Updated: Oct 24, 2021
The Olive Sparrow is the brainchild of felt :: feutre canada member, Monika Aebischer. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, (OCAD) and a recipient of both the Governor General’s Medal and Ontario College of Art and Design Medal, Monika has been working with textiles for many years in a variety of mediums including knitting, basketry, and embroidery.
This award-winning artist has also been recognized for her printmaking, paper-making and bookmaking. Monika’s work is in private collections in Canada, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Greece, Spain, Germany, and the USA. Over the years, her work has been featured in magazines such as FeltFun, Maclean’s Magazine, and Fiber Arts Magazine.
Recently we had the pleasure of talking to Monika about The Olive Sparrow. We know you will enjoy learning all about it.
Tell us about how it all began?
In a previous life, I was a mixed media artist with work in galleries across Canada. 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, focusing on fibre seemed to be the right path forward.
My artwork has always involved fibre and fabric in different ways, and the new direction also aligned with my doll-making — I was already needle-felting the heads of my dolls and also made felted clothing for some of them.
I quite proudly call myself crazy about collecting books about wet and needle felting. While growing up in Switzerland as part of my apprenticeship in selling women’s clothing, I studied fibres and textile manufacturing.
How did The Olive Sparrow begin?
The Olive Sparrow shop started as a way to bring supplies to my felting students. Each summer from 2011 to 2015, I taught a 5-day felting intensive workshop at Loyalist College in Belleville, ON. Each year I would import specialty felting fibres from Europe for my students. These students then wanted to purchase fibre after the workshop.
I was also frustrated with the limited fibre available locally — it is very hard to go back to a few types of wool once I had sampled specialty felting fibres in Europe. So the painting studio slowly turned into a retail shop and the Olive Sparrow started selling online through Etsy.
Early on in this adventure I decided that the shop was going to focus on Felting supplies and not be another general fibre/knitting shop. I also decided that the focus would be on hard-to-find European felting fibres, rather than local fibres.
After 20 years in the art studio, in 2018 I was forced to move, as the old building was being turned into condos. Newly situated located in the East end of Toronto, the shop is now in an industrial building — and open by appointment
Tell us about the space?
There are about 600 square feet full of fibre, commercial 100% wool felt, Waldorf/Natural Fibre Art doll supplies, Sajou notions from France and other select items. The shop space is also versatile, 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 annually— 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.
The Olive Sparrow is an official DHG Dyehouse reseller — carrying all of their 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. The 19 micron roving colour selection is extended with colours from some other European suppliers to a total of over 100 colours. The aim is to always have at least 1kg of each colour in stock.
Besides the offerings of conveniently packaged fibre to enable artists and makers to delve into the world of colours and different types of fibres, I also offer competitive volume discounts.
Tell us about some of your specialty products. Our readers love learning about new fibre.
One of the fibres I fell in love with in my own felting work is Vallois Batt — I call it Swiss Mountain sheep — as that is easier to pronounce.
The Swiss Mountain fibre is produced from wool from sheep that spend their summers up in the Swiss alps — they have a wonderful life high up in the mountains eating luscious grass and herbs. These sheep use ancient roads built by the Romans 2000 years ago to go up into the mountains in early spring and they only come back down to the valley in the fall for shearing. The company which produces the fibre uses environmentally sustainable ways to wash the wool and dye it. They have solar panels on their roofs to heat the water for the dyeing. They also fully exhaust the dye vats to the point that the water used can be funnelled back into the local watershed.
The fibre is about 27 micron and quite a short staple. It makes a very dense felt and can be used to felt bags, shoes, coats, and decorative items that need physical structure. I felts fast and to a hard finish. However, it can also be used in very thin layers to create a felt with drape. It is available in 47 colours and 12 natural mixes.
The Swiss mountain batt is a favourite needle felting fibre for many of my clients. It felts fast and to a hard and smooth finish.
Another product our members will love?
Sari Silk Roving, this is up-cycled sari fabric — turned back into roving. No two lengths in a 50 gram package are the same — the roving changes and surprises as it is opened up. However, it is available in select colour ways. In my experiments, I loved how can be used as a think full layer onto of 19 micron wool. It adds a great texture. If you like to needle felt, it can be felted with a 38 gauge needle and creates a lovely feathery texture for decorative items.
And last but not least…
The Kap Merino. This is another short staple fibre, made in South Africa from Merino sheep. Because of the extremely short fibres, it makes a very dense, closed felt — perfect for hats and bags. It felts fast and can also become very sculptural — there are a number of artists using it to create jewellery. Available in 24 colours.
Thank you Monika for sharing your time with us.
To learn more about Monika and her online store visit: www.theolivesparrow.com/shop