Meet the Supplier: The Olive Sparrow
Fibre 3, 2, 1
Q-3 Three types of fibre you can’t live without?
- Swiss Mountain Sheep (Walliser Sheep – Valaise Blacknose —
I just love this fibre because it makes both amazing wet and needle felted items. It comes in batt format in 49 dyed and 9 natural colours. At 27 micron it is a rougher fibre and has a moderate staple length of 3-5cm.
I fell for this fibre not just because of its felting qualities, but also because the product is made by happy sheep that spend their summers up in the high Swiss alps — travelling on ancient roman roads to get there. After they are shorn in a traditional manner, the wool is transported to a small Swiss family business where it is washed only with washing soda (aka sodium carbonate or soda ash is a natural cleaner and a powerful water softener. It’s very basic with a pH of 11). The washing process is environmentally friendly and the wastewater is safely returned to the local mountain stream. The wool is dyed carefully and without any harsh chemicals — using just natural vinegar and acid dyes. The wool is dried outside on warm metal roofing (weather permitting). In winter the warmth created by the dyeing process is used to heat the building.
The fibre is exceptionally clean as the carding machines have special vacuums installed to remove VM (Vegetable Matter naturally occurring in sheep fleeces) and ensure it doesn’t get back into the wool.
Due to the ease of felting with Swiss Mountain Sheep wool, kids love working with it. The fibre can also be laid out very thin to create transparent felts.
Combine Swiss Mountain sheep with Maori or other Bergschaf yarns. You can also combine it with 18/19 micron to create an inner layer that is next to skin soft when making garments. I love making slippers with an inner layer of 18/19 micron merino batt or Kap Merino and the outer layer being Swiss Mountain, combining softness with hard wearing wool.
- Yak and Mulberry Luxury Roving
A custom blend made for The Olive Sparrow — this is a commercially triple-blended roving/top which mixes the silk with the yak to create a lovely variegated roving. Although it requires some gentle coaxing to wet felt due to the high content of mulberry silk, the resulting felt is an absolute dream to wear right next to the skin.
The yak fibre is naturally fawn coloured, the mulberry silk is undyed.
To produce yak fibre for felting, the soft fine under hair is the desirable element of this animal’s coat and is removed commercially by dehairing, which separates the soft under hair from the coarse outer hair, known as guard-hair.
This also makes a lovely spun yarn.
Using acid dyes on this fibre is very interesting — the yak and its brown/yellow undertones combined with the undyed silk to absorbs colours differently and will make mottled/variegated tones. As the fibre is very fine, it lends itself to be dyed after felting or spinning.
- Mint Fibre
The fibre length is 75-80mm.
I love using mint fibre in the same way as mulberry silk — the softly off-white colour and the slight mat sheen give a look between the extra shiny mulberry silk and the much softer gloss of tussah silk.
Mint is a new biodegradable cellulose fibre that is infused with mint powder that is extracted from peppermint leaves. It does not smell of mint and has a lovely soft and cottony texture. This soft golden fibre has antibacterial properties and natural cooling properties. Mint infused roving can be dyed using natural plant dyes and mordants or other dyes suitable for cellulose fibres. Perfect for spinning and blending with fibres such as cotton, silk, wool and Linen. Great surface inclusion for wet felting. A wonderful vegan needle felting alternative.
Q-2 Two tools you use all the time?
I use my ball brauser — I generally have two on the go at the same time. I also love the hand-pumped vegetable sprayers from the garden centre to wet-out large areas. When doing a sculptural piece, handheld massage tools make shrinking of specific areas very fast. Thin painter’s plastic as one layer on bubble wrap — and I always use the bubble side down when initially starting to felt.
Q-1 One fibre art technique you love the most?
