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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!


Breed of the week: Corriedale (and our Corrie/Corrie X yarn)

November 13th, 2014 by Gretchen
Corriedale (and Corriedale crosses) is the breed of the week

These Corriedales are a small flock at Bay Haven Farm, one of my near neighbors. Bay Haven breeds Cleveland Bay horses, Berkshire pigs and other heritage breeds and does the Hillsborough farmers market in Loudoun County. I am really sorry to say they have decided not to raise Corriedales anymore. We want more Corriedale if you know any farms in the Chesapeake watershed that need a market for their wool.



Are they not wooley? Corridales were developed in Australia in the late 1800′s from crossing Merino (fine, dense fleece) with Lincoln (long strong fleece). And I just read that they were first imported to the US in 1914, a centennial! how cool.




The sheep are pretty big, and produce a big fleece every year, 10-17 pounds. The average of all sheep is probably about 8 pounds per year, so that is impressive. The wool is a good length, 4 or 5 inches and a Medium type. It has great crimp and is pretty soft.

6% discount on Corriedale at markets this weekend


Decided to up the discount at market to 6%, so it covers tax. Those of you not in DC or Virginia don’t have to pay tax on web orders (never I hope, oh the headaches even thinking about it causes! Dealing with multiple states is very very very very hard).

I will bring: a pure Corriedale roving that is carded. Lovely to spin!



our Corriedale/Corriedale cross yarn. The Corrie cross part of the blend are from Waterford Wool (you can see those sheep behind the Waterford store in Waterford, Virginia). The cross breed is Lincoln, one of the original breeds contributing to the Corriedale. Some of the sheep in this flock are natural colored and the addition of a little brown and gray creates a heathery light oatmeal color that is fabulous for cables or other textural knits.

The yarn is woolen spun and just perfect for fall. Warm, cushy and a pleasure to knit with. We have the undyed yarn in two skein sizes, solid dyed colors in small skeins and some also in large skeins and handpainted colors in large skeins. Great for vests (I’ll be wearing mine, made specially for the farmers market, designed by Andrea Price, author of Knit Speak), hats, scarves, and would be really really great for a throw to wrap up in on the couch this winter.

Got to go.

Hope to see you at the markets this chilly weekend. And to those of you in the snowy north or windy west…I am so thinking about you! Wow, if this is any indication, we all need to have several knitting projects lined up. We would just love to have one of them be with Solitude Wool!

Breed of the week: Dorset (and our Dorset sock yarn)

November 13th, 2014 by Gretchen
Good Morning!

It’s raining here. That is good for the garden (garlic mostly planted and fall greens and broccoli are overflowing) and especially good because I hope it can decide to stay dry for the weekend. Falls Church…I am coming!

We thought it would be fun to feature a different breed each week and at the farmers markets, give a 5% discount on that yarn.

Breed of the week: Dorset and Horned Dorset

Dorset is breed you have probably seen from a car window. The polled variety (polled means they don’t have horns) is the second most popular breed of sheep in the US. They are raised primarily for meat. These pregnant ewes are from Mill Creek Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia, the farm I buy hay from, and some of their fleeces are in our yarn. Dorsets have white faces and don’t have little black fibers in their wool like Suffolk sheep (I haven’t looked, but guess Suffolk is the most popular breed in the US).

We also bought Horned Dorset fleeces. The horned sheep are declining in numbers and The Livestock Conservancy has made them a conservation priority. Sue is our wool buyer and I only go along sometimes. But, I met the couple who raises the Horned Dorset at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival. I hope to visit their farm this year.

Down type wool

Dorset, and most meat breeds of sheep grow wool that is really great for socks. The fleece is relatively fine, but what is unique is it’s incredible spring and cushion. It has crimp in several directions at the same time, back and forth and spiral. You can’t keep this wool down! (hmmm, is that how it got the name Down type? Nah, probably from the English Downs) anyway, it is like springs under your feet. You aren’t likely to see it in commercial sock yarns, but give our Dorset sock a try and see how great it feels.

With holiday travel approaching, you might want to think about a good portable project. Socks are great for travel knitting, even in a cramped air plane seat.

Hope to see you at the markets this week…or connect with you via a web order!


Happy Halloween, Clun Forest yarn

November 13th, 2014 by Gretchen

Hi all! I am pretty bad at keeping up with the web site. Okay, I am REALLY bad. With a little outside encouragement I’m putting in some of my recent emails that have breed info in them. Here is the one from Halloweeen:


Happy Halloween!

We are back from Rhinebeck and Asheville Fiber Festivals. We met lots of wonderful people and want to thank all of you who bought yarn and fiber. We appreciate it! Those of you who signed up for the email, welcome!

