Our Blog

Farm Field Day: Tunis! Sunday September 13th, noon to 4 pm

September 1st, 2015 by Gretchen

Tunis sheep are really cool.

First brought to the US in Colonial times (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned Tunis sheep), they are a heritage breed. Well adapted for our heat and humidity, Tunis was the predominant sheep breed in the south until the Civil War almost wiped them out. Now they are on The Livestock Conservancy’s “watch” list. We love buying fleece to support the breed and turning on knitters and spinners to this wonderful Medium wool.

the entrance to Beaucaire Farm

Our host shepherds, Jim and Irene Mandraccia invite you to visit Beaucaire Farm in Purcellville, Virginia on Sunday September 13th. Meet their Tunis sheep and learn what makes them so cool, see a beautiful farm, taste some LoCo (Loudoun County) libations and maybe take one of the two classes offered. 

Entrance fee is $15. Part of that goes to Beaucaire, plus you get a $10 coupon good towards Solitude Wool products. The Field day will start at noon and end at 4:00pm. You’re welcome to bring a wheel or your knitting and sit and hang out for the afternoon. We will have a stand with Solitude yarns and fibers (including our two ply Tunis and double twist Tunis yarns and roving made with Beaucaire fleece). Beaucaire also has two Tunis farm yarns, fleeces and sheep pelts for sale.

We are offering two classes 9two sessions each class) during the day: Knit a rolled brim cap with Karin Fellers (good for beginning knitters, learn circular knitting and more about woolen yarn) and Hand Paint a skein of yarn with Gretchen Frederick. Classes are $45 each and include materials).

Email Gretchen at f-fsolitude@mindspring.com to register for a class or pre-pay entrance. If there are still spots available you can sign up day of the event, but class size limited to 6 participants each, so it might be a good idea to act now.

Solitude Jacket wins Knitting Daily KAL vote

July 12th, 2015 by Gretchen

We are doubly excited! To have our yarn in a beautiful sweater designed by Mari Chiba in the Fall issue of Knitscene magazine…and to have Ravelers vote to select this pattern out of many for a Knit-A-Long. Pick your color of our Romney yarn and join the KAL.

I will be dyeing two more colors tomorrow, photographing what isn’t up on the site yet…and we are breathlessly awaiting a new natural oatmeal color that I bet will be perfect for this lovely sweater.

updated schedule…

March 3rd, 2015 by Gretchen

Schedule update (as of 9/2/15)

    September 2015

    • Saturday the 5th & 19th: Falls Church Farmers Market
    • Sunday the 6th & 20th: Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market
    • Sunday the 13th: Tunis Farm Day at Beaucaire Farm in Purcellville, Virginia. Classes, farm tour, talk about Tunis sheep etc! Registration starts August 25th.
    • Weekend of the 26th & 27th:Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville, Virginia. Wonderful mid-size fiber festival. Deb Robson (The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook) will be there! Us too. Come see us in the Ruritan Building.

    October 2015

    • Weekend of the 17th & 18th:The New York Sheep & Wool Festival (Rhinebeck!). Get your room now! things fill up and this is the place to be in mid-October. Come see us in the lower level of the Horticulture building (building 22-D), booth 4.
    • Saturday the 3th: Falls Church Farmers Market
    • Sunday the 4th: Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market

    November/December 2015:

    • we will be at the Falls Church and FreshFarm Farmers Markets every weekend until Christmas (weather permitting).
    • Tuesday evening, November 3rd: Sue and I will be speaking to the Manassas Knitters
    • Saturday evening, November 7th: Sue and I will bespeaking to the KnitXperience, Knitter’s Retreat at Graves Mountain Lodge in Virginia

    Be mine! all pink and red roving on sale now through Valentines day

    February 5th, 2015 by Gretchen

    and check out this fun tutorial by 222 handspun on blending roving and making a corespun yarn



    Madrona Winter Fiber Retreat, Tacoma Washington Feb 12-16

    February 5th, 2015 by Gretchen

    Our only event west of the Appalachians! We are excited to be returning to the Madrona Fiber Retreat for the second year.

    We are bringing eleven different breeds in yarn form…and bringing pre-release “sneak peek” skeins of our five new yarns, plus lots of roving.

