If you’ve only heard about spinning wheels in the context of Sleeping Beauty – when Princess Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep – you’re not alone.
Faith Drinnan, the owner of Sisterhood Fibres in Tatamagouche, says not many people realize spinning wheels are still used to turn wool into yarn. She compares the age-old practice to baking from scratch.
“In the same way that you can buy a cake mix, buy a bag of flour or mill your own flour, you can buy yarn, buy roving that’s ready for spinning, or buy raw fleece to wash and card,” said Drinnan. “It’s about encouraging women to get together, relax, have fun and learn new skills.”
For Drinnan, spinning is a meditative, calming practice that slows her down and eases her anxiety. She also loves the creativity of being able to customize her yarn.
“I can produce any colour I want, make it as thin or thick as I want, and even add beads or make it 10 different shades,” said Drinnan. “I can mix the beautiful colour of Romney with Alpaca to make it soft.”
Drinnan recently sold her marketing agency in Halifax in order to focus full-time on weaving the future of Sisterhood Fibres. She organizes retreats and workshops across the North Shore, and sometimes invites attendees to stay in tents on her lovely 11.5 acre property, which has a gorgeous view of Tatamagouche Bay. Every workshop she’s ever organized has been a sell-out success.
While the house is more than 100 years old, it boasts a renovated garage with an airy studio and even a dye kitchen for colouring wool. The built-in shelves are filled with soft bundles of fibres, and spinning wheels are arranged near the cozy window seats.
There are items for sale, but it’s really not a store. It’s a space where people are welcome to drop in and ask questions, or relax and work on a project. Sometimes an entire group will book a time to join Drinnan for tea and cookies while they work. On some Sundays, she’ll settle herself on the grass at Masstown Market and invite people to join her for crafting and conversation.
“We yak and look at each other’s projects – like ‘What’s on your needles?’ ‘What’s on your hook?’” said Drinnan. “It’s a great way to meet people and get ideas for new projects.”
There are more than 1,000 breeds of sheep and each produces a different fibre, so Drinnan spends part of her spinning workshops explaining the different varieties.
“Merino sheep have merino wool and Cotswold sheep have Cotswold wool, for example, and they’re all good for different things,” sai Drinnan. “You can blend them together to make something that’s softer or thicker or warmer, depending on what you want.”
Drinnan is passionate about raising awareness about local fibres, and she likens the challenge to how the craft beer industry has inspired tourists to want to try local varieties.
“I want to get to the point when knitters and fibre enthusiasts want to try a new Nova Scotia yarn when they’re visiting Nova Scotia,” said Drinnan.
Each band of her wool contains the name of the sheep that provided it – like Annabelle, a favourite Cotswold sheep who lives in Malagash.
She says the fibre arts seemed to skip a generation, but she’s glad an increasing number of people in their 20s and early 30s are embracing them. In fact, her own 20-year-old daughter recently took up knitting again for the first time since childhood.
“There are so many benefits in taking an hour for yourself to knit and relax,” said Drinnan. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment to have something you’ve made with your own hands.”
Sisterhood Fibres offers it all – weaving, felting, knitting, crocheting and spinning – and Drinnan says it’s all easier than it looks.
“I never want people to think weaving or knitting or crocheting is for the multitalented artist – anybody can do it,” said Drinnan. “It’s simple to make something absolutely stunning.”
She’s working on producing kits that include everything required for a project, including the pattern, to make it even easier for newbies. If you’ve never spun before, Drinnan says it’s best to start with a $15 drop-spindle. It does the same motion as an expensive spinning wheel, so it’s an affordable way to see if you like it or not.
“It’s a traditional craft but it’s relevant in modern times. We don’t have to spin anymore – to make our sails or our clothes – but the wonderful thing is that we can,” said Drinnan. “When you wear something that’s been handmade, you can feel the love in it.”
Sisterhood Fibres is located at 567 Sand Point Rd. in Tatamagouche. For more information, please call (902) 657-2431, reach out on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.