One person who came by the booth and talked with Sue was Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot. She bought some of our Clun Forest yarn, and posted a photo of our rack in the blog. She has very good taste! This is the yarn we made in response to Clara Parkes asking for a three ply yarn. Those people don’t get famous for nothin…. Clun Forest is a heritage breed of sheep that The Livestock Conservancy lists as threatened. Originally from England, they are so distinct looking


with their clean dark brown faces and upright pointy ears. Cluns are a production breed that can grow to finished weight without grain, so they are excellent for stirctly grass-fed lamb.

The fleece is a Down type, fairly fine with lots of crimp and spring. Our yarn is worsted weight and good all-around knitting yarn. Think hats, mitts, sweaters. All good things for fall. We updated the web site with new colors. Do you like the close up shots or seeing more of the skein? Let me know.

It’s good to be home

My internal clock is constantly shocked by what the outside world is telling me. It is soooo autumnal. When I was working in the city and in an office dawn to dusk (well, much later than dusk), I used to think if I was outside more I would mentally be in sync with the seasons. Nope. Still shocks me.



The animals never seem to be out of sync with the seasons. They just take it all in.

Yesterday, after a dreary rain most of the day, the sun came out just in time to do chores. These late raspberries made it into my mouth right after I took the photo. Good!



Farmers markets: rest of Fall and rainy weather idea

Once again, the weather for the Falls Church Farmers Market on Saturday is looking bad. We hate to miss, again, but if it is raining Saturday morning I won’t come. I will post on the web site by 6:30 am if I am NOT coming. Sunday sounds windy and cold…but dry. I can take it and I will finally get to wear my new Romney sweater.

Sue had an idea. If we get rained out of a market, we might open up at the warehouse in Purcellville for a few hours. I’ll announce if we are doing that on the web site when I post that we aren’t coming.

Now that we are home, we are scheduled to be at FC and Dupont markets every weekend until Christmas. In addition, we will also do a few weekend at the Loudoun HomeGrown Market in Leesburg after Thanksgiving. More on that as we get closer.

Thank you for your support!!!


Rhinebeck Oct 18-19, SAFF Oct 24-26

October 17th, 2014 by Gretchen

Yay, Fiber Festivals!

We are going to be at the NY Sheep & Wool festival in Rhinebeck: come see us in Building 22, downstairs in booth 4

Next week we will be at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival near Asheville, North Carolina. We are located in the Sales Arena, booth 9

Open House at Solitude Sunday, September 14th

September 11th, 2014 by Gretchen
You’re invited to our farm: Solitude 

Dora! provider of the milk for the goat cheese


This Sunday, September 14th, from noon to 4:00 pm, Solitude Wool is having an open house here at Joan’s and my small farm in western Loudoun County, Virginia (see below for address and directions) We would love you to come and hang out (bring your spinning wheel, knitting, whatever) on our porch and enjoy fall apple slices and some fresh chevre. Dora (at right, an Alpine dairy goat) provided milk this morning and cheese will be ready for Sunday.

Tents will be up full of Solitude Wool yarn. For this Sunday, all yarn and fiber is 10% off.


In addition, two yarns are going on clearance sale (20% off) so at the open house only, you can get two wonderful yarns at 30% off (for us, that’s big, our margin is small…the dollars you spend go more to the farms for wool and small US mills for processing).

Corriedale bulky

A woolen spun yarn with great body.
It will make a fabulous cowl (you might have seen the guys at firefly farms sporting one at the Dupont market), an excellent outerwear vest, sweater or jacket for the hard winter they are saying we are in for. Many new handpaint overdyes (they are the best!) have just a few skeins available. I see bold designs mixing colors: think stripes or a sleeve in a different colorway, big blocks, stripes—go for it!

web site mark downs next Monday.



Border Leicester aran weight

Similar in weight to the Corriedale, that’s about all this yarn has in common. It is worsted spun and a lustrous Longwool. A yarn with a silky feel and luscious drape. Somehow, we never put this yarn up on the web site, so those of you out of towners, I’m sorry. Next week I could answer email orders if you want to get some.

The skeins are big: approx 250 yards/8.5 oz. and starting on Sunday will be $38.40 (with an additional 10% off here at the Open House). Want to make a beautiful throw for yourself or a holiday gift? This would be both dramatic and fast to knit.

New: Solitude dots hat kit! 

Knit yourself happy with this hat designed
by Mari Chiba Luke.

Mari is a Solitudian: she posts for us on Facebook/Ravelry/etc and coordinated with other designers on three additional patterns coming out this fall. She is totally in sink with polka dots! Made with Montadale woolen spun yarn, it’s light, warm…and not a bit itchy. Seven sweet little balls of color in our Romney yarn (see our Romney sheep here at the farm) are in the kit for duplicate stitch polka dots. I’d never done duplicate stitch, but I can now. There are good instructions in the pattern, and Mari has a video on how to do it on her site. Easy!

