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

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

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 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

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

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…

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

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

    Madrona Winter Fiber Retreat, Tacoma Washington Feb 12-16

    Thursday, February 5th, 2015

    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

    Thursday, February 5th, 2015

    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 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

    Thursday, December 18th, 2014
    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)!

    Rhinebeck Oct 18-19, SAFF Oct 24-26

    Friday, October 17th, 2014

    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

    Fall/Winter Schedule

    Friday, August 15th, 2014

    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  ( 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
    OPEN HOUSE (Farm)
    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

    What’s in our yarn…?

    Thursday, July 24th, 2014

    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


    what’s in your yarn? where did it come from?

    Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

    There are some interesting things happening in the yarn world. People are talking about US yarns, and even breed specific yarns. As you knitters get more interested in where your yarn comes from, big yarn companies are paying attention (not to mention Ralph Lauren and the US Olympic team sweaters; why did they have to be so ugly though…???).

    This week I heard something that really surprised me from my good friend, good knitter and our graphic designer Cheryl: she had no idea that so many yarns were spun in China, or maybe Italy or Peru. She didn’t know there are very few commercial yarn mills in the US. She thought that yarns that were dyed by indie dyers meant they were hand spun too. And she doesn’t know much about breeds either. Wow.

    I realize that I know very little about commercial yarns other than what I think: they tend to be Merino wool from Australia that has traveled the world getting scoured on one continent, spun on another and sold in a fourth. So, I’m going to start finding out and comparing processes. I’ll share what I learn…and think here. This is a LOT like food labeling. And lots of marketing/sales language can be very misleading. Let’ find out!