I’m not sure I’ve ever really written about this, but I’ve spent considerable time in the wine world. Between living where we lived (including a few years right in Napa) and having a cousin who’s a small-batch winemaker, we’ve spent a significant amount of time in vineyards and cellars, literally working harvest many years and drinking the fruits of our labor, among other things. So I find myself pretty routinely drawing comparisons, in my mind, between yarn and wine. I’m oversimplifying here to keep this brief, but in wine you basically have a continuum that ranges from stuff like Charles Shaw (aka “Two Buck Chuck”) — a dude who buys up everyone else’s leftover juice and dumps it together in a tank — to “single-vineyard wines.” In between are brands that buy specific quantities of known fruit from known growers, winemakers that contract with growers to grow fruit to their exacting specifications, and wineries that grow their own fruit on their own property. With Estate and single-vineyard wines, you know exactly who grew it on what exact plot of land. (Plus there’s all the blending of varietals and whatnot.) There are equivalents for all of that in yarn, which starts with farmers all around the globe selling their fleece to be graded, sorted, blended and resold for assorted purposes — from mattress stuffing to yarn for hand-knitters. The big yarn brands buy fiber through brokers. One might not care at all about breed or origin, only that it meets a certain micron count (the way fiber is graded for softness); another might be specifically looking for merino or alpaca or whatever, in addition to the grade. Then you have yarns such as, for instance, Brooklyn Tweed, where they can tell you not only that the fleece comes from Targee-Columbia sheep but that those sheep live in Johnson County, Wyoming. Or Woolfolk, which is built around a specific Patagonian merino. And so on. My very favorite yarns are undyed (sheep colored) and minimally processed (sheep scented/textured), but the ultimate are what I call “single-flock yarns,” and I was lucky to bring two of them home from my trip to Tolt.
If you happened to read the article I wrote about Tolt for Knitscene, you already know about Snoqualmie Valley Yarn. Anna approached some neighboring farmers who raise BFL–Clun Forest sheep, and together they produced 400 skeins of rustic, undyed, bouncy yarn — “farm to needle” — three of which are now mine. My friend Lori asked Anna for other local yarns, and when Anna walked up to us with an armload of options, I grabbed one of them right out from under Lori’s nose. (Sorry!! Geez, I’m such an asshole sometimes.) As you can see from the handwritten label, it’s 200 yards of “Longwool Lamb” from Abundant Earth Fiber on Whidbey Island. It’s soft and fluffy and one of my favorite sheep colors, that nearly-black brown. Some other lucky person had made off with the rest of it before I got there, so this one precious skein is all I have. But what treasures.
The one other place I was dying to visit while I was in Seattle was Drygoods Design, which did not disappoint, and the one thing I was hoping they would have is the freshly minted Linden Sweatshirt pattern from Grainline Studio (love that Jen Beeman), which they did. So those are my know-your-source souvenirs from a thoroughly lovely trip.
Love the small manufacturers, farms etc with limited supply of yummies….
Wow Karen, I’m feeling a little dumb that I’ve never made this connection. I produce a single-flock yarn from my BFL and Romney sheep and my parent’s have a vineyard and winery with estate grown grapes, just a stone’s throw from my farm. I love your excitement for these unique yarns and hope it’s contagious. Shepherding a small flock is very rewarding and those of us who do it can’t imagine doing anything else. Thank you for this very thoughtful post!
I have two skeins of the abundant earth fiber! I got to tour their facilities at the Whidbey Island Farm Tour this summer. 😎 it’s so nice, I don’t know what to make with it!
Lovely post, Karen ~ the longer I knit, the more I learn!
and a Pixie Stick! That dark yarn is gorgeous. My very favorite fingerless mitts are Fast and Fearless Fingerless Mitts made with dark brown yarn from a sheep that lives nearby. So warm, so bouncy, so… sheepy. Can’t wait to see what you make with your treasures.
great analogy….never thought about that connect before! what treasures you secured!!! souvenir yarn is the BEST!
How did I not know about DryGoods Design? In my own city, none the less. It might solve my dilemma of a small house and no where to set up a sewing machine for the occasional project. I appreciate everything I learn from you. Looking forward to seeing the end result of those lovely, lovely skeins. Stay warm!
I miss being able to find wool with lanolin left in – no one seems to “brag” about that in their products. Any thoughts?
And this is why I go to wool festivals. I have started to buy the fleeces and love when I can talk to the farmer and they know about the animals, all by name. SAFF so far is my favorite. Though I spent most of the weekend spinning fiber from a dyer I like, yak and silk, and she does not know the yak or raises them. Just beautiful dyes.
:) not even. that was meant for you. really, it was a pleasure to know how happy you were with that lovely skein (wool buying should always inspire such passion). such an amazing weekend!
And I now have at least 3 more blogs to follow… I was at your event on Thursday and then Gudrun’s talk on Saturday and I’m all fired up. I’m not a knitter, but a producer – have a small flock of Shetland sheep about 15 minutes north of Tolt – and your collective passions have inspired me to get focused here on my little farm. So far I’ve been essentially dabbling – love my sheep (and my chooks and honeybees) and what they bring to my life, now to take the next step and make something of it all. I’m working full time now to pay the bills, and hope to transition into the life I really want. Thanks for the great post and the inspiration.
Nice post, Karen. We are in the wine business too. Good wine starts with good grapes, that are then lovingly and expertly handled. Gotta be the same with yarn.
Speaking of which, I am traveling in the Himalayas at the moment and hoping to find some exotic fibers to bring home. Fingers crossed!
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