How this Whole Crazy Thing Started
Stone Spindle Farm was founded in the summer of 2016, but it really started years before.
I have always been a “Maker”, from a family tradition of women makers. Having grown up seeing this the idea of homes where making things didn’t happen always seemed odd to me as a child. I started sewing early and learned to knit not long after. Seeing my mother making clothes and doing needlework was a normal part of home life. This extended to my sister as well as myself. It was to the point that my father asked that all projects be worked on down in the family room so he could read the newspaper without having to take the time to clear off the coffee table in the living room. There were times when things got a little overwhelming downstairs and I can remember more that once him standing in the middle of the family room looking bewildered uttering “Ladies, please”. One of my grandmothers was a professional tailor and while showing horses I benefitted from her talent. Waiting to enter the ring at big shows with others girls on their high-priced horses and feeling very out of place was always intimidating. Often I would have competitors ask me where I bought my show clothes. Being able to say that they were custom made was a confidence booster!
Being raised in town, by parents with no farming background my only real exposure to livestock was the annual fall fair, a Labour Day family tradition. The last hurrah before heading back to school. The rides and games were okay, but I was there for the animals. The horse show, petting zoo, and livestock rings always drew me. My family didn't understand the attraction, so I had to soak in as much as possible, as fast as possible. If I got separated from everyone their first stop was the horse show because that’s where I would be. I had my first exposure to camelids when a llama at the petting zoo grabbed my ponytail and pulled me over!
After relocating cross country, we were in northern Alberta where rural living was the norm and my farming dreams started to feel within reach. After graduating I stared working for the local yarn store before heading to University. It was the only one for hundreds of kilometres but living up there that was considered local. Working as a custom knitter I developed a serious yarn habit. Going home from work at night involved lugging about 6 different bags full of yarn and works in progress. I always joked that I would never be mugged because by the time the robber got to the third bag, he’d be so bored and frustrated that he would just give up and leave. I learned so much during that time, most of which I still rely on.
My first wheel - an Ashford Elizabeth - was a Christmas gift with the hopes that it would lower the cost of my yarn habit. It backfired. Next was some Suffolk cross sheep, then some registered Columbia show sheep, and some angora goats that needed a new home. At that time spinning was not a common pastime and finding someone to learn from wasn’t an option. No internet meant working from books, and not all of them were that good. To complicate things my wheel was a double drive, and was built to spin fine yarns really well. There was not a lot of fine yarn in the beginning and it’s a testament to my mile wide stubborn streak that I actually kept at it.
At this time a large herd of alpacas was purchased in Peru and imported to ranch near me and I had the opportunity to get up close. That was it, I wanted some. Alpacas then were very different from what you see today, thanks to careful breeding. Fleeces were much coarser and the interbreeding with llamas was apparent.
Time moved on, life changed and Todd and I met and made the choice to move to Southern Alberta. I had to leave the sheep and goats behind, but the show horses and the kennel of show dogs moved with me. I think that it was a shock to my city born husband to be suddenly in the country with horses and dogs, working with 4H kids and worrying about feed and all the other things that came with rural life. It didn’t take long for his inner farmer to emerge. Drives along the highway involved asking what plants were growing in the fields on either side. I got really good at being able to tell the difference between wheat and barley at 100kmh.
More decisions and we were loading up and moving East, back to my roots. Packing up and moving us, the horses, and the dogs was huge. My camelid dreams took a big step toward being realized on that long drive.
All because of one of the horses got stuck in the mud.
The kind neighbour who stopped to let me know the horse was struggling behind the barn turned out be the owner of the local alpaca farm. We got talking and next thing I know we are helping with shearing, and things took off from there. We had empty pastures after the horses passed away, so we would keep the male herd at our house all summer. Todd thought that it would fulfill my need for livestock. I was suffering from “empty barn syndrome”.
The addition of our son Thomas was quickly followed by me embarking on the OHS Spinning Certificate Course at Haliburton School of the Arts. Thinking back starting this huge commitment when Thomas was only a few months old was a little crazy. Particularly when I was placed on the waiting list and headed west to visit family. We got home to a handful of messages saying that a space had opened up and 3 days after getting home I was packed and heading to school. I also began selling handspun yarns about this time as well. Things were a little busy around here!
More time passed and during a casual conversation with the farm’s owners, who had become our friends, Todd mentioned that if they ever wanted to sell the house, we would be interested in buying. Two months later he came home from a karate class to tell me about his comment and that they have decided to move to the city and are offering us the chance to buy before putting it on the market. Presto! We were selling our farm. We got to work getting the house ready. This involved packing up a lot of spinning fibre and yarn. By the end of July 2016 we were moved and settling into the new farm.
We still joke that I bought a herd with a house and Todd bought a house with a herd. I also think that Todd was thrilled that I have a studio space and there is no longer fleece and yarns stored all over the house.
It has been a steep learning curve at times, and education never stops. We spend a lot of time planning and setting those ideas into motion to drive the farm in the direction that we want it to grow. New additions to the herd, barn and equipment upgrades. Traveling to shows and doing them together, even after Todd swore that he wasn’t going to do shows. There are times that I don’t think that we are moving forward and things aren’t changing. Then I look back to the photos from the last few years and remind myself that things are moving forward, though never as fast as I want them too.
Agriculture comes in many forms and we spend lots of time talking to people about fibre farming and alpacas. I am still working on the work/life balance, but I am getting better at setting work aside and spending some personal time on myself and family.
This is the beginning of this story, and we are enjoying seeing where it leads us.