and pulled up and moved using pulleys (the bale bags are huge and very heavy).

Topsy Farms wool
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

They are closed (and repaired when needed) using thick plastic twine and a huge needle.

Topsy Farms bale bag repair
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Here is a pile of the wool bale bags.

Topsy Farms wool bale bags
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And to give you an idea of their size, here’s a couple of rousties and farmer Ian taking a break on those same bags at afternoon break.

Taking a break at Topsy Farms
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And that about all there is to it. Except that sometimes there’s a little excitement when one of the sheep actually shoves its way out of the swinging door into the shearing area. You hear the hoofs right away so the roustabouts know to get there quick and get it back in the pen away from the shearing.

Topsy Farms shearing
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And a little detail about the shearing: they change the blade that moves across on the shearing tool every 15 minutes, and the other blade once an hour (and spend the evenings sharpening). Here’s a bin full of used blades.

Topsy Farms used shearing blades
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And here is the shearing station. Everything in its place and a place for everything. They need to be able to know where everything is to keep the flow of sheep going.

Topsy Farms shearing station
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Here’s a glimpse at how many sheep were shorn on day 2. This photo was taken a morning break (10:25am).

Topsy Farms
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And this photo was taken near the end of the day at around 4:10pm.

Topsy Farms shorn sheep
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Remember that photo at the beginning of the day of the shorn sheep greeting us? This is the same shot at end of day.

Topsy Farms shorn sheep
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

The last thing to do is a sheep drive to get the sheep back to the fields where they have space and food. They were going to try to get them out through this muck (in the foreground of the photo below), but it didn’t work out (as I said, sheep hate getting their feet wet). The photo below also shows the barn where the action was, and the ramp where the sheep exit the barn.

Topsy Farms barn
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

So instead of leading the sheep out of the gate above (shown in the very bottom left of the photo above), they let them out in a drier spot higher up, but there was no strategically placed person to direct them around the corner and down the driveway, they were just supposed to follow the ATV with a feeder attached (they are familiar with  the sound of that particular machine and usually follow it around the fields, knowing that it’s feeding time) but they went straight instead. A little chaos ensued. I was there to take photos but ended up chasing them off the lawn and the neighbouring lawn.

Topsy Farms sheep drive
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Here they are on track, going down the driveway.

Topsy Farms sheep drive
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

And now they are in the care of several farmers on ATVs, heading to their field.

Topsy Farms sheep drive
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

This time-lapse video I took on my phone shows shearing in a nutshell. At the end of the video, the roustie takes a blue stick thing and marks the sheep with it. That’s a male lamb and it’s being marked so that it can be removed from the flock (rams are put in with the flock only at breeding time in the late fall).

That's #sheep #shearing in a nutshell! #TopsyFarms

A post shared by Lynn W, Amherst Is. ON Canada (@lynnslids) on

All of Topsy Farms products can be bought online or in their shop, the Wool Shed, shown below.

Topsy Farms Wool Shed
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms Wool Shed
© Lynn Wyminga 2015
Topsy Farms Wool Shed
© Lynn Wyminga 2015

Any questions? Let me know!

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Focus on coffee

Long time no write! For some of that, I was actually out of the country on my family’s first ever holiday south (in fact I haven’t been south myself in over 20 years!), where my husband and I visited a coffee plantation and got ourselves some green beans (we roast our own) from the source!

 

When I got back it was a slow start but now I’m back and in full-on creative mode. However, I’ve been neglecting the blog so I thought I should update you on goings-on.

First of all, I’m excited to announce that Lynn’s Lids sheepy wool dryer balls, catnip balls, and tea cosies will be available in another brick and mortar shop, this time in Millbrook, Ontario, at Anchor & Co, which has its grand opening this Sunday from noon to 5pm at 30 King St. E. in Millbrook. It’s also open Tuesdays-Saturdays 10am-5pm, I believe. Doesn’t it look like the sweetest little shop?

Anchor and Co, Millbrook, Ontario

CountyCupboardOnce I got back into work mode, I decided the first thing to ease myself in was to customize a French press coffee cosy for my friend Helen of County Cupboard. She choose the green and said she’d like something that looks like a compass. I looked over her company’s web presence and found an image with her new logo in it (right) and thought I’d do a simplification of it:

I was also faced with a little rejection news this week (sadly I will not be a the Cabbagetown Art & Crafts Sale this September) and had to cheer myself up, so I decided to adorn an orange French press (Bodum) coffee cozy with something that would do just that: Amsterdam canal houses.

