Tag Archives: yarn

Artisan Spotlight: Going Green with Brown Sheep

harlan-factory-2The American textile industry has a long history of boom and bust cycles since the first mills were set up along the waterways of the east coast in the early years of the industrial revolution.While most yarn, textile and clothing production has moved offshore, a small number of stubborn visionaries have dedicated themselves to ensuring a future for American-made yarn. One of the pioneers in this movement is the Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska, spinning wool yarns for weavers, knitters and crocheters since 1980.

The Brown Sheep mill was started by Harlan Brown, father of the current mill owner Peggy Jo Wells, on land in the north Platte River valley that had been farmed by his grandfather and father for over 100 years. Changing economic conditions in the 1970s led Harlan Brown to shift the focus of the family business from animal husbandry to the production of wool and yarn. By 1980, he had purchased used wool-processing and spinning equipment and set up the original Brown Sheep Company mill.  

What began as an effort to make a living from the family land has been modernized to a state of the art eco-conscious yarn production facility. The used mechanical equipment has given way to automated digital spinners and winders, even as the fundamental process of introducing twist into wool to create yarn has remained unchanged for millennia. Robert Wells, Peggy Jo’s husband, brought his academic research acumen to Brown Sheep Company when they decided to join the company. Not only has the spinning equipment been upgraded, Robert has helped design a water reclamation system that allows the mill to capture and reuse up to 90% of the water used in the dyeing process. It’s an environmentally responsible approach to the land on which Brown Sheep Company sits, keeping the mill’s operations sustainable in the semi-arid climate of western Nebraska. What little wastewater is left goes into lined lagoons where sunlight, evaporation and microbial action breaks down the remaining dye molecules. The mill also harnesses the heat energy in the water generated by the production process, further reducing their carbon footprint. Robert believes that the mill is on a sustainable footing for years to come, and looks forward to advances in technology that will enhance that sustainability.

robert-peggy

Robert & Peggy Wells

The wool in Brown Sheep Company’s yarns is sourced primarily from sheep ranches in Wyoming and Colorado and comes primarily from Corriedale, Rambouillet and Columbia breeds. Their 100% wool yarns range from the fingering weight Nature Spun to the super-bulky Burly Spun, and all their wool yarns are treated with Ecolan CEA, a non-insectide chemical added in the dyebaths to make the wool unattractive to wool moth larvae. Brown Sheep Company’s mill employs a worsted-spun process, meaning that all carding, drafting and spinning processes aim to bring the fibers into parallel alignment, creating smooth and strong yarns for weavers and knitters alike.

BROLPWR.detail

Skeins of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted Yarn

Brown Sheep Company’s palette of colorways is breathtaking. Their flagship yarn Nature Spun, which the Woolery carries in fingering and sport weights, is dyed in every colorway across every yarn weight for endless creative possibilities. Lanaloft is the newest member of the Brown Sheep family.  Available in sport and worsted weights, it is 100% American grown and made. Another popular yarn is Lamb’s Pride, Brown Sheep’s blend of 85% wool and 15% mohair. The fiber blend absorbs dye richly and the mohair content gives just a touch of shimmer and halo. Last but not least, Wildfoote Luxury Sock yarn adds 25% nylon to the wool content for sturdy footwear that can stand up to repeated washing and wearing. The Woolery stocks Lanaloft worsted and sport and Nature Spun sport and fingering on cones to meet the needs of weavers.  Lamb’s Pride Worsted, Nature Spun Sport and Wildfoote Luxury Sock come in skeins for handknitters and crocheters (though these yarns can also be used for weaving projects if you so choose!). 

Brown Sheep Nature Spun Yarn on Cones

Brown Sheep Nature Spun Yarn on Cones

It’s important to us to bring our customers fiber products that represent our values as makers.  The yarns of Brown Sheep Company meet our desire to offer you primarily natural fibers produced using environmentally sustainable methods from American raw materials, and the wide range of colors, texture and the yarns’ quality delight us as crafters as well!

All the Best,

Wave, Perri and the entire Woolery Team

 

Advertisements

Sheepy Resolutions for the New Year

IMG_5224The start of a new year is always an exciting time! It’s also a great opportunity to evaluate the year before and set new goals for the time ahead. Since 2015 is the Year of the Sheep (according to the Chinese zodiac calendar), we’d like to share some of our own sheepy resolutions for knitting, spinning, weaving, and rug hooking. We hope they inspire you to expand your crafting horizons in 2015!

