The Bobbin Tree: A Nova Scotia Yarn & Spinning Store

As summer rolls in, it’s time to start thinking about taking a handspinning vacation or planning a fiber side trip. A number of cruises that depart from the American Northeast and Eastern Canada stop in Sydney, Nova Scotia, where a spinning store and fiber arts destination lies a short walk from the port. Annamarie Hatcher tells us about a spinning store she loves.

If you are a spinner, weaver or knitter in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, you probably know Janet Dawson. She owns a charming yarn and spinning store in downtown Sydney called The Bobbin Tree, which stocks supplies for spinning, weaving, and knitting. She shares a space with Needleit Studio, which showcases supplies for rug hooking and wool appliqué. Within the store they have created My Fair Ladies Ethical Emporium, a space to sell fair trade items that they source from all over the world. Baskets from Ghana and puppets from Peru add to the mix of fleece and yarn.

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Yarn bombing and colorful signs point the way to the yarn & spinning store.

A Yarn Store to Cruise For

The shop is near the cruise ship terminal in Sydney and is a magnet for spinners and knitters who have exhausted the supplies that they started the cruise with. One day, I was walking through downtown Sydney toward Janet’s shop carrying my spinning wheel, and I was followed by a group of cruise ship passengers from Scotland who wanted to find out where I was going. They were spinners and hungry to connect with likeminded locals and find a spinning store. I felt like the Pied Piper as I led them to The Bobbin Tree.

Winter in Cape Breton is a challenging time when tourist visits are few and far between. During this time, the Bobbin Tree is often populated by locals.

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Spinning outside The Bobbin Tree, Annamarie Hatcher leaves no doubt that there’s a spinning store in the neighborhood.

Becoming a Cape Breton Weaver

In Cape Breton, an introduction is almost always followed by the question, “Who’s your father?” as your newfound friend tries to place you in the cultural history of the island’s settlers. Janet’s lineage is not from the island but the west coast of the United States. In the early 1990s, Janet met Ron Dawson, a shy Cape Bretoner (Caper), via the internet in a time before online dating was a thing. After a long-distance romance, they married in Seattle in June 1994.

After the wedding, the young couple drove across the continent to settle in Sydney, Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia. As a new immigrant, Janet hadn’t done the paperwork to be able to work or go to school in Canada, so she was at loose ends. This propelled her on her fiber journey. After her mother-in-law’s failed attempt to reignite an interest in knitting, she checked out the Cape Breton School of Crafts. The school is now called the Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design, and its mandate is to promote crafts and crafters of the island. She fell in love with weaving; her skill in handspinning eventually developed to feed that habit.

Janet’s mother, Sue, wanted to maintain a cross-continent connection after her daughter moved to Sydney, so she immersed herself in the fiber arts and became quite proficient at weaving. Now Janet travels the 4596 kilometer (2856 mile) distance from Seattle to Sydney at least once a year. The mother-daughter team offer fiber craft classes at Willingham Weavery on Vashon Island in Washington State each winter.

—Dr. Annamarie Hatcher

Featured Image: The exuberant window display at The Bobbin Tree. Photos by Annamarie Hatcher

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