Woolshed

 Washed Coopworth Fleece

Washed Coopworth Fleece

So many circles around the sun.

I just celebrated another birthday and that got me thinking, as birthdays do, about time, and balance, and perspective. At 52, I have been knitting for 45 years, not every day of course, but steadily and with delight. I have been spinning and dying wool for 24 years now, and have consistently sourced my raw materials from my home state of Maine.

When I opened my yarn shop, Maine Yarn & Fiber Supply, in 2011, it was with the commitment to support and celebrate local and regional resources. In addition to offering beautifully dyed mill spun yarns, I wanted to find a way to work sustainably with local farmers to produce the very best yarn and spinning fiber that I could.

I have come to think of this community as the heart of my Woolshed.

For more than 20 years I have been purchasing fleece from a range of shepherdesses and shepherds around Maine. These skilled people have been my teachers, mentors, and friends. Over the years I have looked, listened, questioned, sheared, mucked, graded, contemplated, and rejoiced with each new experience.

I feel passionately that farming, sustainable, old school, vertically integrated farming, matters. From food to fiber, it is truly the stuff of our lives. Supporting this woolshed is a way to be part of that story, a way to pay it forward.

Since 2013, I have purchased fleece from numerous growers in Maine, and gone on to design more that two dozen different yarns to sell in my shop. Most of this yarn has been spun in Maine, so from fleece to skein, we able to offer a thoroughly Maine made product.

I knew from the beginning that to make great yarn, I needed to acquire great fiber. And here’s where it gets real. Great fiber costs money, and like any other ingredient, you get what you pay for. Early on I was educated (by a few fierce sheep raising women) about the cost of keeping a flock. I came to know that paying wool pool prices for fleece is not sustainable for the farmer. A couple of bucks a pound, you have got to be kidding!

So I have chosen to let the producer set the price, and if I can make that work we have a deal. This means that I am acquiring fleece of hand spinning quality for hand spinning prices. Now from a business model this could be considered madness. By the time I have these fleece spun up, I have invested a ridiculous amount of my capital. To see any profit at all I must sell more that 50% of any item I carry, so the payback for these yarns may be counted in years, instead of months.

But this line is a labor of love. Each batch of this yarn, like tomatoes, or wine, only happens once. I love the singularity of the product juxtaposed to the continuity of the process. Most of these yarns are single farm and breed specific. Most are long wool (strong wool) varieties because that is what grows well here, and it is what I love best.

Our label tells you the farm and the breed, so you can see where your yarn was born and glean something about the genetics; French Hill Farm/Coopworth, Buckwheat Blossom Farm/Coopworth, Bye Brook Farm/Romney, Shepherds Purse Farm/Romney, Woolweb Farm/Navajo Churro, and so forth. I want knitters to have a sense of place when they are working with this fiber. I hope that they can feel more connected, still, hopeful, and strong knowing something about the truth, and the viability of the landscape which nurtured the sheep.

This transparency has not been without a cost to me. The popularity of locally sourced yarns has gained a lot of ground in the past few years. There is a curb appeal that has encouraged more folks to create their own lines. I have lost resources and gained competition. I have been nurtured, and humbled by the grace and generous heart of this community, and hurt, and confused by the unexpected secrecy, cliques, and competitiveness that lurks here to.

 Gradiing Icelandic fleece from Shadow Hill Farm

Gradiing Icelandic fleece from Shadow Hill Farm

I hold to my belief in a “Big tent”. More wool is more wool, and that can only be a good thing. As with any other aspect of my making work, change pushes me in new directions and sparks fresh creative inspiration. I am working to ensure that there are more sheep on the land, and more great yarn in knitters hands. We can always knit a bigger tent.

What’s on your needles?

 Gotland locks from my boy Jari

Gotland locks from my boy Jari

 Lopi Spun Icelandic yarn at Fiber Frolic

Lopi Spun Icelandic yarn at Fiber Frolic

Mittens in Summer

Why in the world would you choose to knit mittens in Summer? While they are obviously a cold weather accessory, mittens provide a number of opportunities and benefits that can be overlooked.

