Thursday, October 9, 2014

Restoring a 133+ Year Old Wool Carding Machine

My wife and I run a 75 year old wool business and have a deep passion for wool that leads us to find and report on a lot of sheep and wool related articles which often include releases from the BC Sheep Federation.

First off, thank you for your support to the sheep and wool industry in British Columbia.

I find myself writing to you, however, in regards to my family's story and our recent efforts to realize my wife's dream for our wool business during her lifetime. I am not sure if this is the proper venue for communicating our story, but considering her circumstances I feel the need to take advantage of every opportunity I can identify.

In 2012 my wife Karyn Waters purchased the Birkeland Brothers Wool business which was a mainstay on Main Street in Vancouver since 1939. The business is centered around a working antique carding machine that was manufactured in England and is between 133 and 166 years old. It's unique on the West Coast in that we are able to card six foot batts, which others are unable provide.

We packed up the Vancouver location and moved to a nearby community called Abbotsford, which we saw as an opportunity to move our historic carding machine out of a cramped cinder-block backroom in to a bright, open space where we could share our piece of history with the world. Our landlord at the time was reluctant to do so, but we made a condition of our move-in that the front corner of our shop (an old bank building) be torn out to add additional floor-to-ceiling windows. Wool carding machines of a similar age in other parts of the world are tourist destinations and the center of fibre festivals: achieving that was more than we expected, but we knew we had to showcase our carding machine better and celebrate our piece of history.

We have been slowly restoring our equipment and moving towards running the carding machine during store hours as time and finances allow. Our vision has been to handle local, quality wool from shearing the sheep through to carding the wool. Currently to wash wool in any quantity and have it carded, as I am sure you are aware many BC sheep ranchers often have to double their costs by shipping it out of province. We aim to do something about that, and better support the local fibre community. Recently we were able to begin setting up our wool washing station on a Langley farm, and we are now able to more vigorously pursue clients for carding wool. Progress has been slow however: as much as we would like to proceed faster with our goals, there never seemed to be a hurry to finish restoring a 133+ year old machine (that is running fine, thank you) for a business which had been running successfully for more than 75 years.

Our desire to quicken the pace has increased this year. In March, after suffering through months of pneumonia which her doctor could not treat, my wife was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at the age of 36. Without treatment, her oncologist said Karyn had probably three months to live. We have been fighting it ever since to win her more time with our three children (Sebastian 8, Gwendolyn 4, and Josephine 10 months). We also want to see Karyn's vision for the business realized during her lifetime; we want her to know the business will be around for another 75 years for our children and children's children.

Our options are limited on the time-frame we would like to see our vision for the business realized. For that reason, we decided to turn to crowdfunding to see if we could accelerate our plans for the company.

We have amazing family, friends, and customers who have blessed us with their support and positive thoughts. We are not looking for charity: we are simply looking for a wider audience for the wonderful product we have, so we can accelerate our business plans. For this reason, we chose Kickstarter as a platform over more charity-driven crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo. We are providing incentives to contributors like hand-spun wool yarn, queen-sized wool batts for quilting, and heirloom dolls that are made from our product.

Choosing Kickstarter means we have 30-days to achieve our funding goal. If we fail to achieve our goal, we fall back on our slow plans to achieve Karyn's vision gradually through the support of normal store sales... and hope we can do it during her lifetime.

I'm not big on self-promotion. I'd prefer to blend in to the background and be free to do what I love on my terms. The hand we've been dealt doesn't allow me to do that, and so I find seeking people and groups to write to. I love my wife a great deal and want to see her vision realized while she can see it with her own eyes.

As of this evening, we have raised just over $4,600 pledged against our goal of $18,100. We have 17 days remaining to achieve the full funding goal, or the entire project will end in failure with no funds received.

There is more information available on our Kickstarter page (, and additional details about our business and history on our website ( If this is a story of interest that you would like to share, or you have suggestions on who we could reach out to, my wife and I would be happy to discuss in greater detail. I recognize though that something I, my family and friends feel passionate about does not necessarily make this something of interest to the BC Sheep Federation, which has set sights on broader goals; I do understand if you are not interested in contacting us.

Thank you for the consideration,

Chadwick Waters
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