Monday, November 15, 2010

Visiting the Gulf Islands Spinning Mill

Once upon a time a knitter and her husband spent a lovely summer holiday at Bullock Lake Farm Bed and Breakfast. The husband spent his days watching the sheep graze in the meadow, and scratching their ears when they flocked around him on his visits to the paddock. 

The knitter saw the change in her husband during their stay: his shoulders relaxed, he walked more slowly, and he seemed to be taking in more of his natural surroundings. She wanted to make this experience continue beyond the end of their say. "There must be a way," she reasoned. "That he can take the sheep with him." And there was... 

One bright and sunny day I took a ferry to Salt Spring Island. My mission: to visit the Gulf Island Spinning Mill, a co-operative established in 1999 born out of the island farmers' need for a local facility to process fleece from a variety of fibre producing animals. John Fulker, one of the co-operative's directors, was my guide. He advised that the mill--that operates Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm--processes fleece from sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas. 

Although the mill was established to handle small quantities of fibre, ingenuity has been employed to increase the mill's productivity. John proudly pointed out the adaptations, which include customized machinery. 

Gulf Island Spinning Mill serves farmers from Salt Spring Island, the Southern Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island. The farmers receive advice on how best to care for their livestock. Information about how to care for the fibre when it is on the animal, and how to skirt fleeces helps to ensure that the finished product will be of high quality. 

The Mill produces a number of products for knitters, weavers, and spinners. In addition to supplying the Canadian market, Gulf Islands Spinning Mill ships goods to the United States and Great Britain. Visitors come from as far away as Japan and Australia, and many of them have taken home some of the Mill's truly Canadian souvenirs. 

Two annual events are held on the mill grounds--a fibre festival in July and a Fall Fair in September. 

After our tour of the Mill, John whisked me off to his farm, five minutes away. Bullock Lake Farm is home to a collection of fibre producing animals, a fully equipped Bed and Breakfast, and a yarn shop. 

The small yarn shop is brimming over with treasures, all nicely displayed. Knitwear, patterns, batts, roving, felted wall hangings, and yarn are sold in the shop. Among the skeins is Island Blend Yarn a product of Gulf Islands Spinning Mill. It is a blend of alpaca, wool, and mohair--the wool gives loft, the alpaca warmth, the mohair adds lustre and brilliance to the colours. It has a hand spun look and is very soft to the touch. 

At the conclusion of my fun and informative tour, John told me how the visitor took the sheep home. Why she purchased several skeins of Island Blend Yarn, of course. 

  This article was first published in November 2003 by the Canadian knitting magazine--Knit Together.