Flock / 1st Edition : From Sheep to Shelf

Posted by Kristine Vejar on July 31, 2015 2 Comments

I learned to spin in 2002 - and instantly became obsessed with the idea of combining fiber types when making yarn. My first goal was to learn about the properties of each type of wool. Feeling confident that I knew the main differences between an Icelandic fleece and a Targhee fleece, I found myself looking at the various strengths - or weaknesses - and looking to pair fibers.

We have decided to create a line of yarn called Flock - which indicates that we have combined either fleece from various farms and / or fleece from various types of sheep or types of animals. Today, we are releasing our 1st edition of Flock, our newest California wool yarn.

Flock / 1sr Edition is constructed of one strand of spun wool - this is referred to as a single. This has always been one of my favorite kinds of yarn to spin and to knit. I adore the rustic quality.

This yarn has quite a tale to tell - starting back in 2012. Sue Reuser, a renowned Cormo sheep farmer, living just outside Chico, had a stroke. Sue had been raising Cormo for many years. She paid great attention to her sheep, only breeding those with the best attributes of strong body, wool, and mind. She raised Cormo sheep in a multitude of colors. Her award winning fleeces were highly sought after by spinners. While she had a positive recovery, Sue decided that her time had come to sell her farm and her sheep. I had quite a few fleeces from Sue which I was hand-spinning (ahem, coveting). I decided to purchase a large quantity of white fleeces from her with the idea of milling them into yarn for Verb.

Then, in 2013, I began to work with Matt Gilbert, a local shearer, and the person who is working to start Mendocino Wool Mill. Through Matt, I was able to purchase Targhee from a Mendocino County wool grower. In 2014, Matt connected me with a farmer, named Leigh, who loves animals - and has quite a collection - including the Corriedale used in this yarn. Sarah went on quite an adventure to get this wool. When shearing season comes around, we like to say that things becomes very alive - in other words - chaotic (though now with more perspective, and having continued to work with nature and the earth this Summer, I think anytime when working this closely with nature, life tends to be rather edgy - more on that soon).

I had planned to go with Matt to shear Leigh’s sheep. Matt shears, and we skirt (remove all the poopy bits / wool that is too short to be milled into yarn). One thing led to another, and when the shearing date came, it landed on a day in which I was going to be out of town. So Sarah bravely volunteered her time to travel to Cloverdale and skirt with Matt.

Leigh’s sheep are more like pets than livestock. She doesn’t like to shear her sheep because she thinks it is stressful for them. Yes, the sheep do bleat while waiting to be shorn. That said, the sheep, once they have received their annual haircut, jump out of the pen, and go right back to grazing. If I were to project onto the sheep what I think they could be feeling - I would have to say, in 100 degree weather, hardly a tree in sight, the sheep feel better without 12 pounds of wool. Needless to say, Leigh had not shorn her sheep in over a year and a half, so their wool was quite long. Leigh’s barn is not set up for organizing the sheep into a line for shearing, so it was quite an adventure to catch the sheep to lead them to the shearing station. Sarah and Matt persisted. When you look at Flock, that beautiful line of grey running through the yarn is from Leigh’s pretty, naturally colored sheep

In 2014, I was very occupied writing my upcoming book, The Modern Natural Dyer, dreaming about the yarn I could make when the book was completed. Writing a book was so exciting, yet I had no idea how many things had to be put on hold to fulfill that monumental project. So, once the final manuscript was submitted to my publisher, with photos. I began to wade through this large amount of wool I had amassed, and began to contemplate what to do with it.

Looming in the wings, I had promised Verb’s yarn club, Pro-Verbial, I would mill a yarn for them, and I needed to come through on my promise. That was my first priority. Because the designs created for Pro-Verbial (subscriptions opened today for Year 6!) are focused upon shawls and wraps, I knew I wanted to mill something a bit finer; lace-weight, fingering-weight, or sport-weight. I analyzed using only one of the wools for this yarn. But then began to think how beautiful it would be to combine these various wools into one yarn. The Cormo is exquisitely soft, though can be prone to pills since the fleece is so fine, the targhee picks up dye nicely, is a great middle-of-the-road fleece, soft but not so fine that it is hard to mill, and the corriedale, which can be a bit toothy at times, which the cormo would help balance, was shades of beautiful brown and grey.

We have had a great experience working with Green Mountain Spinnery, so we decided to send it to them to have the yarn milled. Though first before the wool could be sent to Green Mountain Spinnery, it had to be packaged. The only wool we have worked with from farm to finished yarn - is Sally’s wool for our line of yarn named Horizon. At Sally’s we had put the wool into cardboard containers, strapped these to pallets, and shipped them from Sally’s farm. This is the first time we needed to figure out how to get 350 pounds of wool packed. We began to brainstorm. And remembered meeting a man, named Joe Pozzi, at Fibershed’s first Fine Wool Symposium. He was on the panel there. And his flock is over one thousand heads. Most of his wool is used for wool felt, batting for comforters, and the like, as it has a bit too much tooth for knitting sweaters. We decided to give him a call to learn what he does with his wool. And guess what? He did! He has a motorized wool baler. Usually the wool baler is out, sometimes for months with the shearing team, though it just so happened that it was dropped off at his western Sonoma county barn. He graciously invited us to bring our wool and have it baled. His baler is from New Zealand.

Side Note: Upon researching balers we came across a collection of amazing videos.

This first one - about 2 minutes in - watch two women get to work on creating a wool bale by hand. Tough stuff! 

Then, we came to learn about a competition in New Zealand called the Golden Shears. Here's a video of women in a shearing competition with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cindi Lauper playing in the background.

Back to this story --> So now we had our wool packed hard into a very large tyvek envelope. Joe, using a pair of very sharp hooks fit over his hands - which are usually used to move straw bales - rolled the bale into Adrienne's pickup truck.

We were so excited - cruising down the road - where we made a pit stop at the beach before heading home. Just me, Adrienne, Cleo, Callie, and our bale of wool.

So now it was time to ship the bale. And we quickly ran into a quandary...you know, we are really used to weighing pretty small quantities of yarn - or dye - in the shop - things more in the range of 1 pound, maybe 10 pounds. Well, something we did not think about was how on earth we were going to weigh this bale in order to ship it! Moreover, how were we going to get the bale out of Adrienne's truck, onto a scale, and then back onto Adrienne's truck.

We drove over to West Oakland, near the Port, amidst the semi-trucks hauling containers, we drove onto the scale. From researching on the internet of what Adrienne's truck might weight, and what we guessed the weight as from our invoices for the wool, we were able to schedule the pick-up for the wool for the next day. The truck showed up - and we rolled the bale into the trailer. We waved goodbye - hoping that it would make it safely to Vermont. Then, Adrienne jumped back into her truck to have it weighed so we could double check our numbers. Now, we have the weight of her truck on file!

About 2 months later, we received our new yarn. It was as beautiful as imagined. As always Green Mountain Spinnery did a lovely job. We began the process of scouring, mordanting, and dyeing the yarn.

One of the most compelling parts of this yarn, is the way the natural, brown-silver wool appears every so often, almost like a grey vein running through white granite. As a natural dyer, I adore overdyeing natural colored fleece because of the depth and nuances it adds to the naturally dyed color. This yarn is 300 yards to 50 grams, making a lightweight yarn which can be knit into a variety of things from wraps to lightweight sweaters.

It has been so exciting to see this yarn come to life! I hope you will try it out and let me know what you think! You can find Flock here.



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