By Teresa Michaud
Several years ago my sister-in-law Lucette had come up from Ottawa with my brother Mike for a visit. I was not surprised to see Lucette with a knitting project. She often created her own knit designs. She believed in using only natural materials. She knitted hats and things; and she loved to sew. She sewed up garments using all natural fibres such as wool and cotton. On this occasion, she had brought along with her a sweater that she was knitting.
The colors, of this yarn in particular, were lovely and the yarn was so soft that I could not stop touching it. I can still see it in my mind's eye. We were both standing on my mother’s veranda and I was fondling a skein of beautiful curly kid mohair. The yarn had such lovely character. It was just splendid! The color was a gorgeous, rich blend of teal, peacock, pink and forest green. I remember telling Lucette that I thought that the yarn she was using to make her sweater was beautiful and that I had never seen such yarn before. It was then that she revealed to me not only had she dyed it herself, she also spun it. My jaw dropped and I was in awe. I was astonished. I had never met anyone who could spin.
When my eldest son was six, he worked at the Kings Landing Historical Settlement. He was dressed in historical clothing, went to school, worked and played as if it were the early eighteenth century. While spending time with my young son at his work, I visited one of the historical homes where a young woman sat spinning. My heart leapt. Upon closer observation, I was disappointed to see that she was faking it. I touched some wool fleece then walked away believing that spinning was a lost art. That winter, I happened to catch a glimpse of a woman spinning on a children’s show. I stopped what I was doing and watched with interest. While a song played, a woman went “from sheep to sweater”. It showed a man shearing the sheep, the woman then spun up the wool into yarn; knitted up two sweaters then, by the end of the song, the two children were seen chasing after the sheep each wearing one of the newly spun sweaters. Now here I was standing in the presence of my own sister-in-law who knew how to spin and was exceptionally good at it.
I asked her where the mohair came from. I imagined it coming come from a very large, soft, hairy, “Mo” that lived up in Northern Quebec or possibly on Baffin Island, somewhere near the Hudson Strait. I thought that perhaps it might be a distant relative to the Musk Ox or even the Bison. She replied that she got it from a friend who lives near her. She said that her friend owned goats. I reflected on this as I pushed a strand of hair from my face. I wondered what goats have to do with it. Then she said that her friend put little sweaters on her goats to keep them clean. Now I was very confused. Why would anyone put sweaters on a goat? Her friend must be nuts. Nevertheless, curiosity got the best of me. “What kind of goats are these?” I finally asked after a period of silence.
“Why they are Angora Goats.” She replied, “They are these tiny little goats; they go up to about my knees and they are so friendly. They give such lovely, curly mohair and it grows so fast, she clips them twice a year.”
I was always interested in getting a few sheep but this was new. This caught my interest. Mohair comes from goats! I had to find out more about these little goats. I began my quest to gather information on angora goats and spinning. When I saw my first picture of an angora goat I laughed so hard, I had tears in my eyes. It looked like it was wearing baggy, hairy pyjama pants. All you could see was the very tip of its nose. It was so cute! I have to get me some of these.
I found a nice herd in New York State, but we were not able to cross them over to Canada; the mad cow disease had closed the borders. The woman from New York State gave me the names of the people in Canada where she bought her breeding stock. I immediately gave them a call.
I have hauled my horses before, lots of times, but I have never hauled goats. I had a few days to prepare a vehicle to bring the angora goats home from the south of Montréal. As it turned out, I chose to use my faithful 1993 Dodge Grand Caravan ES with a quarter of a million kilometres on it. I removed the seats and measured the inside. I then cut out a piece of in-ground pool liner and lined the entire back of my van up to the windows. I held the pool liner in place with lots of duct tape. I layered two large pieces of cardboard on the floor and covered them with straw. I hoped that the goats would not feel too crowded back there. I wondered if I might end up with a couple up front and perhaps one on my lap before I got home.
