Sue Burke and the Karakul bucket bag

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

three of Sue's handmade Karakul bucket bags


A little history: Sue Burke found me at the Dupont Farmers Market back when I was just selling handspun yarn from my own flock of Romneys (could it be 15 years ago???). She is probably our greatest supporter: best customer, helping at yarn events and the farmers market and as a knitter, is so astute about our yarns. Sue completely “gets” how different “types” and breeds wool are different from each other and has designed several patterns for us that don’t just utilize those characteristics…they exemplify their strengths.

These bags are a great example. Karakul yarn was one of the first three yarns we had spun when Solitude Wool (the partnership of Sue Bundy and I creating breed-specific yarns) started in 2006. Karakul is the breed Sue raises at RedGate Farm.   They are a heritage breed, rare in the US. The “type” of wool they grow is very different than what most knitters are familiar with.

Emily Chamelin shearing Sue's Karakul ewe

Sue’s Karakul flock

One of the oldest sheep breeds, they have a Primitive type fleece with a long outer coat for weather protection and a softer, down undercoat for warmth. The wool is coarse with no elasticity and traditionally used for Persian rugs. It also felts fantastically…makes great yurts and other felt products.

So we had this really interesting and cool yarn, but people touched it and their eyes popped open with the tactile shock of the rough yarn. No one knew what to do with it.

Sue Burke experimented and designed a knit-to-felt bucket bag using the Karakul for strength and felting ability and pairing it with one of our handpainted woolen spun yarns to create a thick fabric with beautiful texture and color blending. It works so well that the bags don’t need to be lined. The finished bag is solid and will not wear out. 


Sue has revised the pattern for bucket bag to use with our Targhee 2 yarn. The yarn partner previously was the Tunis, currently on clearance sale. We have the original pattern in the old format and I still haven’t gotten the new pattern into our new format, so I can’t get it up on the website. I am going to get it in the works, but in the meantime, we do have the paper one. There are several sizes in the pattern including a mini zip wristlet. All variations take even amounts of Karakul and a partner yarn.

Sue has made maybe a dozen or more of these bags and the pattern has been popular with our customers. It is an exciting project to plan and create partly because of the fun of combining two colors and the magic transformation that happens when you felt them. This is a case of one plus one creating something completely new…and greater than two. The Karakul yarn (and color) will dominate in the final felted fabric. You can create a bag that is very sophisticated, elegant and understated…or one that is still sophisticated, but dramatic and bold. It’s in the color choice.

The pattern gives instructions on hand felting your knitted bag in the sink so you can control it. Sue recommends not selecting a button or handles until after felting when the size and color have revealed themselves.

This is not an inexpensive project if you knit one of the larger bags. Those take two or more skeins of the Karakul plus an equal amount (probably one large skein) of a companion yarn, plus pattern, plus a great button, and great handles (plus optional zipper closure). But you will enjoy making it…and love the fun of felting it and feeling it transform in your hands. And it will be a bag you can use for a long, long, long time.

This weekend at the market we will have five of Sue’s bags plus a couple of her zippered wristlets available for sale. By the time we figured out how much Sue had invested in all the materials, her time and the small cut to the market, the prices seem high. But I stopped to think about it, knowing how we arrived at the price, I knew it was fair. These are all hand crafted by the designer using our yarn, from local (very) wool with excellent (read expensive) handles and are one of a kind creations. What do designer bags go for???? way more than these bags! Actually, I think they are a deal.

Sue is the master of color combinations and she will be with me at the farmers market this fall. If you want to knit one for yourself (or a special gift), she will be there for consultation. Her experience with these bags lets her visualize what will happen with different colors, come take advantage of this opportunity! Will bring the Karakul, Targhee 2 and Tunis this weekend. If you are coming another weekend and want to see these yarns give me an email request a few days ahead of time and I will put them on the truck. If you can’t come to market and want help picking colors, send me an email and we can give some suggestions and help you with your order. Ditto on the bags if you would like a Sue Burke original, send me an email:

hope we get to see you at the market!


Back to market on Halloween, continuous to Christmas

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

We are back from Rhinebeck and sort of getting everything back together again. I’m hitting the dye pots!

Just wanted to announce that starting the weekend of October 31st we will be at Falls Church Farmers Market on every Saturday and the Dupont FreshFarm Market on every Sunday THAT IS NOT RAINING.

on any market day that is raining…or forecast to rain, check here after 6:30. If I am NOT coming I will post it here.

Thank you!


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