Some years ago I developed a way to knit year round and  put all of those many creations to use, while indulging my love of always having fiber in the hands: The Gift/Holiday Bin that started as a small box at the back of my closet, wound up becoming a three and a half foot long plastic tub with a lid. Throughout the year, I would knit a variety of items and place them in the tub. When I wasn't knitting an item specifically for myself, the tub gave free reign to the needs of the hands to never be idle. Whenever a gift was needed, there was always a special, handmade item available, mittens included. The tub was also a saving grace at holiday time, cutting down on large outlays of money for gifts all at once.

Now, mittens can be knit in several ways: the traditional mittens we think of when we picture children and sledding. There are also “flip top” mittens that expose the fingers as needed. These are great for active people and military personnel. Today's mitten repertoire also includes “fingerless” mitts ( wonderful in the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall), and mitts with partial fingers. But this variety is not the only reason to knit mittens in Summer.

Have you been wanting to try a specific pattern? Mittens will provide practice in a small scale project. Never worked with alpaca fiber? Alpaca is 8 to 10 times warmer than wool and will knit into a lightweight yet very waran pair of mittens. How about color work? Whether stranded knitting, Celtic knots, Fair Isle patterns, or simple stripes, mittens provide the opportunity to learn and practice new skills in the form of a small, easily portable project. Knit mittens in Summer! Why not?

Suggested reference: Ultimate Mittens - 28 classic patterns to keep you warm by Robin Hansen who lives in Bath, Maine. ISBN # 80-462-6420.

Joy Moody

Yarn Shop Manager, MYFS

Dyeing With Dinner

Find yourself a good black bean recipe and prepare your freezer bags.

Did you know that dyes can be harnessed naturally? Most fiberistas know the wonders of indigo and cochineal but there is a vast rainbow of natural and non-traditional dyes all around. Summers in Maine present many opportunities to pick wild flowers for dye pots.

When I realized I could dye wool with black beans I was excited to experiment. Inexpensive and delicious, black beans can do no wrong in my book. Last winter I found I could achieve slate grey with a blue tone when I overdyed a heathered brown wool. I plan to try a lustrous white wool next. With the warm summer sun, the results should be an interesting dark grey.

A very important preliminary step in natural dyeing is the mordant. Without a mordant the dye does not adhere to the fiber. You may get a faint stain, but to truly harness the rainbow of dyes available from natural products, a mortant is key. I like to use Alum and Cream of Tartar. They are the safest chemicals used for mortanting, but not the only options. Tin, copper, and iron can be used as mortants to achieve different results from the same dye source. Some plants will give various shades with a little chemical help. Being that I am merely an adventurous potions novice, I like to er on the side of caution and only use mild chemicals.

First you need to know how much DRY fiber you are working with. This amount will come in to play in both the mortant and dye processes. For ease of understanding, I will use a standard 4oz skein as a base example.

First day:

-Mortant

Soak fiber in warm water.

Bring water to boil in dyepot.

Dissolve 10% Alum (0.4oz) + 5% Cream of Tartar (0.2oz) in a small cup of hot water. Stir this mixture into the dyepot.

Add warm wetted fiber to dyepot. I use a plate or weight to submerge all fiber below the water.

Bring to boil. Simmer at 190 F for 1 hour.

Turn off heat, leave to cool overnight

 

-Beans

Fill a large tub with a bit more water than your dyepot holds.

Dump 4 times as much organic black beans (bulk black turtle beans at The Natural Living Center work great) as the fiber weight (16oz) into the tub. Stir.

Soak beans overnight.

 

Second day:

 

Skim liquid off the top with measuring cup and dump in the dye pot.

Drain fiber and put into dyepot.

Place in sunny spot for 3-7 days

Cook up your beans. They freeze well for future use.

After a few days remove the fiber and rinse. It won't smell great at this point, but a quick wash with Dr Bronner's does the trick.

I hope my adventure in natural dyeing has inspired you to experiment with natural dyes in your own way!


