Wool Culture

I am a frequenter of Ravelry, a knitters’ and crocheters’ forum with 7 million users worldwide.  I have a favorite group with a mostly social focus that I like to participate in, but I also read other discussions to keep tabs on what people want from their wool products.  I want to make sure I am providing the wool people want.

Recently, a poster asked a question about the modern wool market.  She noted that when she was a child, knitting was a functional skill more like being able to cook and drive than a fancy craft for leisure time.  Certainly, it was a space for self-expression in color and pattern, but knitting was undertaken for the simple fact that hats and sweaters and socks were not easily obtained in other ways!

Like my previous post about the globalization of meat, fabric and textile changed massively in the age of petroleum and globalization.  Synthetic fabrics have replaced wool in many applications, even though wool often performs better and is more sustainable.  The effort of properly caring for wool has turned many people away while others have been scared away from wool by misinformation about sheep and agriculture in general in our culture of increased fearmongering.

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At the same time that people were using free time in different ways or having less free time to knit, cheap, imported, mass-produced wool and non-wool items began to appear in stores.  It soon became equally or more expensive to knit a wool sweater than to buy one.  How is this possible?  Economies of scale, lack of environmental regulations where the clothing is made, cheap labor, mechanization, and commodity bulk wool.   When the time wool subsidies ended in the 1980s, growers of mid-grade work-wear type wool from Down breeds and Medium breeds couldn’t find as many outlets to sell to.   Farmers that used to raise Down breeds have turned to hair breeds, as the cost of removing the wool from the sheep is greater than the value of the wool on the bulk market.  More than half of the US wool clip is finewool today, where once there was a greater diversity of breed types.   Sheepraising on the whole, for wool and for meat, has declined precipitously since WWII, effectively pushed out in the modern era of industrial farming.   Sheep simply don’t industrialize well.  They need to graze on extensive lands and are susceptible to disease in confinement.  Even though there are confinement lamb finishing operations in the US, these operations are declining and struggling to compete with cheaper grass-fed lamb from New Zealand and Australia.  Only the direct-to-consumer and direct-to-store markets in the South and Northeast are growing for lamb in the US.

With respect to yarn: as the generation that knit for need disappears, knitting is much more of a leisure craft activity that consumes extra money and is fed by some degree of nostalgia, plus the satisfactory feelings of accomplishment when a garment is created.  As a wool seller, I know that the stories I share on this blog become part of the wool I sell and the crafts and garments you create from it.

This is the finale of what I wrote responding to the question:

The hard truth is that even though we’ve chosen to join this community of makers here on Ravelry, the number of people who cook, sew, knit or quilt by necessity has shrunk significantly in the last 50 years. All of the people who didn’t enjoy those activities but needed to do them to save money have been bailed out by fast food, by cheap clothing, by synthetic fabrics, by cheap bedding. The people who are left often will spend more money for quality, hence the “boutique-ification” of the yarn, fabric and food markets.

The hard thing for me to acknowledge as a farmer is how much I depend on the small number of people who care more about how their food and clothing was produced than about the price at the register.  Small producers are waging an uphill battle against globalized pork, corn subsidies that secondarily subsidize factory-farmed chicken and pork, petroleum clothing and the petroleum that brought that clothing across the ocean to our stores, and the devaluation of the art of making.

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Some handiwork – find more in our store!

What are your thoughts about current trends in knitting, spinning, crocheting, cooking and making?

 

 

Scarves

I am offering 20% off our scarves at Our Etsy Shop   Offer code: FLEECENAVIDAD

The photos don’t quite do these justice.  Five of the scarves are made from the last of my Cormo yarn and two from our natural-color Bluefaced Leicester.  The softness, comfort and drape is unmatched.  Even wool skeptics will find these scarves next-to-the-skin pleasant.  Dad and I are really proud of these gorgeous scarves.  We think they are a sustainable gift worth giving (or a gift to yourself- after all, you’ve worked hard this year!)

Please feel free to get in touch with any questions.

 

Preparing for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival

Every year has been a little different at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds in Tunbridge, VT, September 30-October 1.  Even if you don’t knit, it’s a ton of fun with great food and lots of opportunities to learn more about fibercraft.

In the past, I have brought natural-color Cormo X yarn – soft yarn in natural white, gray and brown shades.   Additionally, I’ve brought some hand-processed batts for handspinners and felters.

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This year is a little different.  The last run of Cormo X yarn will be for sale, available in eight (yes!) attractive and wearable colors plus three natural shades.  We will be debuting our Bluefaced Leicester yarn, which is soft and silky with a subtle sheen.  I hope you are as excited as I am to touch this awesome yarn.  Our BFL yarn comes in two natural colors and supplies are limited.

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We will also be offering raw fleece in several formats.  We have small packets of hand-selected Bluefaced Leicester and Border Leicester locks for crafting.  Border Leicester fleece is on offer in larger volumes.  I know many handspinners with they could sample more fleeces with a little less commitment to a whole sheep.  I have chosen to offer fleece in smaller purchase units so that you can enjoy a pound or three of quality fleece without being tired of it by the end.  I’ve been there.

