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.
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?