At 10:30 AM Saturday morning, I drove into the goat breeder’s yard with my newly renovated goat mobile. Upon completion of all the necessary paperwork, they loaded seven goats into my minivan. The bewildered goats were all huddled, trembling together in the far rear corner of the van. The breeder quipped, “You’ve got room for at least 20 more, how about it?” Tempting as it was, I had to decline. Raymond would have an aneurism. As it were, he believed that I was bringing home more work.
I got home at about 1:30 AM that night. It was raining. Raymond was waiting up for me. He had prepared a nice stall in the shed. It was warm and dry and he had lined the stall walls with cardboard. We began unloading the goats one by one and brought them to the stall. We unloaded the sixth goat. The seventh goat, Rosa, decided that she was not going to wait alone in the van and darted for the door. I grabbed her horn just as she leapt and it slipped out of my hand from the momentum. Off she ran into the night. The rain poured down. Raymond cut across the muddy fields, with long ground covering strides, towards the woods. He wanted to head her off so as not lose her in the trees. I found the powerful flashlight and shone it across the ploughed field towards the trees. Rosa’s eyes lit up in the night. She was running full speed along the woods. She immediately spotted Raymond and turned to run the other way. She turned again and headed back through the muddy fields towards home. Shortly she began struggling with exhaustion. Raymond was catching up to her. He tackled her; throwing her down into the mud under his weight. He easily scooped her up into his arms and carried her back. Moments later, they stepped out of the darkness, both of them caked with mud. “2R” Raymond stated solemnly, “You’ll have to keep an eye on this one.”
At 6:00 AM, the next morning, I awoke thinking that now; we were the proud owners of seven registered purebred angora goats. I dressed and headed into the shed to see our new goats. I was not prepared for what I saw. The goats were everywhere; one was on the seat of the horse sleigh, two were on top of the freezer, another was munching the wires off my bicycle and yet another was chewing on my cherished show saddle. Just then, Raymond came in behind me. “Where is the cardboard that I lined the inside of the pen with?” It was just gone. Raymond noticed a sixth goat on the tool bench eating the cardboard miter saw box. The only goat left in the pen was Rosa ‘2R’. She was chewing her cud placidly. To my utter amazement, there was no trace of mud left on her curly, soft, shimmering coat.
Later that month, I purchased a spinning wheel from Lucette. She sent it to me from Ottawa. It is a Louet S10. That summer, I taught myself to spin. I read every book that I could find on the subject. I ordered some brown wool blended with something. I caught on right away. Raymond came in one day and saw me spinning. “Hey, you are getting good at that.” I spun up two bobbins then I plied it and the first thing that I knitted up was a goat sweater.
Lucette returned for another visit. We spun and dyed yearling mohair the whole time she was here. It was a blast. After her visit, I was inspired. I dyed mohair with weeds, goldenrod flowers, wild cherries, onionskins, tea; anything that I could think of that might give me an interesting color. I spun up the mohair, and then sold the hand spun yarn. I continued to knit socks and mittens and I sent away 35 pounds of kid mohair to a mini-mill for processing. They spun it into four styles of fingering yarns for me. I sold raw and scoured kid mohair and then I created my own website. I could no longer keep up to the demand for socks and mittens and I became overwhelmed. The orders just kept coming in. Last fall, Raymond and I sent two hundred pounds of kid mohair yarn to Montreal. The textile company manufactured socks for us in different styles and sizes.
Present day, I am still in love with spinning and knitting. Our little herd of purebred angora goats is growing. We sell mohair socks every day, amazingly even during the summer months. Folks just love these warm, soft mohair socks. Raymond was right, as he usually is; we definitely bought work. They need to have their hooves trimmed regularly, inoculations, regular delousing and deworming. During kidding, we rarely get to sleep a full night. They need shearing twice a year. When I got home from my bus run this morning all the goats and the horses were out of the pasture. The goats were eating my lovely cedar trees. Sometimes boring would be nice.