Wool Craft Supplies
We are introducing Crafting Shearling Sheepskins in response to significant demand.
All shearling sheepskins are chosen for the highest density of wool; the thickest loft, then trimmed to the desired length of staple, from 8 mm to 25 mm, standing up like a dense ‘brushcut’. They come in 3 forms:
- Customers use Medical skins of top quality shearling for cushioning back and bottom, preventing or relieving sores.
- Naturally coloured shearlings are new.
- Crafting Shearling sheepskins are available at a lower cost. These are dense, trimmed skins with small defects, ideal for cutting into the desired shape.
People are showing impressive creativity with these Crafting Shearling Sheepskins.
The most common uses are for beds for dogs and cats, from tiny wee pups that are carried in a handbag to very big dogs. Sometimes the owner entices the pet to their new Crafting Shearling Sheepskin to protect the new sheepskin purchased for themselves.
The longer staple Crafting skins are sometimes cut into two seat pads. They are comfortable – excellent for preventing or reducing friction sores for people, and they look lovely. Jennifer wrote: “the skins arrived today. They are more gorgeous than I imagined! I need to sharpen my scissors and calm down before cutting!” She made 6 wooden chair pads from 3 skins.
An increasing number of our customers make baby booties, with 16 mm sheepskin soles. We make them too, using every scrap of the supple resilient Crafting Shearling Sheepskins.
The tops of crutches or seat belts or any places that rub or chaff can be padded with cut shearling sheepskin pieces.
All our shearling sheepskins are washable, resilient, fire retardant and hypoallergenic.
We have two customers who are using Crafting Shearling Sheepskins to express their love of horses. One has designed a saddle warmer. She cut a skin carefully to pattern, stitched it, and now uses it regularly.
Another home business supplies carefully hand-built and designed horse tack. The owner is working on a prototype for Velcro-attached, sheepskin-covered cheek pads for bridles and other spots that might rub. She is delighted with her first experiments.
Shearling sheepskins – medical, naturally coloured and for crafting – are available at the Wool Shed on Amherst Island, where we pay the 13% sales tax, or from our on-line store.
What creative uses might you discover?
Raw wool transforms into wondrous things:
- Roving for weaving and spinning and needle-felting and stuffing
- Pure wool yarn – which can then become toys and sweaters and …
- Blankets and throws and lap robes
Our shearing story describes how it gets from the sheep to the big burlap bags for storage.
Here’s how raw wool travels from the farm to be processed at the traditional woollen mill in Prince Edward Island.
The bags weigh about 150 lbs when well packed, and are stored in the shearing area, upstairs in the barn. Three or four men load them onto a farm wagon hitched to a tractor. (No large tractor-trailers can cross on our ferry, so we haul them to the mainland).
This year we had over 5600 lbs of clean wool. Our sheep are pasture raised, so they grow more, longer-stapled wool to stay warm, and it’s cleaner as they don’t hang around in barns. The sheep are mainly North-Country Cheviot and Suffolk so the staple for weavers is similar to Corriedale.
The raw wool hits the ‘high seas’ crossing on the ferry.
We co-ordinate with the tractor trailer driver for timing. He’ll leave an empty, clean trailer for us to fill. (We’ve had adventures in the past with unwashed potato or cattle trucks heading back east, or drivers who gave us 15 minutes notice when we’re two hours away). We plan for a time when we aren’t taking too much space from our neighbours going to the mainland.
We haul the raw wool bags off the wagons and into the tractor trailer box. Ian loves the sight of those doors closing and calling the driver for pickup.
The mill uses only soap, no harsh chemicals so we are confident that the products that are produced for us, from our wool and others, will be the softest most hypoallergenic quality available.
Not everyone would have the ‘gumption’ to tackle washing, carding, spinning wool from a Topsy Farms fleece. Especially an ‘in-the-grease’ fleece, fresh from the ewe. But Carlene Paquette is one of those brave souls. Some weavers come to the farm during shearing, to help on the ‘skirting’ table, and choose the fleece wanted, even getting to meet the donor ewe who was just shorn. When we offered free delivery to Ottawa, Carlene decided to experiment with our breed – North Country Cheviot/Suffolk cross; pasture-raised.
