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!
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.
I 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.
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.
I like the accountability factor, the prompts and the routine in challenges.
The 30×30 nature challenge got me consciously outdoors. We live in an extremely walkable neighbourhood. I hang my laundry on the line once summer hits. We have been hiking with our homeschool group for years. Once the weather gets nice our group heads to the beach on a regular basis. So I am already outdoors quite a bit. But during that challenge I became more aware of my surroundings and started having a bit of morning quiet time on the deck. It was a nice addition to my day and I enjoyed listening to the birds and watching the trees fill out. I also moved my work and the boys’ out to the deck when it was feasible. We started eating 3 meals a day on our deck when the weather was nice and the wasps didn’t chase us back inside. Several of these things stayed until the weather cooled down, and now that spring is back we are starting those things again.
The 6 week fitness challenge got me out to different fitness and dance classes 6 days a week for 6 weeks, and I ended up liking it so much that I became a member at the studio. I am there 5 days a week and am still very much enjoying it.
The May_Be2015 creative challenge got me drawing (I now carry my sketchbook and pencil wherever I go) and writing in cursive (something I hadn’t done properly in decades) regularly. It made me think about different forms, ideas, printed photographs, and my creative habits/routine (or lack thereof), among other things.
SaluteTheSun21 got me out to watch the sun rise. Now whenever I’m awake at 5:15am either due to insomnia or because I mean to, I head down to the beach and watch the sun rise. It is an absolutely fantastic way to start the day. A beautiful promise that every day is a totally different and fresh start. My friend who started the challenge decided on day 22 that she did not want to stop, so she is down at her beach each morning for the dawn of every new day. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets over the years but I’ve got to tell you that the sunrise is a different thing altogether. You should try it sometime. Even if you have to wait until fall when the time of day is a little more reasonable.
The common thread? I start these challenges on a whim, and later find that there are lasting benefits and changes with each one.
The wool ball series of ornaments started late last year. I was working away making snowmen when I just got tired of it. I was eyeballing this ball (the snowman’s body) and I thought, “What could I make with a wool ball?” Then I proceeded to make a few things (mostly animals) for my next holiday show and my Etsy shop. I ended up madly needle felting ornaments during shows and in the evenings as well. I was playing catch-up so I stuck to the first few animals that I had created: frog, elephant, cardinal, narwhal, robin, penguin, owl, and panda.
This year I have started early and have time to explore. Because of this 100 day commitment, my sketchbook is filled with ideas – I need content!
About a month ago I was listening to a podcast where the interviewer asked what were the interviewee’s “golden hours” – when a you work the best, you are at your most attentive, and most focussed. I’m not sure if everyone knows their golden hours, but I have known for a long time that I am best in the morning. First thing. It also happens to be a time of day when no one else is up, so it’s a perfect time to get a few things done undisturbed.
I hadn’t been using that time productively. But as of 12 days ago, I do. This challenge has forced me into a routine that really works for me. No email, no social media, just my notebook sketches, wool, and tools, until the job is done. And the job is always a fun challenge. With my sketchbook, I have a visual list of creative possibilities from which to choose every day.
Now I’ve decided that I’ll try to make 2 of whatever it is I’ve decided to make that day (if I have the time before the family is up) instead of 1, to see how closely I can match the first as well as build up some stock.
So the 100 ornaments challenge, by day 10, had changed my routine, just like the other challenges. But it did a few other things as well.
I now look forward to getting out of bed, since I have a creative project to get to.
I’m keeping on top of creation of the wool balls that are the core of each ornament (a 2 step process that needs lead time: the balls are roughly needle felted, then wet felted and need a couple of days to dry) since I don’t want to run out.
I’ve had several people tell me that they look forward to seeing what I’ve created each day, which is such a kick.
After 10 days I did a roundup and asked people on social media what they would add and people did not disappoint (see below). So I have what the marketing folks like to call “engagement.”
I think, with my existing sketches (6 pages worth), the suggestions, and a few of the old favourites (snowmen and Santas), I probably have enough to fill my 100 days.
Added June 15:
What I forgot to mention above is that because I am making something different, and because I am making every single day, I am improving and likely getting more efficient as well. Another added bonus to the challenge!
You know that #May_Be2015 creative challenge that my friend Rozanne had me guest post for? Well, she’s at it again. But this time Rozanne and our mutual friend Brooke are doing a writing challenge: #100Scribbles (100 days of scribbles – free writing). They really enjoyed the daily creative prompt (as did I, although I didn’t partake in every one) and wanted to keep up the momentum, but to concentrate on writing. (By the way, check out the #May_Be2015 Instagram feed – it’s filled up nicely!)
Rozanne put the call out there for people to join, but I thought that my attention needed to get back to my work. So I have tweaked the challenge to be: 100 days of needle felted ornaments. I lack a productive routine, and I need one if I am to get things created for fall (and to list on Etsy and my web shop) and not be in pain with repetitive strain injury, so what better way to get into a routine, but to commit to one for 100 days? So first thing in the morning, it’s up and needle felting! (I am actually going to be making other things as well, but the ornaments are fun and
If you have a favourite animal (or other) that you think might work for my Wool Ball ornaments series, please comment. If you’d like to follow along, check out my Instagram feed, or the hashtag #100NFOrnaments.
I love that I’m not the only one who has taken the 100 days theme and run with it. One friend is doing 100 days of wild edibles and another is doing 100 things that make her day!
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.)
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.)
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.
Next, the shearer chooses a sheep to shear from their own pen:
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:
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.
And the sheep get directed out a swinging door (one for each shearer, it’s all extremely streamlined):
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.
But eventually they go for it and join the others on the grass.
The fleece is picked up in a specific way so that they can toss it out onto the skirting table flat:
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).
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.
Nicer fleeces get selected out and put in a pile for customers who are buying full fleeces to choose from.
Once the bale bags get a bit full, they are packed down using “foot power”. This is where my boys come in.
They are not really heavy enough to do the work at the end, which is done by bigger people.
When the bale bag is full, it is unclamped and pulled up and moved using pulleys (the bale bags are huge and very heavy).
They are closed (and repaired when needed) using thick plastic twine and a huge needle.
Here is a pile of the wool bale bags.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a glimpse at how many sheep were shorn on day 2. This photo was taken a morning break (10:25am).
And this photo was taken near the end of the day at around 4:10pm.
Remember that photo at the beginning of the day of the shorn sheep greeting us? This is the same shot at end of day.
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.
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.
Here they are on track, going down the driveway.
And now they are in the care of several farmers on ATVs, heading to their field.
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).
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?
Once 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.
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):
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 love custom work. I find the challenge of creating something tangible from someone else’s imagination or an image they send pretty thrilling. And their ideas can be pretty fun!
A little less than 2 weeks ago I got an email request wondering if I could make a cat hat from a schematic. It was perfect, and the new customer even included the colours she wanted from my existing products. Even better.
This was the schematic >
It turns out the schematic was made by a mutual friend of the customer’s and mine, so she knew my work and what I might need from her. I finally finished it last night and I’m quite pleased with the result!
The other custom order I’ve been working on came from someone who had bought one of my tea cosies last year. She was drinking a coffee and thought she could use a cosy for her French press as well. And wouldn’t you know it, that was already in this year’s plan (as I mentioned the other day). So we planned colour and a custom image for her (since she already has the Toronto skyline) and I’m pretty pleased with this result as well! I even gave it a test run today, leaving my coffee in there for half an hour before I drank it and it was still steaming. Hurrah!
They were both mailed today and will hopefully get to their destinations tomorrow or Friday.