A couple of weeks ago I made a visit to Pine Hill Farm in Hemmingford, Quebec, about one hour south of Montreal and close to the New York border. As part of an article I’m writing for Spin-Off, I decided to feature Pine Hill as a source of fleece and other spinning fibre in the Montreal region. I’d already seen their product for sale at Ariadne Knits (including yarn made from a sheep whose fleece is inexplicably uniformly canary yellow) and their small Border Leicester flock in scenic Hemmingford seemed like an excellent choice for the article.
When I made contact with the owner, Anna-Maria, she asked if I’d be open to teaching a spinning workshop for her and a couple of friends on the day of my visit. So, with spinning wheel, camera, and a lot of coffee in tow, I made the three-hour drive into southwestern Quebec. The area alternates between apple orchards and stands of sugar maples, and as such receives a healthy bit of tourist traffic in early fall and early spring.
Pine Hill itself sprawls across acres of rolling, rocky land and is home to a few dozen Border Leicesters and crosses, seen here walking back to the barn:
Anna-Maria could name every sheep as it walked by and tell me about the characteristics of each one’s fleece. Most were wary of us but a few bottle-fed lambs walked right up for a pat:
Speaking of the fleece, it was beautiful–Border Leicesters have a medium wool with a high lustre that grows in tight ringlets. I learned that the Border Leicester was the favoured breed in this part of Quebec, brought there by Scottish immigrants and popular because of their strong fleece and hardy constitution. Border Leicester ewes are good mothers and the breed does well in harsher climates. Fleece, on the sheep:
Teaching the workshop was a bit of challenge due to the wheels involved–two participants had antique Quebec production wheels, originally made for spinning great quantities of very fine yarn as fast as possible, and tricky even when in pristine condition. Most of the antique Quebec wheels out there are in need of repair or at least adjustment, and the ones in the workshop certainly fell into this category. I was impressed at the tenacity of their owners, though, who kept spinning despite the wheels’ tendency to suddenly stop working. Everyone spun a bit on my Lendrum and was amazed that spinning could be so easy and trouble-free! I’d love to get my hands on a restored Quebec wheel, actually–emphasis on restored. ;)
Anna-Maria and I also took a trip down to the road to Sue Heller’s farm, home of the annual Roxham Wool Gathering which draws participants from Montreal and beyond (including my friends at Ariadne). Sue’s got a small flock guarded by a geriatric and very well-bred Thoroughbred mare named Maggie. Maggie was initially unsure of these strange woolly creatures but now guards them as well as any dog:
It was great to meet Sue, who has been spinning for years and years. She was surprised to learn of the popularity of spinning in my former home of Colorado, as it really hasn’t experienced the same kind of renewed interest in Quebec that it has elsewhere. I speculated that up until fairly recently, spinning in Quebec was far from a leisure activity–it was work, and there was lots of it to be done to bring in even a small income. Sue told me that on the old Quebec farms, older unmarried female family members (“spinsters,” if you will) were allowed to spin by the fire as cold temperatures caused the wool to break. (Something Sue found out for herself at an outdoor demo in early spring one year.)
Sue dyes much of her yarn herself, and experimenting with a copper mordant (and no dye) she came up with the light green shown in the little rat here. I thought he was Yoda, at first (come on, don’t you see it?):
At the end of a glorious fall day I headed back through the maples and apple farms, over the St. Lawrence river (a few times), back to Ontario. Look for the photos in Spin-Off’s spring issue next year.