Fall is the best time for natural dyeing 

On Sunday I’ll be teaching a class using synthetic dyes from 12:30 to 2:00pm (class full). Following that the dye shed (garage…) will be open and we will work with natural dyes. Two or three vats will be going: indigo, wingstem and jewelweed. Three of our yarns are dyed exclusively with natural dyes: The Border Leicester sport, Icelandic and the Romney/Mohair single (not on the site yet…but it will later this fall). Many of the colors we grow or gather here on the farm, or nearby roadsides. You can help! As  you explore the farm, harvest and gather different natural dye materials:



black walnuts

black-eyed susans



Hope to see you Sunday, the weather sounds like it will be perfect,


Fall/Winter Schedule

August 15th, 2014 by Gretchen

updated as of November 4th, 2014

Time to think about Fall and Winter!
Here is our schedule of markets and events, but feel free to email us  (f-fsolitude@mindspring.com) if you need personal shopping assistance, either electronically or by making an appointment to come to the warehouse.
Falls Church, Virginia
We are on the grass along Park Avenue near Greenstone Farm’s stand
Saturdays: August 23rd; September 6th and 20th; October 11th; November 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th; December 6th, 13th and 20th
Washington, DC
We are on the sidewalk across from Cedarbrook Farm’s stand
Sundays: August 24; September 7th and 21st; October 12th; November 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th; December 7th, 14th and 21st
at Solitude near Bluemont, Virginia
Sunday, September 14th
Noon to 4:00 pm
Come visit the 1790 farm that Gretchen Frederick and her partner Joan live in. See the goats and sheep, the dye garage/shed where the Solitude Wool dyeing happens, the newly renovated (and hardly planted kitchen garden) and stroll down to the creek.
Dye class offered. Inquire to reserve a spot. More info to come and directions via email
at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Berryville, Virginia
easy (and beautiful) drive from DC, Baltimore or Richmond
Saturday and Sunday, September 27th and 28th
We are in the Ruritan Building
Dyeing to Weave class
offered along with Barefoot Weavers Studio, this is a three day class.
Thursday, October 16
at Gretchen’s farm
Learn to hand paint and then dye your own warp and weft for two scarves. Two days of weaving instruction the following week. More info here soon and sign up through Barefoot Weavers in a week or so… Limit 6 students so sign up early.
Rhinebeck, NY
Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th
Look for us in the Horticulture Building
Asheville, North Carolina
We are in the Sales Arena
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 24th, 25th and 26th
Leesburg, Virginia
Saturday December 6th and 13th. Hours are 9 to noon.
Tacoma, Washington
February 12th through the 15th, 2015
more information soon

See us at Uniquities Fiber Farmers market this Saturday, July 26th

July 24th, 2014 by Gretchen

This Saturday, July 26th is the Fiber Farmers Market sponsored by Uniquities Yarn shop. It takes place in lovely air conditioned comfort at the Vienna Community Center, 120 N. Cherry St. Vienna, Virginia. The hours are from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm and admission is free.

Come meet producers from your local fiber-shed!

We will be there with bells on…and some yarn, roving and washed fleece:

  • Alpaca/Merino lace weight yarn
  • Border Leicester sport weight
  • Corriedale/Corriedale cross
  • Dorset sock 2
  • Icelandic
  • Karakul
  • Romney semi-worsted spun
  • Romney/Mohair, in skeins and cones
  • Montadale light
  • Montadale woolen
  • Targhee 3-ply (on sale!)
  • roving in undyed, dyed in the wool blends and kettle dyed colors
  • freshly dyed Cotswold dyed lambswool locks
  • washed fleeces ready to prep and spin

Hope to see you there!

What’s in our yarn…?

July 24th, 2014 by Gretchen

Well, it’s been a long time since I had a small blog spasm “what’s in your yarn and where does it come from?”   I haven’t written anything, but I’ve thought about it a lot! —Like, are you crazy? How are you going to research this? And do you really want to start trying to make pronouncements about how other people make yarn? Well, no. Really I don’t. But I don’t want to drop it either. Best to stick to my knitting and concentrate on this from my own viewpoint. I’ll try to look at the bigger picture for context and what we do for specifics.

Starting at the beginning: a sheep.

This is the scale we work at and think in. We want wool from sheep that are pure-bred, or nearly pure-bred because we are all about the differences in types of wool and why they are good. This is how a hand spinner thinks. But the world mostly thinks that wool is a commodity, and it is.