Additionally, gorgeous and intriguing pelts made by Vermont Natural Sheepskins will be on offer in both white and natural shades.

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So please come by our booth in the animal barn.  Friendly lambs want to nibble you, and I want to hear what you think of this blog.

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We Went to the Festival

And I sold lots of yarn, batts and pelts.

Saturday started off with lots of visitors inspecting the goods, but few purchases.  I was anxious that no one would be in a buying mood!  But suddenly around 12:30, an unheard “buy-things-now” alarm went off and suddenly 4 pelts, a pile of yarn and half of my batts went to new homes.  Meanwhile, Matt was manning the sheep pen and chatting about Bluefaced Leicesters and Cormo with all comers.  The sheep who came this week weren’t as friendly as the 2014 crew, so they hung back while children reached for them.  Eleanor, Phoebe and Chickadee are happy to be home, but maybe a little braver than they were before their eye-opening experience.

Patterns were a huge seller. The Climbing Trellis Mittens and the Vermont Sheepscape Sweater were standout performers.  Unlike our festival experience in 2014, though, the pattern purchases didn’t seem to inspire yarn purchases – the yarn was bought generally after the customer made a few observations like”Wow, soft” and “Amazing quality.”  The yarn, made at Hampton’s Fiber Mill, was as good as anything at the show.  I did get to brag a bit about my mother’s pattern-design and knitting skill, as the samples she had knitted me were greatly admired.

With respect to our booth display, it was hard not to feel inadequate compared to other vendors.  My cobbled-together booth with materials lent to me by Mom and a coworker reflected our relative inexperience.  The fact that we arrived at 8:30 on Saturday morning and were still frantically searching for a screwdriver ten minutes before showtime probably reinforced that.  However, once people started milling more, the slightly disjointed character of my display seemed to matter less, and the presence of adorable sheep mattered more.

Saturday was devoted to sales, but Sunday offered lulls in the booth traffic that allowed Phoebe to shop and permitted me to cruise other booths and vendors to make and renew some contacts.   Shepherds don’t meet up often, so this was one of my few opportunities to meet friends from farms a few hours away.

Some familiar faces included Wing and a Prayer Farm, whose proprietor Tammy I admire tremendously for her fiber skills and her ability to share and expand fibercraft to new audiences with her activities and workshops.  We’ve got a pending phone date.  I caught up with Peggy at Savage Hart Farm, too.  She had sausage for sale, so we compared notes about having sausage made.  She’s been my go-to recommendation when people have contacted me about breeding stock, since I didn’t have any spare lambs this year or last year.  I also had a brief chat with Cindy at Ewe and I Farm.  We met years ago doing Holistic Management.  Perhaps most critically, I had a meeting with Hilary Chapin of Smiling Sheep Farm, which allowed us to conspire more about bringing more Bluefaced Leicesters to the Northeast from the Mid-West and West.  Hilary has an outlook on husbandry and  an understanding of sheepraising that I largely share – sheep must express both form and function, and we can’t excuse low quality, even in a rare or unusual breed.

The main takeaway may be that I finally feel a little like Sheep and Pickle Farm is on the right track.  People remember the farm, people have read articles in Vermont’s Local Banquet that I’ve written, and Matt is engaged in shepherding with me.  He is developing his own areas of expertise in haying and tractorwork while he also learns more about the science of sheep.  Phoebe has learned a great deal in her year-or-so of sheep education, and her help was invaluable as we hastily packed up at the end of Sunday, completely exhausted from smiling and chatting so much.

 

 

 

More Sheep and Wool Festival Preparation

Just a taste of what I’m bringing to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival this year.  I have about 100 skeins of yarn, hot off the mill(?), soft, huggable pelts from lambs and adults, hand-carded batts, some natural and some hand-dyed, and patterns.  My mom wrote a nifty new cowl pattern that we are excited to share with you!

Some Sheep Updates, because I like doing them:

  • With all of the maintenance mowing we’ve been able to do with the new tractor, I can finally say that the sheep are really thriving.  It’s hard to find a spine or ribs on the Bluefaced Leicesters, and the Cormos are looking better, brighter and healthier than ever.
  • Peggy, who is probably about ten years old, is still going strong.  I thought I should cull her, but she has teeth enough and is keeping up with the herd very comfortably.
  • Tardis and Dalek are getting ever friendlier.  Eleanor is a ham, and is fat enough to be made into a ham.  She is the size of my adult Cormos at the age of six months.  Little Moose is taller but leaner, and Marianne is lagging in growth a little.  She gets extra grain at feeding time.
  • The rams deeply resent being separated from the ewes, but have nevertheless been great ram-bassadors in my front yard, greeting passers-by.
  • Eleanor, Chickadee and Phoebe (sheep) will be at the Sheep and Wool Festival, along with me, Matt and Phoebe (person).  I earnestly can’t wait to see you there.