    Hope you can come meet us and get familiar with some of our yarn.

    What’s happening here Winter to Spring

    February 5th, 2015 by Gretchen

    We are being very productive…with all the stuff that we can’t find time for in wool washing and dyeing weather. But we are out and about a bit.

    Thank you to the Knitwell group in DC for having us come to your January knitting group. We had a great time.

    Thank you to Two Rivers Yarns in Maryland for doing a Solitude Wool trunk show in January. We hope we introduced some of your customers to sheep breeds they didn’t know before.

    Our great trek begins as our boxes are already on their way to Tacoma, Washington for the Madrona Winter Fiber Retreat from Feb 12-16th. Very exciting to head West. Come see us at the Marketplace.

    We are working on FIVE new yarns! They will be introduced as sneak peek skeins with incomplete information, and with one exception, in their naked undyed selves at Madrona.

    Look for us at the Uniquities Fiber Farmers Market in Vienna, Virginia on March 28th

    Want to try dyeing yarn AND weaving??? Along with Barefoot Weaver’s Studio, we are offering a three day workshop: Dyeing to Weave. You come here for a day (May 9) of dyeing warp and weft for two scarves. Then, a week later (May 16-17), return to the Barefoot Studio to weave your scarves on an already warped loom. Can it get any better? Contact Beth Wilson at bareftwevr@gmail.com to register.

    I plan to offer a couple “Dye Hard” (not really, it’s easy) classes here at the farm this spring. If you’re interested, let me know…and help me set a date.

    As soon as the regular season opens we will return on an every other week basis at Falls Church, VA and Dupont FreshFarm markets.



    breed of the week: Border Leicester and last markets until spring

    December 18th, 2014 by Gretchen
    Our last weekend for farmers markets until Spring

    Where ever you might be located, there could be a farmers market this weekend near you. Farmers will truely appreciate it if you come. Find wonderful things to make your Christmas/Hanukah/Solstice celebrations bright: good things to eat, hall decking greens and interesting presents and stocking stuffers. Try a turnip in the toe of a stocking to change things up.  At a farmers market…you get double karma points for shopping local.

    We will have yarn and roving, kits, gift certificates, freshly bottled honey and two fabulous Karakul pelts. Last time out for out two clearance yarns (20% off): Corrie Bulky and the BL aran.

    Breed of the week: Border Leicester!
    Oakview farm, Romney left, Border Leicester sheep right

    A decade ago, before Sue and I created Solitude Wool, I was keeping sheep at a nearby farm so I could have more sheep (our farm, Solitude is really little). Along with my own Romneys I also shepherded a small flock of Border Leicester sheep. They are very personable sheep and I have a soft spot for them.


    One of several English Longwool breeds

    In the 1700’s, Robert Bakewell (big name in breeding) began improving Leicesters with a line breeding program. This was very innovative for the time. Two of his followers took some of those sheep up to the border counties near Scotland and continued to develop them to local preferences, creating the Border Leicester.
    Easy to recognize, these sheep have clean heads and legs, distinctive roman noses and long upright ears. If you saw Babe (one of my favorite movies, perfect for Christmas time), Ma and the flock at Babe’s farm are Border Leicesters.


    Distinctive fleece

    Described as pencil locks, the fleece is in little sections, has beautiful crimp, is quite lustrous and has little curled tips. There are both white and natural colored sheep.

    Just slightly coarser than Romney, Border Leicester is also easy to spin and dyes beautifully! Beauty and strength…just the combination we like.

    Border Leicester is one of our staples (pun sort of intended). Our Border Leicester sport weight yarn comes in both white and a natural gray. It is semi-worsted spun to emphasize it’s lustre and drape and it has wonderful stitch definition. This is one of the batches I dye with natural


    (botanical) dyes, and mother nature is THE best colorist!
    Recently, we also created Border Leicester roving in several dyed in the wool colors (not botanical dyes, weak acid dyes).

    Will have the yarn and roving at the markets this weekend. 6% off at market.

