Some of us lament over the problem’s existence.
Some of us just get to work fixing the problem.
This is a story about a couple that clearly fall into the later category.
It All Started With a Tiara
A few weeks ago I had the enormous fun of visiting T&K Fibres and More, Jane and Will Elliott’s fibre mill, farm and studio in Muirkirk, Ontario. My first question was “How does one start a fibre mill?” For Jane and Will it all began with a tiara.
In the beginning there was a 4H Sheep Club and a daughter determined to win the Ladies Lead at the Ancaster Fair. What exactly is Ladies Lead? Despite my years of country fair experience, I had to ask. The Ladies Lead is a sheep competition for youth that scores the participant both on their yearling ewe’s training in the ring, their poise and their costume (made primarily of wool!). The prize is a tiara and sash, as well as the honour of bestowing prizes on next year’s winner.
Like all good dreams, winning the tiara took some time. During the practice years the Elliot’s small flock of Lincoln sheep (from John Lee, a top Lincoln breeder in the area) grew and incorporated assorted Angora goats, Alpacas and Llamas. By the time the tiara came home both Jane and Will had become excellent spinners with side by side spinning wheels and many Sheep to Shawl events, 4H clubs and knitting projects under their respective belts.
Now fully enveloped in the fibre world and with fleeces ready to process, Jane and Will watched their local fibre mill close up shop and move to Quebec, leaving quite the hole in their fibreshed. Other local producers started investigating East Coast mills but the long staple length of Jane and Will’s Lincoln flock made their milling options rather limited.
Some Folks Lament, Some Folks Get To Work
Because Jane and Will are clearly the sort of folks that get to work fixing problems, they simply started their own fibre mill.
“Simply” is a bit of a misnomer. Funding for their fibre mill was a nightmare to attain. When the word “spinning” was introduced, bank mangers asked about bicycles and shook their heads with disbelief when sheep and fibres were explained. Apparently if you would like to open a hair salon the funds are available, which leaves me wondering if a fibre mill could be understood as a salon for sheep.
After two years, a whole lot of research and much frustration, the Chatam-Kent Futures Development Corporation stepped forward to support the project. I bet there was a hand-spinner in their midst.
The milling machinery itself was sourced from Chuck McDermott of Stonehedge Fiber Milling Equipment LLC. in East Jordan, Michigan and was specially chosen for its capacity to handle long staples. Will’s on-farm drive shed was renovated to accommodate sinks, pickers, carders, rollers and a whole lot of roving.
Like any new business, Jane expected the first orders to trickle in a few months after installation. She was a tad surprised when just two weeks after the machinery arrived they received their first order. By the time of my visit, they had been in operation for less than a year and had officially surpassed their business plan projections.
After touring their facility I was not at all surprised. Everything is clean, orderly and well documented. They process as little as 1lb of fleece and can turn an order around in a week - less if you’re really in a rush. As I gushed over their rovings and batts in the milling shed, it became clear to me that Jane and Will make quite the formidable team.
You Are Cordially Invited
Jane and Will haven’t stopped with just milling. They have plans to add spinners for producing their own line of yarns. There is also an on-farm studio where Jane guides students in the arts of dying, spinning, sewing and basket weaving. Will is a sewing machine collector and sewing machine repair is available on site. And did I mention that Will is a metal-works artist in his spare time? I saw old plow shares gracing the flowerbeds in the form of birds and flowers.
Before I left, with T&K rovings in hand of course, Jane and Will invited me (and by extension you!) to the official launch and open house of T&K Fibres and More. On May 2nd, 2015 they are welcoming spinners, knitters, dyers, crafters and the curious to pop by the farm for a day of sheering and skirting demonstrations, mill tours, hand spinning and weaving, local foodstuffs, Will’s antique tractors and plenty of adorable animals to coo over. If you’re looking for a fibre field trip of your own, here is your chance.
My Take-Home Lesson
As a writer and fibre artist exploring our local fibreshed here in Southern Ontario, I am painfully aware of how the components of our local fibre and textile industries have been largely dismantled by the pressures of globalization. Cheap fashion and disposable textiles have negative social and environmental effects that will haunt us for generations to come. Ruminating on this reality can certainly drag my spirits through the mud, leaving me wondering why on earth I spend my weekends getting lost on side roads.
Thankfully my afternoon with Jane and Will gave me a much needed dose of optimism and inspiration. These are folks that don’t languish in a mire lamentation but get straight to the business of solving the problem at hand.
Just the sort of reminder I needed.
Fibres: Lincoln, Angora, Alpaca, Llama
Products: Rovings, Hand-spun Yarns, Sheepskins
Services: Custom Fibre Milling, In Studio Classes, Custom Machine Quilting, Sewing Machine Repair
Available At: T&K Fibres and More, Muirkirk, ON
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.tkfibres.weebly.com / 519.437.1644
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