AmsterdamOrg5sm

And here’s a little video my 8 year old helped me make on Instagram showing you the full 360°:

And since I’ve also been neglecting my Etsy shop, that Amsterdam coffee cozy is up for sale in the Etsy shop, along with another Bodum cosy (click the photos to view the Etsy listings):

Lynn's Lids handmade French press cozy in purple with bistro

I will have to update my website to include coffee cosies as well, now, but it will have to wait a bit as we are starting some spring cleaning around here, and on Monday I am heading to a friend’s farm to see sheep shearing with my boys for the first time! I’m pretty excited and hope to get a few good photos and be able to tell you about the process afterwards.

Other than that, I had a custom order for a family cottage on a tea cosy:

 

I’ve been working on reusable coffee cup sleeves. They’ll keep your coffee warmer than those cardboard things, and you can use them for years! I’m thinking they may make a great teacher gift, or stocking stuffer come that time of year.

 

I’ve been enjoying the sun and above freezing temperatures around here:

First beach day! #nofilter #homeschool #BeachTO

A post shared by Lynn W, Amherst Is. ON Canada (@lynnslids) on

 

And I’ve been sketching. Lots of sketching.

P.S. The other brick and mortar shops are the Cobalt Gallery and Clay Studio (sheepy wool dryer balls and natural wool catnip balls) and Furballs Pet Stuff (natural wool catnip balls) 

2015 Fundraising!

Lynn's Lids is fundraising for Rethink Breast Cancer

I’m in full production mode for Sunday’s Leslieville Flea and for my new project: Fundraising!

In 2011 I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, and later, papillary thyroid cancer. Rethink Breast Cancer was a great support and source of information for me. They are an organization targeted at younger women with breast cancer and their unique issues, as well as building awareness and education in prevention.

50% of the proceeds from all pink products sold in January, February and March will be donated to Rethink Breast Cancer. I have made a few items for this Sunday’s flea at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District, including some pink Sheepy Dryer Ball sets, a tea cosy, and a few hats as well.

Come see me on Sunday (I will be in the 2nd aisle to the right when you come into the Fermenting Cellar) or contact me to order your special pink products. I will have them online on the new website next week.

(click for larger images)

 Lynn's Lids Sheepy Wool Dryer Balls for Rethink Breast Cancer

Lynn's Lids pink houndstoque for Rethink Breast Cancer Lynn's Lids pink folded toque for Rethink Breast Cancer

Upcoming shows & new work

My sincere apologies to the people to whom I spoke at the October Leslieville Flea and assured I would be at the holiday market. Due to a family emergency I am not able to attend. I will be back in January, however, at the historic Distillery District’s Fermenting Cellar.

In December, I have 2 back-to-back sales coming up in Leslieville. If you follow the blog then you know about the Artisan Social (check out some of the artisans) on Sunday, December 7 from 1pm-5pm behind the Ceili Cottage (through the red gate) at the Studios of the Gilchrist Canavan School of Irish Dance (1301 Queen St. E.).

Crafternoon Tea in Leslieville

Also, on Saturday, December 6 from 11am-4pm, I’ll be at the 8th annual Crafternoon Tea down the road a bit (947 Queen St. E.) at the Queen Street East Presbyterian Church (SE corner of Queen & Carlaw), benefitting Nellie’s Shelter and Straight to the Streets. This is my first time at Crafternoon Tea and I’m excited to be a part of a great community event!

Also in shows, last weekend I was down in Niagara at the Honsberger Estate at my first HandMade Market which was a thoroughly enjoyable 3 day event!

Right now I’m back to catching up on custom orders, of which there are a few, like this custom (a newly created design) newsboy cap for a bun-wearer in the Canadian Prairies (made to fit over her bun and her ears, with the visor to keep the snow off her face. I’m happy to say it arrived yesterday and she loves it!):

And these fun custom dryer balls which are a gift for a frog lover:

And some more of these adorable little dachshunds:

I also have one more needle felting class at The Purple Purl coming up in December for beginners (the advanced class was last night). While at the HandMade Market some ladies asked if I could teach down there. I am happy to come to you to teach a beginner class if you can rustle up 5 learners (in Toronto, 4 is fine). You will each go home with a finished needle felted ornament of some sort (depending on the time of year and what we collectively decide), along with a felting foam and a felting needle or two (38 gauge), and the skills to create more on your own. If you’re interested in this fun and quick to learn craft, comment or contact me via my website for more information or email me: lynnslids [at] gmail [dot] com.

Etsy shop – last few days of the October sale!

Okay, my sincere apologies if I haven’t mentioned this on the blog yet, but if you follow me on other channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) or have bought from me on Etsy or just looked at the shop (it’s in the header!) you know that I have an October sale going on. Only 3 more days to catch this one: 10% off everything with the coupon code LIDSBLOG14!

