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All creatures woolly and wonderful
I’ve never met anyone who knows as much about wool as, aptly named, Kathy Chapdelaine. Kathy doesn’t just knit; she raises several kinds of wool-producing animals, harvests their fleece and down, and has it spun the old-fashioned way into
skeins of natural wool of the highest quality. Then she knits with it! “What’s nice about hand-spinning is if the animal has many colours, you get the natural mix of colours in the wool, the variation,” mentioned Kathy in our interview that took place at the small farm that she runs with her husband, David Lord, in Compton.
The kinds of sheep that are included in the Compton couple’s menagerie are several Shetland sheep, Icelandic sheep and one very impressive Jacob sheep that had four long horns. “The Jacob is a very old sheep and can grow up to six horns,” said the expert. They also have llamas, alpacas and a huarizo: a cross between an alpaca and a llama that I got to meet up close. He was very friendly but a little too rambunctious for my liking, jumping in the air like a giant dog with huge hoofs. “The llamas and alpacas get along really well together. They’re really easy-caring animals that eat a very basic diet.”
And then there are her cashmere goats, those producers of the finest, softest wool imaginable. “We’re one of only two cashmere goat breeders in Quebec,” said Kathy as she showed me some skeins of ivory-coloured wool, I think the softest I’d ever felt. “Cashmere is not picky at all. It’s extremely warm for its weight but it doesn’t wear well. It’s not good for socks. I get my cashmere fibres tested at a lab in New Zealand to make sure it’s pure cashmere. The cashmere fibre has to be less than 19 microns wide and the length has to be at least 1 ¼ inches. I don’t shear the goats, I brush them to get the down. It’s easier and there’s less waste. When you start to see little fibres growing on the goat’s horns, that’s when it’s time to brush them. Knitters appreciate the cashmere; it’s the ultimate.”
When Kathy and her husband moved to their farm in Compton, they first began raising horses and goats. “We had Boer goats for meat and I thought it was sad when we had to send them for slaughter. Then I was looking at a website and saw that in Northern British Columbia they had cashmere goats. So I decided to buy one male and three females. After that it was anything with hair!”
Besides producing beautiful wool from their small mixed herd, keeping all the down and fleece separate so as to produce wools of pure cashmere, alpaca, llama etc., Kathy also likes to experiment. “This scarf was knit from wool made from the hair of my collie,” said Kathy as she showed me a lovely, soft scarf in different shades of tan. The colours were natural and the scarf actually smelled...nice!
If you’ve ever been to the Citadel of Quebec for the changing of the Guard Ceremony, then you know what a cashmere goat looks like: the mascot of the Royal 22nd Regiment is a cashmere goat and it’s the highlight of the ceremony for many. As one of the few breeders of cashmere goats in Quebec, Kathy’s herd drew the attention of the Citadel’s animal keepers many years ago. “The Shah of Persia gave cashmere goats to Queen Victoria in the 1800’s and when the Citadel needed new goats for their herd, they would get them from the Royal herd. But once the mad cow disease came out, they couldn’t get the goats from England anymore. So they contacted me for goats. They’ve even given me cashmere goats when they had extra ones,” she explained.
Kathy enjoys raising her animals and they all seemed content in their small pastures on the farm beside the Moe’s River. “The goats need a really good fence – the sheep are easier to keep. Once our goats got loose and my dad managed to get them into the garage. When we got home from work and opened the garage door, one of the goats had a pail on its head! They’re very curious.”
“More than a passion, I’d call my interest in wool an addiction. I’m always checking out other wools. I’m also taking knitting lessons and I’m in a knitting club. Knitting is getting more popular again; it’s therapeutic!”
Kathy sells her wool and wool products at local craft fairs, Christmas shows and through her website. She will also be demonstrating her craft this Sunday during OldFashioned Days at the Cookshire Fairgrounds.
Kathy Chapdelaine gets a kiss from Falala, a huarizo which is a cross between an alpaca and a llama.