Canadian Wool Blankets
Thank you for welcoming us to your beautiful slice of land on Amherst Island. It was wonderful, inspiring and enriching.
Also, thank you for being so genuinely open, kind and intuitive with our four small children. I’m thinking back of you sitting with them on the lawn answering the many questions that popped into their curious minds. This was definitely a most memorable family field trip.
We are cuddling up with our gorgeous new wool blanket and feeling so grateful.
The three year old would like me to tell you “meg wich”!
Thank you for doing what you do and sharing your passion…”
– Chantal, Ottawa, May, 2015
“The wool blankets and throws are perfect for our needs – warm, soft, cosy and very well-liked by all.”
“Wool Wow. I just want to say thank you, Sally & Ian for having such wonderful products from the farm. The wool blankets and throws are perfect for our needs: warm, soft, cosy and very well-liked by all. We will enjoy them for a long, long time!
– Bill, Sherwood Park, Alberta, February, 2015
“We just got our latest queen wool blanket and we love it. (We have one of your wool throws and would like to get another matching throw.) We are also looking to purchase two or three more queen wool blankets as birthdays come around. Thank you so much!”
– Syd and Cathy, Allenford, ON, February, 2015
The Wool Shed at Topsy Farms is our at home outlet store for beautiful pure wool and sheepskin products.
It hasn’t always been so. It appears to be just a scruffy farm outbuilding, built far too close to the road by today’s standards. However you can’t tell its heart or history by its faded covering.
The Wool Shed was built about a century ago with a double purpose.The south portion was designed to store great blocks of ice, cut by hand from the lake, and stored with layers of sawdust helping to insulate. That supply was vital as the only source of refrigeration in those days. The north portion of the small structure was the milk house, used for cooling the cows’ production of the day, destined to be picked up by horse and wagon or cutter, to be delivered to one of the Island cheese factories.
Two generations of the Eve’s family lived here for many years, planting the huge black spruce trees. (Our older son now lives in the bungalow built next door for retiring mom/grandmother ‘Peachy’.) They had electricity by then; still used the milk house portion for awhile, but eventually the shed was just used for storage.
When Topsy’s first group arrived at the recently abandoned farm, the shed became a crammed storehouse, then a much-needed tractor repair workshop. Some of the machinery couldn’t fit in, but the tools and mechanic/farmer were sheltered.
When the commune amicably dissolved, former members were repaid, and the impoverished remainder were fed one winter, by the candle production housed in the Shed.
Once our new workshop was built, the Shed became a music centre for our younger son and others. It sheltered a drum set and speakers, providing some privacy for teenagers. The budding musicians traveled from high school in Napanee, made glorious noisy experiments, with sufficient autonomy (but not too much) from the older generation.
University years enabled yet another evolution. Four coats of high quality primer and two more paint coats covered most of the music group’s wall ‘creative writing’, and the Wool Shed evolved to its present glorious new life.
It is open any day, all year (please phone first).
About 1200 sheep are shorn annually – the fleece being one of the most renewable resources that could exist. It is transformed in P.E.I. to a high quality, all-Canadian wool made into blankets and throws, yarn, wool, and many hand-crafted products.
The Wool Shed has the largest variety and inventory of pure wool Canadian blankets and throws in Canada.
Visitors love the feel of our sheepskins, either trimmed ‘medical’ skins or luxurious ‘shaggies’. Lambskins are also available: smaller, softer, and ideal for new born babies, or the seat of a chair. Also available is unbleached cotton-stuffed wool bedding, pillows, mattress pads and comforters. These will give you an experience of sleeping on a cloud – or the next best thing. Many hand-crafted items are available from Topsy Farms only by visiting the Wool Shed – you’ll find it worth it. For outing information, see https://topsyfarms.com/uncategorized/great-outing-amherst-island-day-weekend
The heart of this old building beats strongly.
(Meredith placed an order for a wedding gift to be sent to the US, requesting we include farm-based info. We sent a brief history, a sheep photo, a wood cedar chip and a brochure linking to our Topsy website and she responded: “I was looking for a wool blanket for my cousin’s wedding and originally was going to give her a Hudson Bay blanket, but they don’t ship to the US. So, I found you through a Google search and I think I wound up making the better choice.” (The Bay no longer makes their wool blankets in Canada.)
