32 FIBRE mills have high start-up costs

Foundation of BC to raise the profile of local fibre, conduct a survey, produce directory of producers and resources, and create a hub for buyers and sellers. The recent move and change in ownership of the Qualicum fibre mill to North Saanich has further inspired fibre producers and artists to work together on using and promoting local fibre. Brennan bought and

relocated the antique mill equipment to her father’s farm and already has wool orders ready to go. She is set to open in early April, providing washing, picking, carding and spinning services. She raises alpacas on the farm and is looking forward to being closer to her father so he can age in place. “It is a great transition for the farm and my dad is very supportive,” says Brennan. Although most fibresheds can be compared to the Slow Food movement in that artisan-produced textiles are not mass-produced, fibresheds also include the mechanized mills that still exist for processing Canadian fibre. BC has a few smaller commercial mills, with the


North Saanich mill the newest.

Another new mill, opened

November 2016, is in an industrial area of Kamloops. That Darn Yarn Shop and Fibre Mill is owned and operated by Nicole Link- Loehr, who also teaches knitting classes. She already has over a year’s worth of fleece to work on, with high demand for her services. The oldest wool mill, operating since 1939, is Birkeland Bros. Wool. Originally located in Vancouver, the third- generation operation was sold and relocated to Abbotsford in 2012. Birkeland Bros. provides custom wool processing for wool producers, as well as hosting the Abbotsford Spinners and Weavers Guild, providing classes in wool crafts and selling wool products. Some mills, like the Gulf Islands Spinning Mill on Salt Spring, have been dismantled because of the financial costs to operate. The Gulf Islands mill was established in 1998 and operated as a co- operative initially but closed in 2016 and the equipment sold to local fibre artists.

COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • APRIL 2018 nfrom page 31

Brian Shaw showed farmers how to prepare a fleece to maximize its value during a workshop in Williams Lake in 2016. Fibresheds are creating new opportunities for wool producers. BARBARA JOHNSTONE GRIMMER PHOTOS

Wool once had high value

before synthetic fibres became popular and global markets set local prices.

Although prices for fine wools have been increasing, the coarser fibres typical of most local sheep have not



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Sheep farmers may want to re-evaluate the value of their fleeces now that fibresheds are gaining momentum.

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appreciated in price at the same rate. As shearers make their rounds this spring to shear sheep flocks in the province, some sheep producers will pack their fleeces for sale outside of the province; others will view the wool as a by-product of little value, perhaps better used for mulch in the garden. With wool mills costing $200,000 to $250,000, the start-up costs are the main challenge, according to Brennan. Tomsin, who is a sheep producer, crafter and shearer, adds her concerns that “the cost of production of small mills will put a challenge on the finished price for products, leaving little room for retail or a crafter. The plan doesn’t appear to have a goal of paying the farmers more for their wool or fibre.” Cost of production hits

everyone in the pocket book. The Vancouver Island

Fibreshed Project will do an assessment of fibre farmers and their needs, with the intent to develop a “social enterprise – a sustainable economic loop,” according to Drury, who has worked many years in sourcing fair-trade silk in Cambodia. Perhaps what is most

important is that fibresheds, although not a household word yet, have the potential to increase the demand and appreciation for regional wool and other local fibres, and as a result there could be a fair- trade approach to prices for fibre producers.


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