    Patterns for really lovely items made with this yarn by three designers (first two I will have at market):

    Cheryl Chow’s climbing ivy vest

    Kathy Owen’s border classic scarf and

    Reah Janise Kauffman’s diamond lace capelet (free on Ravelry)



    I started this email before the sun came up and only have a couple hours left until it sets again. The Winter solstice is almost here. It makes you realize how much like a plant we are, stretching for the light: Christmas lights, mid-day outside chores, firelight, candlelight…even incandescent. Soon the days will grow longer (looking forward to it!). Wishing everyone find joy and light in this dark season.

    Happy Holidays from Solitude Wool (Gretchen, Sue, Debbie and Lynn)!

    Leesburg and Falls Church, VA markets Saturday 12/13, Dupont Circle, DC market Sunday 12/14

    December 12th, 2014 by Gretchen
    Ahhhh, good weather should get us to all three markets this weekend: Leesburg & Falls Church, VA on Saturday and Dupont Circle in DC on Sunday 

    I don’t know about you…but I am starting to get a little revved about Christmas. It’s almost here! Time to get serious. How about you? Are you all done and thinking about that knitting project you’re going to start in January? Either way, we hope you will come see Sue at Leesburg or me at Falls Church and Dupont.

    Maybe someone is trying to shop for you and needs a suggestion? We have card gift certificates available at market, or email me and I will create a personalized pdf gift certificate in any amount.

    Breed of the week: Montadale (6% off at market) 

    I’m embarassed to say that at the Blue Ridge Spinners and Weavers Guild Holiday potluck yesterday I was knitting a hat with our Montadale Woolen yarn and when asked about the breed I couldn’t remember what breed of sheep was crossed with Columbia to create it. I’ve looked this up many times. Wonder if I will remember now?

    The Montadale breed is one of many attempts to create “the perfect sheep.” This time it was a man named E. H. Mattingly. In 1932 he went to Kalispel, Montana and got a Columbia ram took it to the mid-west and bred him to a Cheviot ewe. In the end, they switched it up and the breed is based on Cheviot rams with Columbia ewes, but they were very happy with the great dual purpose breed. The wool of Montadales varies from fine to medium and is known for being whiter than many breeds.

    It takes many people and a long time to make yarn 


    First it was Linda Shane (from Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival Fleece sale) who introduced us to Saffer’s Montadales in Warwick Maryland on the Eastern Shore. She knew there was good wool there. I haven’t been, but Sue was very impressed with the farm, especially having two shearers (this is big suff in our world of small farms).




    and we got quite a haul for us: three [wool] bags full!



    We drove the wool up to Maine, had it scoured then sent to Bartlettyarns, a historic mill in Harmony. It was a cold day when we were there. I remember we were getting flurries and we had left full Spring behind in Virginia.

    Bartlett has the last mule spinner in the country. What is a mule spinner? It spins a true woolen yarn, for you hand spinners, that means it is created with a long draw.



    See those tracks on the floor? The mule (? I think…) travels back on the tracks drafting out the wool as it’s spun, just like a hand spinner’s arm pulls the wool back, trapping air, making a very light, very warm yarn. Bartlett made a video when they spun the yarn for us and put it on youtube.



    It comes back to us on cones. It takes many more steps from our small, hardworking team (thank you Debbie and Lynn!), skeining, washing (thank you Sue), dyeing (me), rinsing, re-skeining, labeling (and thats a story in itself…) before it is ready to offer to you. One of these emails I will follow that end. But typically, from fleece to yarn ready to sell is between one and two years. Jeeze, really? We are poster children for slow yarn.

    Montadale woolen makes great hats

    It’s the base for the Solitude Dots hat. We have a kit pairing it with our Romney for the dots.

    Monty Woolen is also great for sweaters, shawls, blankets…anything to cover or wrap yourself up in in this nasty winter that hasn’t even started yet. Just looking at it…it doesn’t make you oooooh or ahhhhh. Then I made a watch cap to go with my barn coat. I really loved working with it, it’s squishy, it’s comfort knitting. I wore it. I love it. I want more!


    If you aren’t into polka dots (hard to imagine, but possible), you can make almost any hat with one skein. We have two wayyyy simple patterns for a watch cap or rolled brim hat available for free. We will have patterns at market, and are trying to get it up on the web. If you order the Monty woolen, we will include one of the patterns for you (add a note which one you would like with your order).

