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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!”