Here’s the process. First she examines the fleece on the floor of her garage, to remove any fecal matter or chaffy bits that were missed during skirting. Ours was proclaimed unusually clean. She also looks for ‘second cuts’ – short bits of wool staple if the shearer went over the area twice. Again, our pro shearers did well. The length of staple is important, as well as whether it is solid. If the sheep has issues in nutrition mid-season, the staple will break in mid-length. She tugged on the wool as a soundness test, and proclaimed it strong.
She then soaks the fleece in a combination of hot water, “Simple Green” (a commercial degreaser) and “Blue Dawn” dish washing soap. Some lanolin stays in; most dirt and smells are removed. Carlene dumps that dirty, oily water on driveway, then rinses again.
Once the clean wool has been spun in netted bags, she finishes drying the wool, spreading it out on clean towels. It has graduated from the garage to the spare room.
Carlene then uses a carding machine to align or comb the fibres, winding them in a soft batt.
Certain fleeces are more curly but this isn’t a characteristic of our wool. Our Cheviot fibre is about 27-33 microns. Mixed with Suffolk it is similar to Corriedale, a popular medium wool for hand spinners with a micron count of 25-31.
She then begins to spin, working a treadle, synchronizing her hands and feet in quiet rhythm. The spun wool is wound on a bobbin. For some reason, this one-ply strand is called ‘singles’ (plural!). She then combines or ‘plies’ the singles into a double strand, creating her preferred density of yarn. She washes the finished skein, then may dye it.
Why all this work?
Why go to this trouble and effort before even beginning to turn the yarn into a product with weaving, knitting, or crocheting?
She finds the entire process of creation, the washing, carding, spinning wool to be relaxing; meditative.
Working with a drop spindle was tedious for Carlene, but once she invested in a wheel, she says she hasn’t looked back. She says her involvement in the skill “sort of spirals out of control. I greatly prefer the creative process of making yarn (to knitting). The skein of yarn is a finished project in my mind. I really like the feel of the fibre running through my fingers. At first my feet had to slow down until my fingers caught up. The process supports my focus on mental and physical health and fitness. Spinning helps me stay away from snacking in evenings and it can be done while watching documentaries or chatting with someone, or listening to music. I even sleep better since I began.”
Who would have thought that our Topsy Farms flock enhances well-being? Anyone who works with our fleece and our yarn, apparently.
The Wool Shed at Topsy Farms was visited by a life-sized, needle-felted Sir John A. Macdonald.
He is an amazingly realistic, life-sized, well-dressed sculpture, who rides in the front passenger seat of a car, or in an antique ‘push-chair’.
He ‘lives’, much of the time, clutching an empty glass, awaiting his next refill.
This needle-felted Sir John A. Macdonald was made entirely of wool.
The sculpture of ‘the Father of Confederation’ was made by Gesina Laird-Buchanan on the 200th anniversary of his birth, for an International Bridge Tournament in Kingston.
Gesina said “it took 8 small fleeces to create him”. Some days I felt so obsessed, I worked on him non-stop from 8 am until after midnight.”
Gesina is an experienced sculptor in clay (see http://studiogesina.weebly.com/). Working with wool was new to her, but she learned fast, finding many similarities to clay sculpting.
She said “I started with his head and face. If I couldn’t succeed in finding his true likeness, there was no point in working on his body”.
Peeking boldly under his cuffs and under his pant leg, one finds felted wool everywhere.
He graciously (well, grumpily) agreed to let go of his glass for a few minutes to hold a great armful of washed and carded wool or ‘roving’ in the Topsy Farms Wool Shed, demonstrating the medium from which he was built. We didn’t ask him to hold felting needles, thinking he might be sensitive on that point.
Creator Gesina purchased a giant bag or two of roving wool from Topsy in anticipation of her next project.
Topsy Farms has a huge range of needle felting supplies: 4 natural and 20 colours of washed and carded wool roving, beginner needle felting kits and hundreds of felting needles, available here: http://store.topsyfarms.com/product-category/craft-supplies/.
Sir John’s hands have a wire armature, so adjust readily. He was glad to let go of the wool armfuls, and to again clutch his empty glass.
Gesina says “at home, he prefers to sit near the fireplace – it is also rather near the liquor cabinet.”