– Meredith, October, 2014
Our Wool Shed which sells natural wool products is in a small, gently aging ice house/milk house. It is almost at the end of a dead-end gravel road, on an Island. Not the ideal location one might think, for drive-by traffic. We’ve been, as one customer said “a well-kept secret”.
But increasingly, we are not only reaching out to our immediate community, but also across the province and to east, west, and north of Canada. We are now beginning to have our wool products appreciated world-wide.
Well before Christmas, two sets of grandparents came to us, seeking gifts. We had reports back that one newborn in Inuvik N.W.T., was thriving on her lambskin, and apparently enjoying the sheepskin-soled booties. Another pair of grandchildren in Iqualuit, Nunavuit, were happy with the child’s sheepskin mitts, lambskin, and a hat with appliquéd truck.
As we struggle to master the intricacies of getting our website ‘talking to Google’, about our wool products, we’ve had requests for bedding, blankets and sheepskins from every province across Canada except, so far, Newfoundland/Labrador.
Yarn has travelled as far as Hawaii (but mailing costs make this rather pricey) and to Alaska. We were fortunate enough to have one of our blankets featured in Canadian Living Magazine; the first couple of response came from Sudbury and from Chicago. Surprising. People from various states, including the deep south, have discovered our wool products, sometimes thanks to the birders who travel here in winter.
Beyond that we’ve mailed to Finland, other places in western Europe, and the British Isles. Often that’s thanks to Island visitors, or students at The Lodge, who come browsing.
We posted Pat Frontini’s lovely hand-woven mohair and Topsy Wool blended throw on Topsy Farms Facebook page. In two days the information was forwarded from Colorado to a friend travelling in Italy who bought it as a birthday gift to herself.
But this latest connection tops them all. One of our pink tweed blankets is having an adventure.
“I’ve received your blanket (in Calgary) and its now keeping me warm while I volunteer on a hospital ship in the Congo. I volunteer with an organization called Mercy Ships, www.mercyships.org the largest NGO hospital ship in the world. We provide free surgery to the forgotten poor in West Africa. The crew is comprised of over 400 volunteers from 35 different nations who raise funds to support themselves in coming onboard to work from anywhere between two weeks to two years.
“I registered my own Canadian NGO called Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (www.spectrust.org) which allows me to educate in local hospitals and teach the OR staff on how to improve their sterile technique and reduce post operative infections.
“I come and stay on the ship for 2-3 months at a time and share a small cabin with 3 bunk beds and tiny bathroom for 6 girls. Each time I return I like to bring a few things that make my bunk cozy and remind me of Canada. The Congo is extremely hot right now (feels like 43C) although the air conditioning on the ship is always on high and it feels very cold. My wool blanket has received a lot of attention because of it’s warmth and comfort. It’ll stay on the ship when I return to Canada so that others can enjoy it while I’m away and then it’ll be here for me when I get back.”
We’re humbled, honoured, proud to have our wool products accompany folks on their adventures through life.
After shearing we had 80 eight foot bags (from this year and some left from the previous year) packed firmly with quality wool, and 15 bags of belly wool and off cuts.
The next task was to get the wool bags to their destinations.
The first group to P.E.I.; some bags for landscape mulch; and the rest to the Canadian Woolgrower Co-operative in Carleton Place, Ontario.
Trucking costs a great deal, and over time we’ve tried lots of alternatives. We’d hoped it would be straightforward to find a potato-hauling truck heading back to that other Island, empty. Wrong. We’ve hired trucks ourselves and tried sharing space with our neighbours. One truck that had hauled cattle showed up unwashed, festooned with souvenirs of the previous load. We’ve had drivers phone us from 15 minutes away on the 401, expecting tractors, wagons and at least 3 helpers to magically materialize on the mainland. This year we hired a company from Quebec, and the results were the best yet.
But there were glitches.
Ian made arrangements to park our wagons with the wool carefully tarped at the Township Roads depot, where there is space for wagons, tractors and a transport. On Wednesday, he hauled one wagon by tractor to the ferry and then to the Township site. He waited for the next boat then returned on the tractor. He next brought two wagons in tandem to the ferry and, with help from the crew, got them both onto the deck then off and rehitched, thence to the depot. It was a long day, but a relief to have the wool all on site, waiting. The trucker was due on Friday.
