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Wile Carding Mill Museum | Nova Scotia

Posted on October 28, 2015 in Detours

While driving around Nova Scotia, I was reminded that my sense of direction is not the best — while I was gazing out the car window, I thought my husband was headed back to Halifax after a trip to Ross Family Farm. However, while I was in line buying a hand-made wooden apple basket made by the cooper at the farm, he was on the phone looking up a side trip. It wasn’t until I casually said “Hey, I just saw a sign for a Carding Mill Museum, they are truly serious about their wool here!” that he let me in on the secret — that was exactly where we were headed. (Side note: Best Husband Award)

We had seen a carding mill at the Highland Village in Cape Breton, but had used the building more as a nice, shady resting spot while we traipsed around the village, as no one was in that particular building that day.

Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

We weren’t sure what to expect, but we were graciously greeted by Linda, who asked if we’d like a full tour of the museum. It’s one room, so I wasn’t sure what this “tour” would contain!

The History of the Wile Carding Mill

As it turns out, it was one of the highlights of our trip! Linda was so knowledgeable and told us quite a few stories about what life was like for the residents of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia starting in the 1860’s. The mill was in operation for over 100 years, not fully closing until 1968. The women who worked at the mill dealt with some dirty, dangerous conditions. There was a feeling that the Wile family hired young teenage women because they could pay them a lower wage. One woman who lived until the 1970’s gave the museum a lot of the information on what it was like day after day, including the tidbit that she had to “get new shoes every week” because of the filth of dealing with the oils.

At the peak, Wile’s Carding Mill ran six days a week and was known for being fair to the farmer — and for not mixing fibers so that each farmer got back their own product: whatever fleece you brought into the mill was exactly what was given back to you. I could see how this would be preferable, especially if you had taken care to raise a specific breed.

Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

Carding Wool by Hand

We learned that at the carding mill, a week’s worth of wool could be carded in just an hour. You may not realize just how amazing that is until you get to the part of the tour where you get to actually try carding by hand. Oh. My. God. Our arms were protesting after just a minute or so! And what did we get for this labor? After we learned to roll and spin the fiber, we had our tiny twist of wool:

Wile Carding Museum

You see that? It’s about 3″ across! I could easily see that I would have gladly been in line to have wool carded by the mill!!

Our tour guide was full of stories to share. My favorite was the story of  a crafty local squirrel decided the wool samples kept at the mill (the same ones we learned to hand card with) were being stolen by this smart little creature in order to line her nest. And, not only did she keep coming back for a little more, but she soon realized that there were two grades of wool — raw fiber, and the samples that had been processed a bit and was therefore much fluffier and softer. The workers tried to keep the squirrel out, but as any fiber addict knows, it’s impossible to keep someone so determined from getting her hands (uh, paws) on fine fiber. So, they allowed the critter to come in and take a little bit of wool. We had some good laughs at that.

Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

The squirrel soon learned to go for the wool that had been processed (further back) rather than the raw fiber (in foreground).

Rug Hooking

Towards the end of the tour, we were shown a few rug-hooking samples. I mentioned how I had first seen beautiful hooked rugs in PEI, and then all over Cape Breton and Linda smiled and said “Well, this is your lucky day, because now you are going to try it!” I sat right down and got the hang of it pretty quickly. I quickly realized my “I have so many projects in my Ravelry queue that I can’t possibly start another craft” excuse was not going to hold. By that evening I was searching for “Rug Hooking Kits” on the net.

Rug Hooking at the Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

Try your hand at rug hooking in Nova Scotia.

We ended our tour with a small purchase of locally spun yarn that still smelled of the pastures. I know that sounds horribly hokey, but it’s true! As Linda said “It smells like a farm… but in a good way!”

History & Handicrafts: Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Posted on October 21, 2015 in Detours

We’ve come to that point in October where you realize that Autumn is fleeting and winter will be here before you know it. It definitely has something to do with the skies getting dark before 7:00 pm and knowing that daylight savings is going to kick in very, very soon… never mind that I keep eyeing the calendar while checking the thermostat and making multiple cups of tea!

So, with that, I’m realizing that it’s a long time until summer vacation rolls around again and I’m reminiscing on our trip to Cape Breton and our visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg.

As I’ve mentioned, my husband is very interested in historical sites and “living history” type sites. On the other hand, I find these sites interesting but I’m mostly looking for three things: photo opportunities, traditional craft demonstrations and, of course, animals!

Handmade Bobbin Lace

The first sign that things were going to go well was we wandered by a demonstration of bobbin lace making. Ever make a simple dress or take an old pair of jeans and add just the right touch of lace that you found on Etsy? You were feeling pretty good about that, weren’t you? Yeah, well — once you see someone sit down and meticulously make a piece of lace, you won’t be feeling so smug anymore. I think my eyes would bleed after just a few minutes. It takes hours for this lace-maker to produce even a few inches of trim. Hours. I’m not exaggerating.

Lacemaker at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Fortress of Louisbourg Nova Scotia

I could’ve watched this for a long time, but while this woman calmly created beauty out of mere thread, my husband heard about some cannon that was going to be fired, so off we went. I admit it sounded pretty cool. I just wasn’t sure it was going to be make-thread-into-lace cool.

Drummers at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Drummers at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Canon fire at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Canon fire at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

After losing a bit of hearing (even though we were on the other side of the cannon shot… I honestly think I let out a strangled HOLYCRAAAAP! and jumped out of my skin) We began to wander around. I spotted a whole herd of sheep in a fenced in area, so with camera in hand I left my husband behind. But right before I got to the pen, I noticed this woman who was waiting for a signal, so I stopped. And then? She let the sheep go. Just opened the gate and:

The Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The running of the sheep

The running of the sheep in Fort Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The running of the sheep in Fort Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape BretonThe Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape BretonI got a few snaps after remembering to close my mouth. She looked at me and said “Easiest job in the world.” Um… okay. I’m pretty sure if I let sheep go, they’d scatter and that would be the end of any wool-dreams I had. But no, she was right. The sheep ran right into another pen, happy as… well, sheep. I guess.

Cape Breton Crafts

One of the best things about visiting Cape Breton was the sheer number of traditional crafts that you can find. Not only did I find great yarn shops throughout the trip (more on that later) but I learned so much about how wool is made into yarn, how lace is made, and saw multiple examples of weaving and rug hooking. Add that to the gorgeous scenery and you can understand why I can’t wait to return.

Traditional crafts can be found all over Cape Breton

Traditional crafts can be found all over Cape Breton

Speaking of scenery, I’ll end with an obligatory lighthouse image. This one is very close to the Fortress and is on the site of the first Canadian lighthouse. The views were amazing, even with the wind whipping around. Definitely worth a stop after visiting the Fortress!

Louisbourg Lighthouse, Cape Breton

Louisbourg Lighthouse, Cape Breton

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