    Make a hat for yourself or a gift…it only takes a couple, three evenings to knit one.


    If you are local, get out of the house this weekend while the weather is good and finish up that Christmas list! Hope to see you at market!


    12/7: will be at Dupont market today

    December 5th, 2014 by Gretchen

    About to head out for the Dupont Circle farmers market. Wear warm clothes and come brave the winds with us.

    I have good things for presents: hand knit items we had used for display. They are all freshly washed and priced at just the yarn price plus $1. A DEAL! and that is pretty unusual from us. Also yesterday (with a rain day at home) I made some Solitude Wool gift certificates. You can have them in any amount.

    I’ll also have honey…and a few Solitude Wool sheep greeting cards.

    Breed of the week: Karakul, baby lambs and Tinkerbell to the mill

    November 21st, 2014 by Gretchen
    Breed of the week: Karakul!

    We are celebrating the birth of fall lambs at Sue Bundy’s farm: RedGate. Sue and I started Solitude Wool almost eight years ago so Karakuls are family. There is a lot to say about this breed, but with lamb photos to share I’ll keep it really brief. I just looked at the Wikipedia about Karakuls and I think it’s really good (read it):

    • Originally from Central Asia, and one of…or maybe THE oldest of sheep breeds in the world, they are adapted to harsh conditions; just like camels store energy in their hump, Karakuls can store energy in their fat tails.
    • American Karakuls are a rare heritage breed.
    • Black is a primary color, but there are white, red, brown, silver and frosted colors (which we love).
    • Ancient sheep had a long outer coat to protect them from the weather and a short down undercoat to keep them warm. Karakuls are one of the breeds that retain this Primitive type of fleece.
    Fall lambs!


    Karakul’s, like only a few other breeds, will breed out of season and lamb in the fall. This is a little ewe lamb (actually she is good size for being a day old) was born Tuesday morning in the nicely bedded barn out of that cold wind.



    Here she is with her mother, who is clearly not trusting my motives with the camera and stomping her foot at me. The adults were sheared not too long ago, maybe 6 weeks? Karakuls grow fleece at about an inch a month and must be sheared twice a year.


    See the lamb with the white head and penetrating stare? He has a poultry fixation. Nicknamed Bouncer (aka: Bruiser), he was the first lamb born just two weeks ago. He was caught on video when he was still the only lamb on the farm…chasing chickens. You can see it on our Facebook page. It will brighten a cold day.

    Very rare: Karakul yarn

    I believe that Solitude Wool has the onlyKarakul yarn grown, spun and dyed here in the US. It is definitely our most unusual yarn, and the most interesting too. The long outer, coarse, hair-like coat is very very strong and non elastic and the light short underdown makes this yarn felt fabulously. Those characteristics together make this yarn the best for knit-to-felt bags that are hard wearing and solid (no need to line them). Sue Burke designed these bags and created a pattern for us using Karakul with another yarn, ourTunis. Easy to knit, the pattern includes hand felting instructions and sources for leather handles. If you order both Karakul and Tunis online, I will include the pattern free this week only. Small bag (orange) takes one large or two small skeins of Tunis, and two skeins Karakul. Mini bag (gray) takes one small skein each of Tunis and Karakul. Coming in early 2015 we will have a new version of the pattern available for download.



    Karakul is also incredibly insulating. This attribute makes for great coasters (easy and fast for potential holiday gifts) and bottle cozys that will keep your coffee hot (even at a frigid farmers market stand) or your water bottle cold (even at a swealtering farmers market stand). Karakul is at least twice as good as other wools for insulation, I know this from experience.

    Markets this weekend

    I will be bringing the Karakul, Tunis, these bags and lots of other yarns to market this weekend: Falls Church, Virginia on Saturday morning and Dupont FreshFarm market in DC on Sunday. Come down and touch everything and take some home with you!

    Tinkerbell loaded up for trip to the mill


    Sue and I are heading up to Pennsylvannia today to deliver a whole bunch of fleece for a new dyed-in-the-wool yarn we have been working on for a LONG time: 50% natural colored llama blended with 50% dyed Romney in nine colors.

    We are excited to see this mill. I’m taking my camera and will start to tell the story in next weeks email.


    Honk if you see us on the road!