Thanks to Gillian Grace for the first in our series of profiles of artists showing at the Danforth East Arts Fair on the Sep 17-18, 2011 at East Lynn Park.
Provenance-minded Torontonians already quaff Ontario wine and make their marinara sauce with fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes. So why not locally made wool?
The Married Spinsters duo — from Markdale, Ontario, and made up of Adele Goldsmith and Michelle Campbell — spin the fleece of Grey County sheep into soft, naturally hued yarns. Shorn from Corriedale and Dorset sheep, as well as alpaca, the fleece gets washed and carded (turning an unruly fleece into a wheel-ready ball of wool) before the pair spin it into a single- or- double-ply, knitting-needle-ready skein (they sell 100 yards for about $30).
Colours range from an almost pure white to a dark, chocolatey brown, with soft greys in between; the Spinsters also sell a small range of dyed offerings, with some incorporating metallic fibres and sari silks.
As with all the best local offerings, hand-spun wool lures with its individuality. Unlike machine-made wool, which has a uniform texture, the Spinsters’ skeins have a textured feel and subtle variations in colour — one grey knits up naturally into a Balmoral-worthy tweed.
The duo are working their way through some 2,000 pounds of fleece, from a farmer getting out of the wool business; they’ll bring some of the SUV-sized ball of wool to the fair for spinning demonstrations. Kids can try their hand at carding, and the wheel. (One of the most common questions last year: Will I prick my finger like Sleeping Beauty? No, no pointy spindles — or wicked fairies — on this type of spinning wheel.)
Along side skeins of wool, Goldsmith and Campbell sell kits ($50) for making thrum mittens. A technique that evolved in Newfoundland, thrum knitting naturally insulates garments by working bits of fleece into the inside, making the mittens extra warm, and very soft.
Not feeling like working the needles yourself? The Spinsters also sell decorative hooked rugs — think wall hangings and table runners — and hooked-flap purses, ranging in price from $45 to $175.
Goldsmith and Campbell don’t just turn to hoofed beasts for wool — look for angora, if their rabbits cooperate. Not for sale, but of interest in the pet-adoring Danforth East, is wool spun from the hair of dogs and cats. Along with their willing collie, they’ve spun the fur of a friend’s Golden Lab, creating a hat (for the owner, not the dog!), and preserved the fur of a much loved, long-hair cat. “It spun out beautifully,” Goldsmith says.