Our first yarns from our fiber sheep have arrived back from the mills and I’m so excited and eager to work with them! It has been a very collaborative journey. I have benefitted not only from advice from Gayle Ravenscroft, of Pacific Knitting Retreats, but also from the special talents of Marcail McWilliams, who runs Valley Oak Wool Mill in Woodland, and Sarah Gilbert, who runs Mendocino Wool Mill in Ukiah.
Marcail made my East Friesian yarn years ago, and when I got Romney sheep I began hearing of the beautiful things she does with Romney wool. Earlier this year I brought her some Romney and Corriedale fleeces.
The first treat I received back was this beautiful roving! In addition to this lovely grey from our Romney ewe, Dahlia, there was a lighter grey from Maison and a natural black from our Corriedale ewe, Soot.
The roving has sold well, and I’m also loving spinning with it.
Then last month I got my first yarn from Marcail, and it is gorgeous!
She made a single-ply, Lopi-style yarn from Smoke’s black Corriedale fleece and also from our Romney ewe Nan’s smokey grey one. And a lovely 2-ply oatmeal-color yarn from the fleece from our Romney ewe, Swiss Miss. “Romney wool is like iron,” says Gayle. “It will never pill, because the staple is so long.” These yarns may wear like iron, but they feel like a cloud. The Lopi-style yarns are light and fluffy and are begging me to knit them into a beautiful Icelandic-style sweater. Gayle says this style of spinning is Marcail’s special talent, and she doesn’t know anyone else who does it as beautifully as Marcail does. After we shear next week I’m going to take some white Romney fleece to Marcail for a third color of this seductive yarn, and then I’ll be ready for my 3-color Icelandic pullover.
But I won’t have to wait to knit the Aran-style cabled sweater I’m dying to make from Swiss Miss’s yarn. The yarn is dense and rugged with a lovely sheen and it will be eye-popping in those cables. Gayle agrees with my choice on that one too.
Meanwhile, Gayle introduced me to Sarah Gilbert, who designs yarns at her mill, Mendocino Wool Mill in Ukiah. I had sent some samples of my fleeces to Gayle and she was very complimentary of the quality and uniformity of the wool, noting that this wool clearly came from well cared-for and well-fed sheep. She encouraged me to send the samples to Sarah, and that began a delightful dialogue.
Sarah suggested making a range of weights of yarn, from worsted down to fingering. She picked Corriedale fleeces from our twin-sister ewes Cora and Cinder to make into a fingering-weight yarn. “This will be wonderful to make soft, lacy things to wear next to your skin,” said Sarah. When Gayle saw the finished yarn at my house on Sunday, she immediately opened a skein and draped it around her neck, snuggling into its softness.
Sarah and I chose three colors of Romney for the 2-ply DK-weight yarns; Poppy’s deep charcoal-grey, Scout and Maureen’s smokey light-grey, and Pearl and Chuck’s pearly off-white.
But the most fun for me was to hear Sarah’s thoughts about creating a worsted weight. She started with a lovely fleece from Frieda, the daughter of Dale the Corriedale out of Billie Jean, one of our white East Friesian ewes. Frieda’s fleece was fine with a lovely crimp that Sarah said would add lightness to the yarn. To add sheen, she chose the fleece of Gold Rush, a “Romnesian” ewe (half Romney, half East Friesian) , which has that beautiful Romney sheen, and she finished with the fleece from Dale, our Corriedale ram, for softness. She chose a worsted-weight yarn to be softer with more air, and 3-ply, to lend the yarn a roundness.
Here are the rock stars, and their beautiful creation. Frieda, daughter of Dale, Dale the man himself, and Gold Rush, who lends sheen to their softness. And the finished yarn. Gayle will be featuring this and all of my yarns at a 1-day knitting retreat here at Barinaga Ranch on June 26th. Go to her web site for details.
I’m loving the life of a fiber farmer, and my mission is to get this carefully tended wool from my much-loved sheep into the hands of those who will value it and use it to make beautiful things. That gives my girls a job , and lets me keep raising and enjoying them. Oh, and extra bonus–I get to knit with this yarn also!