This is what we are about: touching, trying, learning and appreciating wool from different breeds of sheep. After playing with the swatch along idea for years, we finally have the team and format to get it out of the "wouldn’t it be cool" stage and into your hands. We hope you join us in this first Solitude swatch along (description, details and sign up here) and we hope you will give us feed back on what works and what could make it better.
Why swatch different breed’s yarns? Of course it helps us...our yarns are all small batch, made with wool from maybe 20 to 50 sheep per run and spun at small American mills. They’re not like commercial yarns: not Merino, not super wash, not harshly processed or homogenized... so getting you to test them out, find the size needle that makes a fabric you love, think about them and what they would be best at is just great to make you appreciate and know what to do with our yarns.
It also helps you. Spinners have had the opportunity to try different breeds of wool for a long time. You can find sources of fleece if not roving...but knitters not so much. Head to your LYS and how many breeds can you find? And how many that aren’t fine wool? This is a chance to learn about a broad spectrum of wool with a small investment of time and modest amount of money (or for free).
But I think there is a bigger, more important reason to do this.
Because we are in danger of losing the sheep that grow such different wool, the knowledge of what those different wools are best for and the skills of how to work with different fibers to create beautiful, functional, wonderful things.
I was fortunate to take a natural dye class with Charllotte and Sophena Kwon at Penland in North Carolina this summer. Charllotte is the founder of Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver, Canada and a leader in advocating, organizing and fighting for natural dyes globally. Charllotte gave us wonderful mini-lectures and during one of them, she pointed out that synthetic dyes were only just discovered in 1856. Before that, globally, all dyeing was done with natural dyes and there were dye houses and master dyers with incredible skill and knowledge. Synthetic dyes took over very fast and natural dye knowledge was mostly lost. Artisans also began using cheap synthetic dyes and in the short span of even a couple human generations, they have lost local knowledge of natural dyes and how to use them.
Genetics are even more precarious, and sheep generations are very short. We can easily lose the diversity of breeds in sheep (and other domesticated animals as well). The same pressures of big agriculture and industry to standardize and continually create ever cheaper goods creates waves of specialization in favor of a few breeds. This is true in food, and it is true with wool.
A few years ago I was at the Smithsonian Folk Life festival in DC. Wales was one of the countries they were celebrating and they brought over people and equipment from a weaving mill. I had read about this mill that had been owned by one family for generations and had almost closed. The son was an architect in London and came home, designed double weave fabrics that were modern, marketed them to a contemporary audience and saved the mill. Yay! There they were, on the mall in DC. I asked them where they got their wool? The answer..."we ship it from Australia; we can’t use the local wool, everyone wants soft" They were making coasters!
What’s happening in Britain now? Blacker Yarns, Brit Wool, The Campaign for Wool, Wovember, Shetland Wool Week etc etc. Individuals (okay...Prince Charles might have a little more clout than most knitters, but still) mostly knitters, speaking up for their English wooly heritage and their English sheep! It is making a difference.
We were about a decade ahead of England in bringing back knitting. This time not as a necessity skill, but as a leisure/pleasure skill. Individuals here also lead the way in speaking up for rare breed sheep and using other types of wool. Deb Robson has been doing the work for decades: writing, organizing and teaching. From the Save the Sheep exhibit and Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools book to her current twice yearly fiber retreats: Explore 4, that focus on four breeds, Deb has been researching and sharing her knowledge of wool. We are honored to have her helping us to lead this swatch along!
You, knitter of scarves, shawls, sweaters, baby blankets etc CAN make a difference! You are making a difference! Look at what is happening in the US: there are both breed specific and US grown wool commercial yarns available. Smaller farm yarns are getting attention. Your attention, support and taste create change.
We hope that the process and shared experience of swatching these four breed’s wool gives you the confidence to continue trying other small, single breed yarns. That the process of knitting and evaluating will give you the skills to try a yarn from a farm you encounter at the farmers market, a fiber festival or maybe a handspinner.
Wool is great! This is a use it or lose it movement.
Blogs are a 21st century soap box aren’t they. That’s it for awhile. Climbing down.
But do join the swatch along!
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Ever wondered about why it is so hard to find a true sock yarn without nylon? Although we've only been using nylon in sock yarn since about 1938, it's almost ubiquitous because it increases the durability of the finished item. But not without cost to the environment. Microscopic bits of plastic and nylon are turning up everywhere in our water sources. We wanted to create a durable sock yarn using only wool, which is 100% biodegradable. How hard could that be?