  • Knitting: Now more than ever, knitters are able to find a variety of breed-specific yarns to explore the wonderful world of sheep. Even if you aren’t a spinner, the range of options has increased exponentially in recent years to move beyond generic “wool” which used to a common sight on a yarn label. Challenge yourself to seek out yarns with new fiber content in 2015: Masham, Blue-Faced Leicester, Targhee, Tunis, Corriedale, and more! To get you started, there are some fantastic resources for sourcing breed-specific yarns on Beth Brown-Reinsel’s informative website here.
  • bookoffleeceSpinning: The world of breed-specific fleece and fiber is well-covered territory here on the Woolery blog, and we know that many of our customers have been using such excellent books as The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook  and The Spinner’s Book of Fleece as their guide. Now is a great time to take stock of your past spinning projects and make a list of goals you’d like to accomplish in 2015. Perhaps you’d like to explore spinning with more unusual sheep breeds such karakul or dorper; click here and here for more sheepy suggestions from our blog archive. Another goal might be to try your hand at combining a variety of fibers to create unique batts or art yarns; click here for more art yarn inspiration from the Woolery blog archives. If you have a lot of natural colored fiber, playing around with DIY dye techniques might be in your future: click here for a tutorial from our blog archive featuring traditional dyeing techniques; click here for a guest post from our blog archive featuring natural dyeing techniques; and click here  for more specific instructions regarding the dyeing of fleece and prepared spinning fiber using kool-aid dyes from the Knitty archives.
  • Image ©Hello Hydrangea blog

    Image ©Hello Hydrangea blog

    Weaving: Many of our customers delight in weaving projects made with their handspun yarns, many of which are spun with breed-specific fleece or roving. What’s a non-weaving spinner to do? We spied this clever tutorial demonstrating how to incorporate roving and uncarded fleece into a tapestry piece to achieve a stunning effect.

  • Rug Hooking: Though rug hooking is traditionally done with strips of wool fabric or yarn, we have seen some very interesting tutorials and projects featuring spinning fibers recently. Click here for a photo tutorial on the Spruce Ridge Studios blog demonstrating how to use both fleece and roving to add texture to a hooked rug project. Our friends over at Strauch have shared a photo tutorial here on Flickr showing a locker-hooked rug project from start to finish which uses carded fleece. We also have more rug hooking inspiration on this post from our blog archive!
Image © Strauch

Image © Strauch

We look forward to making 2015 the sheepiest, most fibery year yet. Thanks for joining us!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Rug Hooking Materials: Form & Function

Earlier this year, we blogged about the various types of backing materials for rug hooking projects; on today’s post, we will be talking about the wonderful world of materials which can be used to create your next masterpiece!

sheeppillowWe’ll begin with the basics: wool yarn and wool strips are the traditional materials that were used to hook rugs, and they are still the best choice for hooking an actual rug. Even in a low-traffic area, a rug placed on the floor will need to be sturdy in order to last. With that in mind, we recommend using a tightly spun yarn that won’t pill; another good option is medium to heavy weight wool strips which have been fulled.

Fulling is the practice of washing woolen cloth in hot water to shrink it slightly. This practice tightens up the weave of the cloth and makes for a sturdier end product.  It will also help keep down fraying when you cut your strips!

rughookfabric

Just because you want to stick to sturdy materials when making a rug doesn’t mean you are limited in your design choices! Wool fabric and wool yarn come in a rainbow of colors and patterns: use houndstooth, herringbone, plaids, and stripes to create texture in your design as you hook. You can also get hand dyed fabrics which have natural variations in how the dye was applied to the fabric to create depth and interest in your final project.

Tweedy, variegated, and striped yarns will do the same thing if you choose to use yarn instead of wool strips for your rug. You can also explore dyeing your own fabric and yarn to create the specific shading or textured effect that you desire.

rughookornaments

For creating a wall hanging or other piece, you will want to look at how sturdy you need the finished object to be. A bag, pillow, or seat cover will definitely need to be sturdy to hold up, so you’d want to select your materials in the same way you would when making a rug as outlined above. The last thing you want to have happen is to have all of your beautiful work fall apart due to the stress of everyday use!

santaA wall hanging or other decorative object is a completely different story, however. Making an item for display rather than everyday use affords quite  bit of freedom – the sky is the limit! Do you want to hook a puffy cloud? Get some locks of wool or wool roving and hook that into the shape of your cloud. Do you want to re-create the shine of light on water?  Cut some strips of silk or use a shiny yarn like silk or bamboo to create a glimmering effect.  Do you want to make an animal which looks like it has fur? Use a bulky, fuzzy yarn to hook it; you can even hold an additional strand of eyelash yarn with it to create an even fluffier look.

