Saturday, 25 January 2014

A Long Time Since the Royal Winter Fair

I got a beautiful pair of hand knitted mittens from my sister-in-law for Christmas this year. There they are below. There is an amazing story behind them.

When I was a young mom I had a loom and big plans to make artistic wall hangings and other projects just at the edge of my imagination. I decided to get fleece from a prize winning sheep shown at the annual Royal Winter Fair. The first step was getting the fleece. To do that I took the St Clair streetcar out to the stockyards/abattoir in the west end of town. The fleece I wanted to purchase was from the front end of the sheep - I thought it was obvious that would be cleaner than the back end. It turns out that's magical thinking. Sheep are not naturally clean and fluffy.

The old (young) me who bought the fleece

The wool from a quarter of a sheep was enough to fill up a garbage bag. After getting it home my husband and I found that even a prize winning showcase sheep has rolled in its bedding (and worse). It took a year but we finally found a good spot to wash it. People who live in apartments don't find it easy to manage washing fleece and laying it out to dry thoroughly in the fresh air. 

Much time then passed. Between having children and developing rheumatoid arthritis my life changed and after 30 years I finally shipped the fleece to my niece in Nelson BC and thought no more about it.

My niece is a talented knitter and also has an entrepreneurial streak Her great interest in fleece of all kinds both rare and common led her to open a store on called TheFibreMine, where she now sells fleece, I loved the picture of the feral sheep she uses to illustrate the section that showcases fleece from wild sheep. 

She carded the fleece I sent, spun it and dyed it with lichen from her property, as I was to find out. It took months of steeping with the lichen in the warm sun for the colour to set. The picture below uses a different lichen but demonstrates the method she used.

When she was done she sent the yarn to her mom, my wonderful sister-in-law Jan who knitted them into the warmest mitts ever using a technique called thrumming that involves knitting fleece right into the mitts. I had never seen that before.
The inside of one mitten

So 40 years after this sheep perished I have new mitts made from the original fleece. I could not believe my eyes when I got these mitts for Christmas. It's a piece a family history and now our families are even more close-knit than before.


  1. Great post! I can just imagine how lovely those mittens feel!

    1. You're right Amy. Most comfortable mitts ever. I hear the fleece mats as you wear them and makes them even warmer

  2. What an interesting piece of history, Annette. I'm glad there are talented people who still keep such craftmanship alive, and even gladder your fingers get such soft and warm protection! :)

    1. I was amazed that my sister in law and her daughter did this. I couldn't imagine a nicer thing to do, and to me it is so historic. A tangible sign of the old me suddenly appears! Like going back in time.
      The people who keep craftmanship alive do a service to everyone, but this one is the best ever.

    2. I think we all have a story about a project that we carried around with us for years, but had to abandon due to health and other issues. What is so wonderful about this is that someone in your family took up that project and brought it to a conclusion that involved you. It is indeed like a type of time travel linking you in the photo (great dress btw!) and you now. I hope you enjoy the story every time you wear the mitts. *hugs*

  3. What a great story! And I love the shot of you from years ago. ;)

    1. I love that she used lichen for the dye.
      That is probably my best story ever. Interesting to look back at the past. Don solarized the water.behind me in the picture