 

Assistant Potions Master and Eager Weaver,

TkPomroy

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Dying in the Basement

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I’m no dye aficionado but, as with all things fiber, I've been drawn to learn. Here, at One Lupine/Maine Yarn & Fiber Supply, people who come to inquire of the Owner often hear, “Jodi is in the basement dying.” We hand dye and hand paint all of our house label yarns (all, that is, except those we leave in their natural sheep’s color). We use acid dyes from a company established since the 1800s. They work well with protein fibers: wool, animal hair, alpaca, mohair, synthetic nylon, feathers, and some silks. They produce bright colors, are light and colorfast, and are water soluble.

 

Natural dyes are different altogether. They come from plants (flowers, roots, nuts, leaves, and bark), minerals, fungi, and even some insects. They produce a nice range of colors. Most natural dyes must be “set” with a mordant (i.e.: vinegar, alum etc.) to keep them from running and fading. Mordants chemically bind the dye and the fibers together. Different mordants result in color variations, depending on what you use.  A walk in nature will get you dreaming about which materials produce which colors. A few examples you might spy are: goldenrod, oak bark, willow leaves, walnuts, dandelion (roots), and iris.

 

For many years, there was a great magazine called Shuttle, Spindle, and Dye Pot which was chock full of information for weavers, spinners, and dyers. I recently saw that it is once again available to members of HGA (Handweavers Guild of America) in download format. Or, you might consider a fiber getaway to HGA’s 2018 Reno Convergence, July 6-12 where you could find a complimentary copy. Fiber kenthusiasts of all ilks will be gathering. Regardless of whether you choose to get away or not, you’ll find many references on dying wool available in books, at your local library, and on the Internet.


 

Joy Moody

MYFS Yarn Shop Manager

Beginner Knitting

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Knitting is a pass time that enhances our lives in so many ways ~ from the comfort of that first blanket on and for cozy nights, to the baby hat that welcomes a newborn into the world, knitting is a skill that beautifies the home and wraps us in the warmth and breathability of natural fibers.

 

Today, my thoughts turn to beginner knitters. We all approach new things in different ways, but it is common for beginners to come to their first class with a degree of fear and trepidation. This is supposed to be fun! I always say, “It’s O.K. It’s not going to blow up! Breathe. There’s a learning curve, like anything else, and it’s perfectly fine to give yourself permission to make mistakes.”

 

Mistakes create opportunities to learn additional skills: focus more on “seeing” stitches (& mistakes) as we go, developing the patience to rip back, learning to knit backwards (OMG!), or fixing a stitch many rows down. Whatever happens as you knit your beginner pieces, a year from now you will be amazed at what you can do, thrilled to be wearing and showing off your projects, and receiving compliments that you never expected.


 

Joy

MYFS Yarn Shop Manager

Benefits of Knitting

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There has been quite a buzz about the therapeutic value of knitting these days and, not surprisingly, a series of studies verifying the benefits. As a former Art Therapist (& one who also ran an occupational therapy department in a past life), I have long been aware of how our pace, senses, thoughts, experiences, and exposure to different mediums impact how we feel and how we express ourselves. For many years I had only been a Winter knitter, so it took me by surprise when I found myself knitting year round and stopped to ask myself why. It was one of those, “Well, duh!” moments as I connected with the fact that with my husband’s terminal illness, I had naturally gravitated to knitting as a stress management tool.

We now know that the rhythmic movements of knitting become a kind of meditative experience. Our blood pressure is lowered, and our heart rate slows. If we choose, we can be blessed with mindless moments where the absence of thought is a relief. For some, this is also a time when we feel at One with our Creator ~ a spiritual connection during which guidance for our life is received. For others, there is something magical about the tactile aspects of the fibers ~ those once-live-on-the-animal and now live-in-our-hands fibers that speak to us of farm, warmth, and creature comforts.

Whatever our reasons are for knitting, we can always be assured that what we knit will express who the sheep was, who we are as expressive beings, and at least one way we present ourselves to the world.

Joy Moody

MYFS Yarn Shop Manager

The Nash Island Story

The Nash Island Story

Like so many great Maine stories, this one begins with an island, a lighthouse, and the elusive alchemy of love.  In 1916, before interstates and easy communication, in a time when remote rural life was not powered by electricity and automobiles, when ships depended on a granite bound beacon to guide them over the shoals, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter found her place in the world.

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