Don’t be afraid to experiment by using thick and thin yarns, fabric strips, ribbons, paper, or other materials  within your piece. Play with color, texture, and fiber components to see where your imagination takes you!

2014 Fiber Toys of Christmas

FT14BANNER

Our annual holiday promotion, the 12 Fiber Toys of Christmas, is in full swing! Each Friday, we feature a favorite fiber toy with a special deal and a chance to win that particular toy (tool). Weekly specials and giveaways will be posted on our Facebook pageTwitter feed, and it will also be included in our newsletter.

These are weekly specials which expire every Friday (when the new one starts), so be sure to check the links above so you don’t miss out!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

 

Measuring Yarn: We’ll Show You How!

yarnbalanceNEWHave you ever come across a skein of yarn in your stash that is missing its label, a partially-used cone of yarn, or just wanted to know how much yarn you had left after finishing a project? One of our brand-new arrivals at the shop will help you solve your yarn mysteries!

Our new Yarn Balance was designed to replace the McMorran Yarn Balance, which is no longer in production. It’s just as easy to use as the original, and it’s an invaluable tool for calculating your yardage!

There are four easy steps to solving your yarn mysteries:

1. Place your Yarn Balance on a level surface that allows plenty of room for your yarn to hang as pictured. The edge of a sturdy table will do quite nicely! Set the pins of the small balancing arm into the small notches on the top of the box, then lay a length of yarn in the notch of the balance, allowing the yarn to hang:

yb1

2. With a pair of scissors, trim the length of yarn, cutting a little at a time, until the balancing arm is level.

yb2

3. When the arm is level, remove the length of yarn from the balance.

yb3

4. Measure the length of your yarn with a ruler. Multiply the measurement x 100 – this measurement gives you the number are yards per pound of yarn (ypp).

yb4

Note: If you are measuring bumpy, slubby or a handspun yarn, the measurement may not be accurate due to inconsistencies in the yarn, but it will give you an approximate estimate.
All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Where the Sheep Are

sheepshearingSpring is here! In the fiber world, we know that means more than just warm temperatures; spring is the time that many sheep are shorn, giving us their beautiful fleece to spin, weave, knit, or crochet. It’s also a great time for fiber artists to branch out and try working with a new-to-them breed of sheep. If you’re wondering how to get started, here is a handy guide to begin your journey in to the wonderful world of sheep:

Fiber Festivals

Your local fiber festival is a great place to start! You might be surprised at how many sheep are raised in your region, and fiber festivals are an excellent way to support small farms and purchase fleece and fiber that you might not encounter anywhere else. You can often find breed-specific yarns in addition to raw fleece or prepared top, many of which can be purchased directly from the producer. We have several upcoming fiber festivals listed here on our website.

borderleicesterSheep Breeder Associations

If you’ve encountered a breed of sheep you’ve never heard of, chances are there is an association dedicated to that particular breed which can be found with a simple web search. For example, if you came across a Border Leicester fleece, the American Border Leicester Association would be a great place to see photos of the sheep, learn about the breed’s history and read up on the characteristics of the fleece. Some association websites have classified sections where members can post sheep or sheep products for sale; you can also check for upcoming events to find out when and where the sheep will be shown!

FleeceandFiberSourcebookBooks

There are many wonderful books dedicated to all things sheep, but one of our favorites is The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarious.  This comprehensive photographic encyclopedia features more than 200 animals and the fibers they produce, covering almost every sheep breed in the world from the longwool breeds of the United Kingdom to the Tasmanian merino, the Navajo churro, the northern European Faroese, and dozens  more. bookofwoolAnother fantastic book is Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Book of Wool, which focuses on how to best use the yarns created from specific breeds of wool and gives an excellent introduction to many breeds of sheep along the way.

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Help for Beginning Weavers: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

As a beginning weaver there are some pitfalls to be avoided. While getting in over one’s head comes right to mind, the reality is that you can make great choices and have success without these dismaying situations.

Yarn choice can have a major impact on the warp tension. While stretchy yarns used for knitting projects are soft and lovely, they are challenging to make into a warp. It is very easy to pull some strands at a different rate than others, often resulting in one side or a part of the warp being tighter that the other. Sometimes, this doesn’t become apparent until well into the weaving. Be extra careful to wind the yarn with an even tension across the whole width of the loom (see the last note below about your physical approach to warping for more on this issue).