Having been blessed with learning handwork techniques from grade 2 onwards, my arsenal of techniques means that I often will blend them all together in a project. Because of the shop keeping me quite busy and still being needed as a mother, most of my creative time I spend making dolls or knitting simple items. Yet especially in doll making, I frequently wet felt garments for the dolls. Doll making lets me use all my skills. In wet felting, I love making long voluminous shawls — generally using at least a 4m length and 30” width. I also love working with Teeswater locks — washing, sorting, dying them. I sew them into wefts for my dolls and use them as fringes in shawls.
What is your business?
The Olive Sparrow.
Good Hand-Made Goods made by You and Me
Here is a bit of background information about how this all came to be:
The Olive Sparrow is me, Monika Aebischer, I am a felter and a natural fibre doll artist. I quite proudly call myself a crazy when it comes to collecting books about wet and needle felting. In a previous life, I was a mixed media artist with work in galleries across Canada. Sadly during the 2008 financial crash, the art market collapsed and I was forced to re-invent myself. As I had fallen in love with felt making during my student years at the Ontario College of Art and Design and had taken some wet felting workshops in Switzerland, it seemed to be the right direction to go. It also worked very well with my doll making — I needle felt the heads of my dolls and also make felted clothing for some of them. While growing up in Switzerland as part of my apprenticeship in selling women’s clothing, I studied fibres and textile manufacturing.
The Olive Sparrow shop started as a way to bring supplies to my felting students — I taught a 5-day felting intensive workshop at Loyalist College for 4 years every summer from 2011 – 2015. Every year I would import specialty felting fibres from Europe for my students. These students then wanted to purchase fibre after the workshop. Learning that there are several Fibre Festivals around Ontario made me realize that there was an opportunity to share these fibres with other felters. My painting studio slowly turned into a shop — alongside my selling on Etsy. I decided that the shop was going to focus on Felting supplies and not be another general fibre shop. I also decided that the focus will be on European felting fibres, rather than local fibres.
After 20 years in that space, I was forced to move in 2018, as the old building was being turned into condos. Now located in the East end of Toronto, the shop is in an industrial building — and open by appointment. There are about 600 square feet full of fibre, commercial 100% wool felt, Waldorf doll supplies, Sajou notions from France and select other items. The shop is also somewhat flexible, in that it can be transformed into a workshop space for 1-3 students.
Before we were in this Pandemic, the Olive Sparrow could be found at various fibre festivals — Twist, Picton, Woodstock, Peterborough, Knitter’s Frolic, Kitchener/Waterloo knitters festival, and other smaller events. 2020 has meant a focus on building out the online presence and extending inventory.
What kind of items do you sell?
Too many to list, however, here is a sampling —
18/19 micron roving in over 100 colours
24 Micron roving
Swiss Mountain Sheep batt
19 micron merino Batt
Pre-felt (both in 40 x 40 cm sheets) and by the meter
Maori and Maori/Bergschaft batt
100% wool felt by the sheet and many colours by the meter
Unicorn Power Scour
Premium locks – Teeswater extra length
Wool felt balls/hearts/stars from Nepal
Silk – Mulberry, Tussah
The Olive Sparrow is an official DHG Dyehouse reseller — carrying all of the pre-felt colours, as well as an extensive selection of 19 micron roving, 19 micron batt, sari silk waste, mulberry silk and a variety of other fibres.
What do you think makes your business different from similar ones?
Unique premium products from Europe — all our goods are imported from Europe. Volume discounts to help small-scale makers. Teaching workshops – private and customized — creativity counselling. Very hands-on knowledgeable. A brick and mortar shop that is open by appointment and sells online.
Where are you located?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada – at 19 Waterman Avenue — which is an industrial area just south of Eglinton and just off the Don Valley Parkway.
Where can we find you on the internet?
Monika is doing 2 Giveaways
To enter leave a reply below. Do not post your email but make sure there is one associated with your post. You can’t win if we cant reach you. The two winners will be announced on June 4th
Giveaway #1 — 100 grams of premium washed Teeswater locks 12″ undied/unsorted ready for you to decide what you want to do.
Giveaway #2 – 150 grams of Swiss mountain batt (you can choose the colours if your name is chosen)