A pig greeted me at the mill room door.
I could hear the machinery working inside and called out a hello, scratching the friendly pig between the ears. There were seedlings for the dye garden lined up on a picnic table. A flower garden had discarded fleece layered on as mulch.
Ute Zell emerged encased in big overalls and followed by a little cloud of fleece. Her mischievous blue eyes made me feel like I had just met a fairy godmother. Not surprisingly, our handshakes and introductions quickly lead to a 3 hours conversation. In the end, I had to pry myself away from Freelton Fibre Mill.
After 10 Years…
Ute immigrated to Canada from Bavaria, looking for space and land. She began farming with a herd of 150 organic milking goats but after 10 years of daily milking it was time for a change. With the encouragement of her son, Ute sold the goats and started thinking about a new project. A hand spinner with 45 years of experience, returning to the fibre arts was a natural avenue for Ute. She began exploring different fibre possibilities: Cashmere? Alpaca? The options were wide open.
That year the local Campbellville fibre mill closed its doors, sending its equipment back to Belfast Mini-Mills in PEI. As Campbellville shut down, Ute watched a large hole in the fibre community gape open. She quickly realized that her next project had to be milling. She contacted Belfast Mini-Mills and brought the Campbellville machinery, renewed and rejuvenated, back to Ontario.
From Handspinner to Micro-Miller
Perhaps it was the congenial pig at the door, but spending the afternoon with Ute felt a little like entering a fairytale world. Ute understands and works with fibre from a place of deep intuitive knowing based on years of experience. She speaks about the milling equipment like they are living creatures working alongside her, discussing the fine adjustments she makes to create the best possible roving and yarn.
Applying the Principles of Permaculture
Her farm continues to be organic and run on the principles of permaculture – a perspective and practice that integrates all aspects of a farm into a cohesive, self-sustaining and balanced system. Ute is thoughtfully and carefully extending these practices to her milling. She has established a dye garden, complete with fibre mulch, and will be offering natural dyeing services and products. She is building a small herd of on-farm fibre animals, (Yucaya alpacas, Babydoll, Rambouillet, BFL and BFL/Romney sheep), that will replace the commercial merino super-wash currently used for blending. This small but growing herd is also the basis of her own line of rovings, yarns and handknit items.
A Particular Type of Magic
I was the lucky recipient of pair of beautiful purple thrumbed mittens. My astonishment at being gifted mittens in my favourite colour and my favourite mitten style added to Ute’s overall fairy godmother-like charm.
I think, however, that Ute’s greatest gift is her dedication to local, sustainable fibre production and processing. After years of erosion from closures, off-shoring and unsound environmental practices, Ute is quietly weaving a particular type of magic into our fibreshed based on the principles of local resources, quality materials and environmental sustainability.
Location: 950 Regional Rd. #97, Freelton, ON
Products: Handknit and Handwoven products available online.
Services: Custom Fibre Milling and Spinning
Available At: Aberfoyle Farmer’s Market
Contact: 1.905.659.7442 | http://www.freeltonfibremill.ca
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