Events

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)

 

Solstice

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  (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
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!

Maryland Sheep & Wool festival May 3rd & 4th

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Yay! This weekend is the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. 

 

The most wonderful festival I think, because it has EVERYTHING! First, it was started (41 years ago) by shepherds and it is still run by shepherds and a really strong group of volunteers. This is the festival to come to if you want to learn more about sheep. All things sheep: breeds, shepherding, farm equipment, buying sheep, selling sheep, showing sheep, sheep products and yes, eating and cooking lamb.

 

There is wool! In all stages and forms: on the sheep, fleeces for sale in the fleece sale or directly from farms that have booths. There is roving, yarn, wool for rug hooking, wool for rug braiding, finished goods…and tools for just about anything you can think of to do with wool. Plus a lot for non-crafters: sheep dog trials, music, demonstrations, auctions, free lectures, sheep shearing demonstrations.

Check their web site for more info.

 

We will be in the Main Exhibition Hall, booth D-17

Lots of new colors in our yarns on offer for the first time this weekend. We have been re-skeining and labeling like mad, so they haven’t been photographed yet. For those of you not able to come, I promise to get on that next week and will send an email when new colors are up on the web site. Those of you who can come get first crack at them.

In addition to yarns, we also have some new roving: Jacob, Corriedale, Columbia and two kettle dyed Dorset colors.

 

The photos above show some of the colors in:

  • Montadale baby
  • Border Leicester sport nature dyed
  • Tunis
  • Karakul

And, there are 6 new handpaint colors in the Dorset sock. And that is the end of this batch. Selection best now. If you love this yarn, get it now before it dissapears.

 

Wet sheep and lamb update:

Boy is it wet this week. We are getting dumped on and I am sort of thrilled, because it probably means a wonderful, dry weekend for the festival. Meanwhile, the animals put up with it stoically. Yesterday there was a break in the rain and everyone came out to stretch their legs and see if the grass has grown another quarter inch that they could nibble. Most of Virginia is in high spring…but here near the Blue Ridge, we are still only slightly leafted out. It’s about to burst though.

Latest arrivals: Lulu has twin ewes Monday morning

this is their “lambing jug”,
a pen where mom and lambs bond.

with the break in the rain Tuesday, they got to come out and explore

day and a half old lamb meets Jim, at least 3 weeks old now.

Sisters: Emma is the black ewe and Hibiscus is the badger faced gray ewe.

They are already trying to imitate their mother eating grass…but they aren’t really able to digest it yet.

leaping is better!

Hope to see you at the festival this weekend!

Back to the Dupont Circle Farmers market this Sunday, April 6th

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Sunday we begin the 2014 market season

At the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market in DC (Falls Church market regular season begins in May). We are part-time vendors until Fall, so watch for emails announcing when we will be at market or other events. In April, we are scheduled to be at Dupont April 6th and the last Sunday, April 27th.

I have a huge list of all the yarns I plan to bring…and in case I come to my senses I won’t list (promise) all of them for this week. But! I will tell you some highlights:

  • Karakul pelts: Sue has five stunning sheep pelts that I will bring to market. These are not available often, or of this quality. Come see!
  • Dorset sock: introduced at the end of the market season last year, this has been really, really popular through the winter. I have a few more batches ready to dye, but it’s close to the end. Come get it now while the selection is still great.
  • Shropshire double twist: this yarn is on 40% clearance sale. We will miss it! It’s a nice light yarn, perfect for Spring garments…catch it before it’s gone.
  • Romney/Mohair variagated: an elegant weaving yarn, or knitting yarn. see Ben’s scarf below

Dupont is changing market hours starting this Sunday: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. This should be good for you fiber folks…who frequently arrive at the market at 12:45! have another cup of coffee and knit three more rows, you’ve got until 1:45 now.

Great local Fiber Farmers Market sponsored by Uniquities March 22, 2014

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

We love this event! We think you will too. The folks at Uniquities are really plugged in to the local fiber scene and bring us all together to offer you a one stop shopping opportunity in Vienna, Virginia.