Here’s a bit of what’s in the shop right now:

What's in Lynn's Lids Etsy Shop on Oct 28, 2014
Natural wool catnip balls, Sheepy wool dryer balls, wool ball ornaments (assorted), snowman ornaments, hats, TARDIS tree toppers and tea cosy, Toronto tea cosies, bike tea cosies, Santa ornaments, Toronto iPad sleeves, felted wool hats, Eiffel Tower & London tea cosies, and more!

Also, I just posted a little video of the LEGO needle felting tool in action on Instagram (for more on that, see the previous blog entry, which I should have titled How Lego Saved My Arm):

And for now, it’s back to work making and making for the upcoming Handmade Market in Jordan, Ontario November 14-16 11am-4pm daily.

Toys and tools

I am a knitter and a needle felter. My big season is fall – basically September to Christmas. Last year, I attended a LOT of art & craft sales in that period, and managed to end up with a repetitive strain injury in my right arm and shoulder from too much knitting and (especially) needle felting. As you may know, I did the Spring One of a Kind Show. What you probably don’t know is that going ahead with that show was hinged (seriously, I waited to give my final payment) on finding some sort of tool to help with the needle felting part (and some help from my mom with the knitting part) so that I did not injure myself further, and going to physiotherapy to undo the damage I had done in November and December.

1 arrivesWhat I found after some research was the addi Quick electric needle felting tool, but it wasn’t available in Canada. So I couldn’t get my hands on it to take a look but I watched a few videos and read some reviews and figured it might do the trick. I bought it off eBay from someone in Germany and got through 2 months making all of the things for the OOAK Show with the help of it. It does not go very deep so is not good for making 3-dimensional objects (like catnip balls and ornaments) and you still have to tack your embellishments (including the sheep and mice for which I used it) down by manually needle felting. It didn’t really cut that much time off but it saved my arm from a bunch of work.

If you buy it from an authorized dealer (which I didn’t, because it wasn’t sold here at the time), it comes with a whopping 6 month warranty. I now know why it is so short. Basically, every piece that can possibly be made of plastic on it is, and within a month, I started having problems. But I read in a review (there is nothing in the instructions that come with the tool) to keep it greased, which helped a bit. After about 6 months of use (only 3 of which were heavy usage, I didn’t even pick it up in July), it broke. I took it to my MacGyver-esque mechanically & electrically-inclined husband with sad puppy eyes and he took it apart and had a look (see below). He could fix it but it was only a matter of time before it broke in some other place, he warned. Here are the inside bits, after he had taken it apart (that gold bit attached to the gear is plastic, not metal). See how there is a piece of the red plastic actually broken off? He fixed it with a small piece of Lego to keep it stabilized and glued it back together.

1brokenAddiQuick

Here I am happily working (embellishing catnip balls with mice) with my fixed addi Quick in August:

2fixedAddiQuick

Truly, what a relief that he fixed it because I had my busiest month ever in September, thanks to the awesome people of Toronto, who love to buy handmade and local. Thanks, Toronto! And thanks to the Cabbagetown Art & Crafts Sale, Danforth East Arts Fair, and the Etsy: Made in Canada MaRS team.

The repaired addi Quick worked for another 5 or 6 weeks. And then it broke again. This time, though, the gold plastic part where you screw in the needle broke clear off with the part you screw it into attached. There’s no way to fix that, unfortunately. So I admitted defeat and went back to needle felting everything by hand. It took about 48 hours for my repetitive strain injury to rear its ugly head. So I went back to my husband and asked if there was REALLY nothing he could do to fix it (really: nothing.) and did some more research to see if there was anything else out there. Nope, nothing. There are machines you can use to do flat embellishing, but unfortunately those don’t help me.

So my incredible husband started tinkering with our LEGO TECHNIC bits and bobs to see if he could make something for me. It took about 5 or 6 days of tinkering, building, trials and errors, but he did it. It doesn’t go as fast as the addi Quick (which is 2500 depressions per minute), but I’ll wager it will last a lot longer and the repairs are simple and obvious and the parts are very easily replaced.

Here’s a photo my son took of the new homemade LEGO TECHNIC needle felter in action the other night. I was felting a layer of grey over a white ball (filling in the bald patches on my elephant).

homemade Lego needle felting tool

A great thing about this is that it’s battery operated, so I can travel with it! I always love to bring work with me to my sales, because a) I can’t sit idle for long and b) people love to see how things are made. And now I can bring this along anywhere! So I brought it with me today to the Leslieville Flea (the last outdoors one of the year, so there was no power to plug into) and entertained people while I worked and then told the story of it. Here it is today:

homemade LEGO TECHNIC needle felting tool

As you can see, I still have a needle sticking out of the bottom of the felting foam. I still have to tack things down manually, but again, this saves me about 50% of the needling I do for embellishments, which is a big deal for my RSI. Yay for LEGO and technically inclined spouses who embrace a challenge!

