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Lewisporte teenager’s passion for textiles has blossomed into thriving business

Charlotte Stairs, age 15, had her first encounter with textiles six years ago. It caught her interest and blossomed over the years. At around the same time, Stairs learned the art of creating wool skeins.
Charlotte Stairs, age 15, had her first encounter with textiles six years ago. It caught her interest and blossomed over the years. At around the same time, Stairs learned the art of creating wool skeins. - Clarence Ngoh

LEWISPORTE, N.L. – Working with textiles is never far from Charlotte Stairs’ mind and reach.

The 15-year-old began crocheting six years ago. Armed with a ball of yarn and crochet hook, Stairs said it is a good pastime for long road trips.

She looks forward to these trips as it allows her to go on a “crotchet binge”, an uninterrupted time devoted to making a variety of items like hats, mittens and scarves. Some of these items are for her own use and others are for sale.

Stairs was introduced to making wool yarns from scratch several years ago while visiting her older sister Courtney Stairs, who has a degree in textiles. 

“I enjoyed the process and it took off from there,” Stairs said.

The end product of the process is a skein, explains Stairs. This is similar to a ball of wool, but it is formed into an oblong shape.

When word started to spread that Stairs had an interest in making wool yarns from scratch, support and encouragement started to pour in.

A farmer from Laurenceton who raises wheat sheep gave Stairs two “ginormous bags of raw wool for use. It would be discarded otherwise,” said Stairs.

“Although the sheep in Laurenceton is not bred for fibres, the wool is really nice, soft and not itchcy.”

The supply of her first bag she received last summer has just about run out, even after many skeins. Stairs said the weight of a skein is about 100 grams and to create a hat takes about 70 to 80 grams.

Stairs thoroughly enjoys the process of creating the final product but there are a couple of steps that she particularly looks forward to.

“I really like the dyeing part – I just started exploring it. There is a lot of exciting parts. I also like plying it together because I can go fast,” said Stairs.

Stairs discovered that expected colours from dyeing the wool can be deceiving. Her wool products are naturally dyed and she uses natural items like birch, beets or onion skins for colour.

“I was really surprised that the end results of dyeing with beets, although really red, turned out yellow once mordant — the binding agent — was added. The birch bark came out pinky beige and that is really nice,” said Stairs.

She also recognised that people seem to like naturally-dyed wool instead of chemically-dyed product, and that has made her items popular with her clients.

Her products can be found in the Flat Earth Museum on Fogo Island, Cast Off Cast On in St. John’s and a shop in Gander. She also serves individual clients.

Stairs estimates she spends 15 to 20 hours a week on her hobby-turned-business. And her family is directly behind her for support in different areas.

“I just recently hired Sam, my younger brother to assist with the carding. Mummy helps me with a lot of the online stuff, takes me to places and things like that. Besides that, it is mainly me,” she said.

Business is starting to pick up for Stairs and she intends to make her products available on-line at some point.

“But I got my hands full with what I’m doing now.”

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