This is an excerpt from their email about it:

The Fiber Farmer’s Market returns on Saturday, March 22, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center, 120 N. Cherry Street, Vienna, VA 22180. Join us for this free fiber filled event, and shop with local fiber producers, and hand-dyers selling their yarn and fiber. We are now taking reservations for the Spinning Circle, $20 reserves your seat for the afternoon where you can spin and shop with fellow fiber friends.  You’ll also be entitled to early entry at 12:30 p.m. to preview all the vendors and shop before the crowds arrive, as well as secure storage for your purse and purchases behind the Uniquities booth. Call Uniquities at 703-242-0520 to register, seating is limited!

Uniquities booth will offer fiber tools and spinning equipment, new hand-dyed fibers from Greenwood Fiberworks and Great Adirondacks Yarn Co., as well as natural Jacob roving from Shiloh Manor Farms and alpaca blends from Marion Alpacas. We’ll also feature a selection of new spring yarns and patterns for knitting and crochet, and a bake sale table that benefits Project Knitwell.

The March 2014 Fiber Farmers’ Market Vendor List:

Avalon Springs Farm – Hand dyed and natural colored yarn, roving, locks, fleece, and felt from angoras, alpacas, and llamas.

Celestial Farms – All natural, undyed llama yarn, plus handmade soaps and jamsCentral Virginia Fiber Mill – Alpaca roving, felted batts, yarns, and needle/wet felting kits, plus select wool and mohair products.
Checkmate Natural Fiber Network – Offering Karakul rug roving, wool blankets, unique yarns, hand painted roving, and roving for spinning.
Dancing Leaf Farm – Hand dyed artisan yarns, fibers, patterns, and felt brooches.
Feederbrook Farm – Organically raised hand dyed artisan yarns and spinning fibers.  Offering participation in CSA and club memberships.
Finnegan’s Flock - Fiber, hand spun yarn, mitten and felted soap kits from our own flock of Finn sheep, and sheepskins.
Longpoint Farm – Pasture raised natural wool and wool related products including roving, hand painted yarn, hand spun yarn, blankets, scarves, wall hangings, felted items and sheepskin.
Mt. Airy Farm - Natural, hand dyed, and hand painted roving and yarns from California variegated mutant and Cormo sheep, Angora rabbit and mohair.
Pax River Alpacas – Locally grown soft alpaca yarns, and alpaca blends, plus hand dyed and hand painted yarns.
Platinum Alpacas – Alpaca fiber, prime blankets, hand spinning fiber, mill spun yarns, and handmade items using alpaca fiber.
Singleton Fiber Processing – Maryland’s only full-service cottage mill. Offering personalized, custom yarn, roving, batts, rug yarn, and woven rugs.
Solitude – Select breed specific yarn and fiber, natural color and hand dyed artisan yarns and roving from small farms in the Chesapeake watershed region that accentuate the special qualities of different types of wool.  Breeds include Alpaca/Merino, Border Leicester, Corriedale, Clun Forest, Dorset,  Icelandic, Karakul. Leicester Longwool, Montadale, North Country Cheviot, Romney, Targhee and Tunis.
Strauch Fiber Equipment Company - Joanne and Otto Strauch will be demonstrating and selling their fabulous fiber processing equipment, including drum carders, ball winders and swifts.
Taylored Fibers – Hand dyed yarns and fibers in rich, vibrant colors, hand carded batts, and assorted fiber accessories.
TechMuse RAC *- Handmade project bags for knitting and crocheting, as well as drop spindles.
*Random acts of creativity
Three Bags Wool – Wool roving, batts, yarn, and felted items from Icelandic sheep. plus kits and handspun yarn.
Wild Hare Fiber Studio – Hand dyed and handspun yarns and fibers, plus original handmade creations.
Wool N Quilts - Wool, roving, hand spun yarns, plus goat soaps and lotions.

Madrona Fiber Retreat, Tacoma, Washington February 13-16th

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

We are really excited to be heading west to be first time vendors at this great Pacific NW event!

More info to come.

Vogue Knitting Live NY: Jan 18-19 2014

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

We are returning to VKL as vendors this year. It’s at the Marriott Marquis in Time Square and you don’t have to be registered for the event to attend the Marketplace. We will be in booth 208.

More soon about what we will be bringing and who we will be looking for…