Oh the angst. Sorry, I really wanted to come and went out and did chores in the rain and decided 3 times that, “yes” we are going! And then I started thinking about the consequences of wet yarn plus you all probably will assume we aren’t coming due to the rain. If you were hoping to see us at Falls Church today, maybe you would consider coming down to Dupont tomorrow? The weather will be much nicer.
updated as of August 15th, 2014
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
- 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!
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):
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
|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:
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|
|Hope to see you at the festival this weekend!|
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.
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.
We are really excited to be heading west to be first time vendors at this great Pacific NW event!
More info to come.
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…