Tactile yarns woven into a mobius cowl.

As a beginning weaver, you may be tempted by all the glorious, tactile, fuzzy, curly, and 3-dimensional yarns that are available. Test the stickiness of the fibers. Try unwinding it off the ball or cone. If it sticks together, use caution as to where you will use it. While a fuzzy yarn may be SO tempting, it has a tendency to glom onto itself, like a tangle in one’s hair, making a fusion between warp threads. The same is true for the dimensional fibers. Use these yarns for the weft – show them off by making a loose sett – creating a weft-faced fabric.

Another tempting but challenging choice is man-made fiber with metallic threads. Here the yarn can be so slippery that you can’t hang onto it, or it curls to the point of total scramble. While winding them onto a shuttle, keep the ball or cone inside an open length of panty hose or netting. Again, these yarns can be used for the weft by carefully winding them onto stick shuttles and highlighting their beauty as a weft.

Cotton Chenille Yarn

A yarn with a life of its own is chenille. It will actually spit out “worms” i.e. loopy kinks on the surface of your woven fabric! Wait ‘til you have more experience under your belt before trying one of these. We don’t want to scare you (though Halloween is just around the corner!) but it’s important to consider what kind of yarn you will use for your first warp and weft.

Mixing yarns in a warp is another pitfall. Using more than one type of yarn in the same warp, or mixing a smooth yarn with a lumpy one is problematic. Because yarns with different weights are taken up by the weaving at different rates, unevenness develops in the warp strands. This makes for bunches of loose warp threads. Looms with double back beams are designed to manage this issue. One kind of yarn is wound on one of the beams and the other yarn is wound on the other beam. With a smooth warp, alternate these fancy yarns with plain ones in the weft.

Mercerized Perle Cotton Yarn.

So what’s the best yarn to begin warping? Perle cottons and rug warp are very even and smooth. They are easy to manage and slip through heddles and reeds. With a myriad of colors and weights, it could take years to explore all the possible combinations. After working with these “training” wheel yarns for your warp, you will easily manage some of the more exciting yarn choices above.

Finally, patience is the key to an even warp tension. While measuring your yarn, slow down and keep an even hand while winding. Begin with a calm sense; if you’re tense and thinking of something you need to do, you’ll find your tension changing. Take a break, make a note of the niggling little job or idea that popped into your head, and maybe even take a little walk to resolve your stress. If you are interrupted, try to create the same frame of mind upon your return. If you can, find a helper – a second set of hands to assist you with the juggling required. If you don’t have a helper, click here to read our blog post sharing our best  weaving book and DVD recommendations to get you back on track.

Join Us for the 12 Fiber Toys of Christmas
It’s Toy Season! It’s week 2 of our 12 Fiber Toys for Christmas. This Friday, we’ll be featuring a new favorite fiber toy with a special deal and a chance to win that particular toy (tool) – click here for more details!

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team!

Measuring Yardage + Woolery Catalogs Have Landed!

Last blog we talked about ways to measure the size of your yarn, but how about measuring the length? One easy way is to use a niddy noddy.  Most niddy noddies wind in either 2 or 1 1/2 yard increments.  If you count while you are winding it is easy to calculate your yardage.

However, if you are like me I get distracted easily and lose count.  That’s where a yardage counter comes in handy.  It does the counting for you!  Wrap your yarn around the little wheel and it tracks the rotations and calculates yardage.  These come in very handy when using a swift or winding weaving bobbins.

New Catalog Have Arrived!

Recently we received a wonderful handwritten note from a customer. She writes, “Thank you so much for your wonderful catalog so full of amazing products.  Since I love words, your publication has exposed me to a whole new world of concepts. Congratulations on preserving history, as well as offering an impressive number of ‘droolable’ items. I’m sure that I will be placing other orders soon.”

We are proud to announce that our 2012 Catalog is hot off the presses and free with ANY purchase from our online store! We know that the fiber arts are tactile expereinces and no amount of web browsing can replace flipping though pages of spinning wheels, looms, rug hooking supplies, yarn, and other fiber necessities with your favorite cup of tea. In each catalog, you’ll also get to meet The Woolery Team that’s dedicated to your every fibery need!

Note: This catalog is not a complete listing of our products, yarn, books and videos, there is plenty here to whet your crafting appetite.  We’ve picked the best of the best to feature: our most popular items from spinning wheels, weaving looms, fleece, fiber, yarn, and everything in-between! Catalogs are $3 to purchase here, or free with any online order.

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team!