There is an adventurous path that pure wool travels, from the sheeps’ backs to a knitter’s hands and needles. Many hands are involved.
On shearing day at the barn, one of our Topsy farmers encourages the sheep up a ramp to the upstairs shearing area, where another farmer moves the sheep from a large pen to individual shearer’s pens. A shearer takes the sheep from the holding pen, skillfully and carefully removes the ewe’s pure wool coat within 2 minutes and hussles the startlingly white shorn sheep out the swing door to an outside corral.
One of our team of 10 helpers or ‘roustabouts’ picks up that fleece in such a way that enables him/her to fling it in the air, to float down on the ‘skirting table’. Other ‘rousies’ work around the perimeter of that table, removing bits of fecal matter and chaff, then roll the fleece into a ball and drops it into an 8 foot burlap bag, clamped to a frame in the floor.
It is packed very firmly with ‘foot power’ with other fleeces, then eventually sewn in (with a wicked 4 inch needle and baler twine). That bag is hoisted with a pulley and manpower, then rolled and stacked with other bags.
Our pure wool yarn comes from happy healthy sheep, raised ethically.
That makes 7 pairs of hands, minimum, handling the fleece so far.
At least 3 people maneuver the bags, weighing about 160 pounds, onto a waiting farm wagon, and stack them with others for the trip across the ferry from Amherst Island. (Large trucks cannot fit our boat, so we have to schlep the wool bags by hand and farm equipment.)
On the mainland, a waiting transport trailer is loaded with the wool bags – 4 men haul and roll them into the trailer.
At least 4 sets of hands have helped this transition.
Upon arrival in Prince Edward Island, strong arms and hands again unload the wool bags. Two people open the bags, lug the wool onto scales to be weighed, then grade the wool quality. Someone else manually picks through the wool before washing to remove any large impurities, then another hauls it onto a 70 ft “wash train” where only soap is used.
The pure wool is hypoallergenic. It has not been stripped with detergent or other chemicals.
If the pure wool is to be dyed into one of our more than 20 vibrant or subtle colours it is weighed for the appropriate amount. It goes straight to the dryer if it is being processed naturally.
Topsy Farms pure wool roving and yarn has 4 entirely natural colours.
Yet another set of hands transports it into a packer which presses the dried, cleaned wool into a bale. That bale is manually transported to yet another picking room. There the wool is blended before carding. One person puts it into the carding machine. Another person takes spools from carding machine to spinning frame where it is spun and strengthened.
Another pair of hands removes the wool to the twister table which is set up to produce different sizes of yarn (2 ply or 3 ply). Bobbins are filled by the machine, then a worker puts those bobbins onto a “skeiner”, where the wool is made into 4 oz skeins. Each skein is twisted and finished by hand. They are put in feed bags and carried upstairs, where they are bundled into 8 pound parcels, then wrapped. (Someone of course has to complete the book work).
A truck driver lugs the Topsy Farms order for the skeins of wool away from MacAusland’s Woolen Mills where it has been handled by 18 – 20 pair of hands.
4 to 5 people at Canada Post handle the packaged bundle of yarn as it is received, sorted, loaded on and off a truck and delivered to Bath Post Office. Two people load it onto a van to deliver to us on Amherst Island. The transport has involved 6 – 7 pairs of hands.
Back at our farm, the skeins of yarn are individually labelled, counted, bagged, and added to the inventory. (We store them in bins in the unused shearing area.)
The pure wool has ‘come home’.
When the Wool Shed inventory for a particular dye lot of yarn gets low, someone gets it from the barn, notes the inventory change and stashes it in its cubby for retail sale. Come to the Wool Shed, to purchase a 113 gram, or 1/4 pound skein of pure lanolin-enriched wool for $8. We also offer pure wool in roving or pencil roving.
From sheep, via about 40 pairs of hands, to your needles.
Needle Felting Kits
Each Needle Felting Kit Includes:
- 1.5 ounces of washed and carded wool,
natural white and dark grey
- 2 – 38 gauge triangular needles
- 1 high density foam pad
- 1 wooden skewer
Cost is $15.00 plus tax and mailing
For more information, or to order, please contact:
- (613) 389-3444
Coloured wool is available in 12 colours;
$2.00 an ounce