Other great points: this is much quieter than the addi Quick. And it uses standard needles, not specialty needles that you need to buy from addi. And, you know, it’s made from LEGO!!! Everyone LOOOOOOVED that part today.

[Update on November 2, 2014:]

Here’s a link to a video of the LEGO needle felter in action, felting an ear on a catnip ball (5.2 MB MOV file):

LEGO needle felting tool

Artisan: Lynn’s Lids

I keep doing fellow artisan features, but I just realized that I haven’t actually done one of these posts for myself. So, just in time for my 3 big September sales (Cabbagetown Art & Crafts Sale, Danforth East Arts Fair and Etsy Made in Canada at MaRS), here goes:

Lynn's Lids felted wool dryer balls Lynn's Lids felted wool Toronto iPad sleeve Lynn's Lids needle felted wool Santa ornaments

Artisan Name: Lynn Wyminga

Products:  hand knit, waterproof & windproof felted wool hats, tea cosies, iPad sleeves, sheepy wool dryer balls, natural wool catnip balls, Christmas tree toppers and ornaments, either hand knit then felted wool yarn, wet felted wool roving, or needle felted wool roving.

Price Range: $10-100

How did this all begin? 
A few years ago, I picked up knitting again for the first time in 20 years. I made scarves for my kids’ stuffed animals, then scarves for my kids, husband and brother-in-law, but I didn’t need a scarf (my brother had knit me one!) so I browsed through the patterns at my local yarn shop and came across a pattern for a felted wool hat. I am a hat lover, so I figured if I could keep myself in hats (instead of buying them), I’d be set! So I made a bowler and during the felting process, I was kinda hooked. That transformation is a bit thrilling every time it happens. Anyway, I wore the hat out (and promptly made myself another) and friends kept asking me to make them one, and eventually Lynn’s Lids was born. (I had to take nearly 2 years off for treatment of 2 cancers, but when I was strong again in the fall of 2012 I started in earnest.)

 About:
I am inspired by many things, but nature is a big one (take the sheep on the dryer balls!) and necessity is another. The dryer balls idea came from the David Suzuki Foundation newsletter since I needed a smaller ticket item to sell at markets. They are a great gift since they are environmentally friendly (reducing dryer time) but even if the recipient isn’t interested in that aspect, they are just so darn cute (I had a non-English speaker order them on Etsy and they didn’t know they were for the dryer until they received them with my note – they had just bought them as fibre art!). I have made a lot of them, and as of yet I haven’t tired of it. I’m making the right product, I guess.

Other new items come from client requests (tea cosy, cat bed, computer sleeve, various hats), my own needs (iPad sleeve, camera cosy), and sometimes just whimsy (catnip balls, ornaments, Frankenstein hat, cyclops hat, devil hat, dragon hat).

The hats are definitely my favourite. I enjoy making every single one, from the knitting, the thrill of felting, and the blocking. (But not the waiting. Never the waiting.) I especially enjoy creating new designs and patterns, as that keeps things fresh and exciting. Not everything works, but mostly they do (a good example is the baker boy cap, below – which I made up a few years ago but took 3 tries to perfect). It feels great when someone tries one of my lids on and it suits them perfectly. I’ve been wearing my second hat (a bucket hat turned out to be the favourite for me and I gave that first bowler to my mom after a couple of years of wear) for 6 years so I know that they don’t really wear out. Because they are felted to a thick dense fabric, they are very durable, keeping out the wind and rain and I know the wearer will be warm and dry for years.

Needle felting is so much fun that I want everyone to give it a go, so I teach it on a regular basis at my local yarn shop.

What advice do you have for a first-time One of a Kind Show vendor?
Start creating stock early, bring a big bottle for water (it’s dry in there), pack your own food (junk food takes its toll and they are long days!) and ask a friend to come and give you an hour’s break in the middle of each day, if possible (if you can’t afford to hire a booth sitter). Smile and enjoy it. It’s a great time.

Do you have a favourite OOAK show moment/memory to share?
On day 3 (of 5) a woman I recognized from earlier in the show came up to my table (in the Etsy section) and headed straight for the basket of catnip balls, exclaiming to her friend, “I bought one of these on Wednesday and my cats just love it!” and bought 6 more right there!

You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, www.lynnslids.com, Pinterest, my Etsy shop, and here, on the blog. To find me in person, check out my upcoming markets (via Etsy) or my where page.

Lynn's Lids baker boy cap with flower