However, Thursday was the day of very extreme winds (sufficient to blow the doors off two cars, locally). We received a call saying our tarps were tearing off the wool bags. Kyle and Ian rushed for the boat to find out that the eight foot waves were preventing docking on the mainland side.
We could not get to the mainland to save our wool.
Kyle sat in the lineup for hours, calling a friend on the mainland for emergency help. That friend somehow managed to wrestle the tarps in that heavy wind over the wool to give it some protection. It could have been destroyed if soaked then left sitting. The ferry was back in action later in the day, and Kyle managed to cross, and join his friend to anchor the protection securely.
Ian and Jacob joined Kyle the next morning off the 7 am ferry, and met the trucker, who showed up on time and with a clean trailer. He was unilingual francophone, but the language of smiles and helpful hard work is universal.
We’ll hire that company again.
Ian’s favorite picture of the year is the sight of the full truck, departing for its destination. (Sorry, I can’t show you – they were too busy to click.)
Most of our wool is shipped back to us according to our order as roving (washed and carded wool), either dyed or natural, cheeses of pencil roving, yarn, (30 colours and 4 tones of natural) and blankets and throws. All of these and much more are available at the farm store, the Wool Shed, or on-line.
Now, to deal with the 15 bags….
Sheep have to be shorn once a year. It’s as regular as taxes. In earlier years the clip could provide a good income for a farm, but now represents a significant health expense. Ian initiated the Wool Shed to sell our wool as yarn, and blankets. All products are now available on-line too. We were facing yet another cost increase, and hoped that by selling our own wool and wool products, we could balance. That has worked – if you don’t count labour.)
The ewes are shorn while pregnant but not too close to birthing time.
(We don’t want to cause miscarriages.) If they are nearly naked when the lambs are born, they are more likely to seek shelter on a cold windy wet day, thus protecting their lambs. We also want to avoid the danger of a ewe with a thick wooly coat accidentally rolling on a small lamb without being able to feel its presence. For these reasons and others, we plan shearing as late in April as possible, since lambing is due to start after the first week of May. We hope by then it has warmed up.
We invite the public to come to watch. We hope they are hardy souls.
Since we seek the best shearers available, and they organize their touring geographically, we take what timing we can get. This year we thought it was to be the few days before Easter weekend, but now apparently, it is to be Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’ll celebrate rebirth our own way, I guess.
One big advantage of that change of timing is that the forecast for Wednesday was heavy rain.
Shearers cannot, will not, shear wet sheep.
Think of the logistics of keeping about 1100 sheep dry (also fed and watered) on rainy days before shearing. It is our most stressful time of the entire year.
It takes quite a team of ‘roustabouts’ to support the activity of the three shearers during shearing. Changing the dates to include Easter weekend may cause ructions. It is flaming cold and windy and wet this week, 5 days in advance. We’re watching the forecasts avidly – as though there was much of anything we could do. All shelters are prepared.
The shearing area is empty 362 days of the year, so that’s the storage space for the Wool Shed. Ian has spent the last few days, checking inventory, amalgamating boxes, topping up the Wool Shed supplies, and cramming the inventory into Don’s woodworking room. Life on the farm is not dull.
“I’m very pleased with the wool blanket that I bought and I know that my niece and soon to be husband will love it and make use of it for many years to come. Also thank you for going the extra step by taking us to the barn to find the just the right wool blanket. It was very interesting to see where the shearing is done and how the fleece is stored until you need it. It would be amazing to watch the whole process during shearing time.”
” … how very happy we are with the wool blankets we ordered …over three years ago…. we have pulled our blankets out from their summer plastic bag storage (and)… have begun washing them with Eucalan in our washer and partially drying them in our drying on ‘synthetic damp dry’ setting. They are coming out beautifully fluffy and soft on the skin, smelling lovely and clean lovely wooly lanolin. And they are finished so beautifully. We truly love them. They are one of the best purchases we’ve made to increase the comfort we enjoy in our home. Thank you for such a pleasing product at such a reasonable price (including shipping!) and for taking care of the land and the animals in a humble and respectful way.“
– Helen and Marcus Mendes, BC, Fall, 2009