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5 Take-Home Lessons from the Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium

This year the Upper Canada Fibreshed was invited to participate as speakers in the Wool and Fine Fibre Symposium, hosted by the original Fibershed in Merin County, California. UCFS co-founder Jennifer Osborne presented on the history, membership and projects of UCFS and member Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks spoke on her use of UCFS fibre in her locally-based fashion.

 peggy sue and jennifer upper canada fibreshed wool symposium 2016 fibershed

The Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium

For everyone who’s been following us online this fall you know that our fibreshed co-founders, Becky Porlier and Jennifer Osborn, were invited to speak at this year’s Wool and Fine Fiber Symposium along with our fibreshed member Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks, founder and creative director of Peggy Sue Collection. (Due to the arrival of her second child, the beautiful Severine, Becky was not able to make the trip).

The Wool and Fine Fiber Symposium is hosted annually by the original Fibershed in Merin County, California. The Symposium features panel discussions from farmers, makers and fibershed community members, as well as a marketplace with demonstrations.

jennifer osborn upper canada fibreshed fibershed wool symposium

Both Jennifer and Peggy Sue delivered dynamite presentations that were very well received by the audience. Jennifer highlighted the history, fibre varieties and membership of UCFS and outlined our current and future projects. Peggy Sue shared her story of creating her award-winning high-fashion line using only local fibres and local labour.

Now that we’ve had time to sleep off the jet-lag allow us to share some of what we learned.

5 Take-Home Lessons from the Symposium


  1. Farmer-to-Farmer Conversations Are Very Valuable

  2. From breeding practices to predator control listening to the panels discuss farming practices amongst themselves and with the audience was insightful, even for the non-farmers. It was also clearly helpful for all the farmers in the room. These opportunities to share information, strategies and best-practices are invaluable. The more these can be facilitated, whether formal or informal, the better for everyone looking to understand a fibreshed from the soil upwards.

    mohair-goat upper canada fibreshed fibershed wool symposium


  3. New Economic Spaces Are Developing

  4. We heard a lot of discussion around new economic spaces like using sheep flocks for custom grazing (in California this is for fire control purposes) and the need for skilled and knowledgeable shepherds. While grazing for fire control isn’t likely to be widely used in Ontario, the potential for flocks to be used as alternative lawn mowers is very real within our municipalities. Rather than viewing sheep as a single-use animal, farmers are increasingly looking for multiple uses and income-streams from their flocks.

    upper canada fibreshed fibershed wool symposium


  5. Don’t Throw Out The Coarse Wool

  6. While our understanding of what “coarse wool” is certainly differs between Merin County and Upper Canada, it was refreshing to see heavier wools being understood as useful. Many of us are familiar with wool blankets and throws (ahem…Upper Canada Mercantile) but what about wool duvets and comforters? Wool mattresses? Wool pillows? Wool’s capacity to absorb moisture while remaining warm and its fire resistant quality make it ideal for bedding. Moral of the story: get creative with your coarse wool.



  7. Climate Beneficial Farming Is Here

  8. Fibershed is partnering with researchers at UC Davis to track the carbon-sequestration of land management systems that focus on building soil carbon through manure application and careful pasture management. The research, gathered through the Citizen Science Protocol and Climate Beneficial Wool, is tracking how carbon is being draw-down from the atmosphere and moving through the ecosystem. The clothing and textiles made from the fibres of animals involved in this research are addressing climate change one sweater at a time.

    upper canada fibreshed fibershed wool symposium


  9. Become A Prosumer

Producer + Consumer = Prosumer. This simple formula was shared with us around the Community Supported Cloth project, a new initiative which is asking folks to fund the development of locally grown and USA produced wool fabric by pre-purchasing yardage. Rather than blindly consuming or producing in isolation, the prosumer is involved in and connected to both the production and consumption processes. On the simple end, this may look like knowing your fibre farmer and towards the more complex end of the spectrum it can mean supporting a project like the Community Supported Cloth.


Be sure to check out our Instagram page for photos and commentary from the day itself!