The day after I wrote that blog, I decided I would begin research by starting on my own book shelf. Actually, I could only find one book that said anything about commercial yarns. Clara Parkes does a brief summary of how yarn companies source wool in The Knitter’s Book of Wool . This is a great book, (of course, Clara loves wool and I happen to agree with her) and I trust that Clara actually did research. Clara says most US yarn companies buy wool not from the farm, but from wool warehouses. They order by characteristics of fineness and length to meet their specifications then contract with mills to spin it to their design. They don’t actually manufacture yarn themselves. The wool can come from one continent, get scoured on another and spun on a third. I think the what and where decisions are made based on design, price and time…like all good business decisions. I would guess the source of the wool changes when the prices do and probably where it is spun as well. These companies have to make money. I’d bet they aren’t getting rich either.

But how does wool get to commercial wool warehouses? I know a little about how it happens here in the Mid-Atlantic for small scale farms, and I am fairly sure it’s similar other places. It’s called the Wool Pool. I’ve never sold wool there, because from the beginning I wanted all my own wool, but Sue and I went once to our local Virginia wool pool to meet fiber producers and Sue went to the Maryland Wool Pool and worked with the graders sorting wool as it came in. It is wonderful that there is a market for wool. The problem is they don’t pay enough. Some years the price is so low it isn’t worth the gas it takes to drive there let alone pay for shearing or, (I know this is asking a lot) to help defray the cost of raising the sheep. Profit? you have to be joking. These are the prices for theMaryland Wool Pool this year (I know some years Longwool prices were 5 cents a pound):

2014 Wool Pool Prices (per pound):

Choice white-face  (fine wool) $.95
Medium white-face $.85
Non white-face $.80
Coarse white-face (longwool) $.65
Short (less than 3 inches) $.70

No colored wool will be accepted.
Checks are mailed to consignors within several weeks of the pool. A deduction will be made for pool expenses (usually between 5 and 8 cents a pound).
MSBA dues of $25 will be deducted from all sales over $40 for those whose membership dues are pending.


So. Say you have 30 Romney sheep. Maybe most of them are white sheep (notice that colored wool is not wanted at any price), say 2o. Let’s guess that those 20 sheep grow an average of 10 pounds of wool which gives you 200 pounds of fleece to sell. At 65 cents a pound that comes to $130.00. Then take out 5 cents for pool expenses ($10) plus $25 for Maryland Sheep Breeders Assoc. dues (which we will not begrudge them, they put on the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival!) and you have $95 left. Know what it costs to shear those 30 sheep? Probably $175. Know what hay costs? You don’t want to know and I don’t want to think about it. And what about the time it takes? At least half a day to drive your wool to the pool. Chances are, that farmer has a “real” job and had to take a day off.

This is all small scale. Some of it really really small and of course things change as the size increases. The USDA publishes wool prices and the American Sheep Industry (ASI) reports and does analysis both nationally and internationally on wool sales. What is the same is the grading: Fine white wool gets the highest price, and it still isn’t very much. Longwool (used mostly for carpets and upholstery) is way less and colored wool is pretty much never sold on a large scale. Yesterday the price for non-graded greasy white wool was 52 cents per pound.

When Sue and I were just starting Solitude Wool, a Nationally known wool man told us that we couldn’t pay more than $1 per pound and make any money. We knew (because we are shepherds) a buck or less per pound was worthless for farms. Do you know a shepherd? Chances are if they aren’ spinners or felters or connected to them, they throw away their fleeces.

We typically pay $3.00 a pound for what we consider good wool: skirted (belly wool, manure tags, neck wool out), lively, sound and of the character of the breed. We love colored wool. Sometimes we pay more for rarer wools, sometimes less. We wish we could pay more. Sue spends time with the shepherd if they are interested and helps select the very best fleeces, encouraging them to enter fleece competitions and sales where they can find hand-spinners who appreciate their value and will pay more per pound. One of our main reasons for being in business is to create at least a small market for local farms for their wool. We have hope that along with all you folks, we can begin to create an appreciation for lots of types of wool, not just super fine white wool so the bigger world will be a market for fleece.

next installment: going to the farm to buy wool in the Shenandoah Valley


Registration opens June 1st for Beat the Heat Fibre Treat

May 30th, 2014 by Gretchen

Get ready: registration will open on-line Sunday June 1st

Just in time to bust up the summer dulldrums, Saturday, July 12th: a day full of fiber treats. We are happy to be part of the planning for this new event in Brunswick, Maryland in air-conditioned comfort. We think it’s all coming together with some of the best local vendors, fun classes in lots of flavors, a nice venue to sit and knit with friends and maybe have some ice cream…

You can see most of the details (a couple things might change…like I think I will be teaching two dye classes, not one) now at Two Rivers Yarns web site. Check out the vendors (us of course, plus 6 others). Learn about the teachers. Read about the classes (maybe try your hand at dyeing wool with me?).

Invite friend to drive out with you (it’s a nice, easy drive from DC, No. VA or Baltimore). You have time to discuss classes with them and make decisions before registration opens. I recommend having second choices in mind in case your first ones are filled up. This is a “just right” sized venue, and class sizes are limited.

Then register on Sunday!