Grow it, spin it, wear it

Artist turns alpaca and goat fibre
into warm garments

BLUCHER, Sask. — The craft of spinning animal fibre into winter woolies started small for Terra Dionne when a friend offered her his Angora rabbits in trade.

“I started with one for two cases of beer. He only asked for one (case),” she joked.

The rabbits are gone, but today her 80 acre property houses 11 Huacaya and Suri alpacas and five Angora goats, all of which she shears herself.

Spinning has grown into a hobby cum business, Spin It, which fills most corners of her home in Saskatchewan’s Blucher district.

The business is growing with money earned from the processed fibre beginning to pay for the animals’ feed, Dionne said.

High quality fibre starts at the farmyard by providing alpacas with good hay and supplements.

Alpacas, which are considered guard animals, have distinct personalities, produce good fibre and are easy to keep, she said.

“They don’t challenge the fence much,” she said.

Dionne, who previously owned and managed fast food restaurants, started the craft when her two children were young. Her husband’s work took him away from home a lot, and she was looking for something to do to keep busy.

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“It’s all consuming. It’s very therapeutic,” Dionne said of the rhythm of her spinning wheels and the luxurious feel of the fibre.

Dionne, who has created a range of products from cowls to socks to capes, said her strengths lie in spinning and dye work.

“You can keep growing in different directions. There’s always something new to learn,” she said.

Dionne is currently working on a master spinners’ designation to further hone her skills and teach others.

She, like her mother and sister, is also an artist, with her acrylic paintings prominently displayed in her home.

Dionne uses a wool mill in Alberta to process her raw fibre into wool, which she then dyes using fruits and plants and converts into long rope-like strands suitable for spinning and felting.

She markets her products on social media sites such as spinitsask.blogspot.ca and participates in trade shows.

Dionne said it can be tough selling socks for $28 a pair, but much work and cost goes into their creation.

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Colin Hergert, past-president of Saskatchewan Weavers and Spinners (SWS), said wool crafts remain a largely female preoccupation and more a hobby than a business, citing limited markets for the end products.

“It’s not something people can make a living at, but some can augment or supplement their income,” he said.

Social media sites can help crafters create a presence and seek out markets farther afield, he added.

Hergert said home crafts are experiencing a bit of an uptick.

In particular, he said the portability of knitting appeals to the millennial generation.

Hergert keeps his loom handy at his home near Buffalo Pound Lake north of Moose Jaw, Sask.

“I like the structure, math and orderliness of it. It’s almost a meditative process as you move from step to step,” he said.

SWS, which holds regular educational retreats for its more than 100 members, is one resource available to those interested in these crafts.

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