Meet the Maker: Fleece & Harmony
We're thrilled to be opening this year's collaboration cycle with an exclusive yarn kit with Fleece & Harmony yarns - not only because Jennifer dyed up a gorgeous custom colorway called "Exhale" (Could there be a more perfect name?), but especially because Fleece & Harmony has such a wonderful vision and mission that just deserves to be told.
All their yarns are grown, processed and dyed on their farm in Canada before making their way into the hands of knitters all over the world. We loved hearing about their beginnings and what makes their yarn special - and why they're strict opponents of all things plastic.
Could you share a little bit about your company and yourself? Who are you and what does Fleece & Harmony do?
Fleece & Harmony Woolen Mill is the culmination of a passion project that took us (and our husbands) from the big city to the pastoral fields and shores of Prince Edward Island. In Prince Edward Island, thankfully, life moves at a slower pace. We spin local Island fibre into yarn, which we then hand dye using Greener Shades acid dyes.
- To raise animals the natural way, on the pasture.
- To hand-craft every detail, in every small batch of wool.
- To ensure our fibres come from a good place. Like our backyard.
- To support our local producers and encourage the expansion of our local fibreshed through local purchasing, and initiatives like the PEI Fibre Trail.
I love hearing about how people came to their professions - how did you get to do what you do today?
We were in corporate careers with two of Canada’s largest employers, one in Toronto, one in Montreal. One of us was working in the field of Human Resources/Industrial relations, and the other in Trade Marketing. We both wanted more space, more free time, and a richer life (with more animals) and we found we were happiest when pursuing our hobby of riding horses.
We decided to buy a farm sort of out of the blue. We do not come from farming backgrounds, although our father grew up on a farm and would tell wonderful stories about those days. We knew NOTHING. We actually had to call our father and ask if a hen would still lay eggs if there was no rooster present. And yes, we are now responsible for hundreds of lives. 😊 We worked very hard in the beginning to make sure we educated ourselves on animal husbandry and attended Dalhousie University for a sheep focused agriculture program that ran on weekends, and then just made sure we surrounded ourselves with the most knowledgeable people we could find. When it comes to our animals, we don’t like to make mistakes.
Yarn goes through a long production process before it hits the hands of a knitter - from “growing” the fibres to dyeing and shipping, there are so many different elements to it. Could you walk me through the different steps that go into the Fleece & Harmony yarns and who does what?
Yes, and we do all of the steps here on our farm. We like to say that we are farmers first. We breed the sheep and are there for virtually every birth of a new lamb on our farm. We raise the lambs and care for the moms in the most sustainable way we can. Our sheep are raised on pasture to the extent that our climate allows. We are not trying to hit a “target” on how fast our lambs mature. We raise dual purpose sheep for fibre and meat. The meat is sold mainly to the local market, supporting restaurants that focus on locally sourced and humanely raised products.
We shear our sheep twice a year, and this is done by our local shearer Amber, who was taught by her father at a very young age. Once the fleece is removed, we skirt it (remove undesirable bits) and store it until we are ready to spin it.
Once we are ready to use that particular fleece, it is skirted a bit more thoroughly, washed, air dried and then put through various machines to comb and condition the fibre for spinning. The Belfast Mini Mills has a complete explanation on all of the components of their mill, but essentially, we pick and condition it, dehair it, card it, comb it in something called a draw frame, and then spin it. Finally, the spun plies are plied together into the base you want.
We are able to blend alpaca, mohair and angora from local sources as well, in order to create some specialty yarns. Our mill is capable of producing 20lbs of yarn per day at our current size. The mill is modular, so we can add to that capacity by purchasing additional equipment.
Some of our sheep only grow enough wool to be shorn once a year, so essentially, the entire process can take over a year from the sheep growing that fibre, to it actually becoming yarn and getting into the hands of the knitter.
Working with sustainably, ethically produced and traceable yarns is something that I am extremely passionate about - and I gather you are as well. What does sustainability mean for you and how does your work at Fleece & Harmony relate to these values?
First and foremost, we simply do not want to use an animal fibre that had any chance of coming from an animal that was not treated properly. We call that “sad yarn” as opposed to our “feel good yarn”. Based on what I’ve said above about the yarn making process, that animal was alive for at least 6 months to create that fibre. How did they live during that time? It matters. In order to have an abundance of this feel good yarn (or fibre), you must do it in a sustainable way.
Wool, in and of itself, is far more sustainable than plastic, and with far less opportunity for human rights violations in its manufacture. Acrylic, polyamide, polyester, nylon…it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s plastic, and we don’t consider that a sustainable fibre.
Natural wool is a renewable resource and it is truly amazing in its natural qualities. Wool is warm, water absorbent, flame resistant, antimicrobial and has elasticity that synthetic fibres do not. As knitters, we find it more comfortable to work with due to its elasticity (crimp), and that it pills far less than synthetic blends in your finished project. Wool is also very washable. It’s a myth that it isn’t. Most modern washing machines have a wool or delicate (cold water) cycle, and also only rinse in cold water to save energy, so throw woolens in the washer and just block them to dry, if hand washing is not your thing.
What else should we know about you and Fleece & Harmony? Any exciting plans for the future?
Our mission is really to help people gain (or regain) an appreciation for natural fibre. To stop using so much plastic as though it doesn’t matter, because it does. People who don’t use wool, because of concerns over shearing, for example, are kidding themselves. Plastic is not better. It’s not better for the environment and it’s not better for the humans involved in its manufacture in a lot of cases. Our plans are to continue to grow, continue proving that wool is wonderful, and to hopefully make our yarn available all over the world. We already ship internationally, we would love to expand on that side of the business. We would also like to encourage our own country of Canada, to gain more of an appreciation for the wool that is manufactured here, because we believe the quality to be excellent, and frequently overlooked.
What’s the best place for people to find you?
We would love for people to find us on our website at www.fleeceandharmony.com, and we are most active on Instagram @fleeceandharmony, although we do also have twitter @fleeceharmony and facebook @fleeceandharmony.
You can also find us, and our happy sheep here on Prince Edward Island, and we welcome you to visit us in person!
All pictures by Fleece & Harmony.