This is what I meant

Published on Thursday September 11th, 2008

When I got excited about Knit Local, the recommendations for resources to check out came pouring in. One that grabbed me right away: – a collective of Oregon fiber growers offering everything from wool and fleeces to breeding stock and handwoven rugs. I browsed the yarn listings and immediately clicked through when I spied the title, “Wensleydale and Longwool Yarns.” I contacted Lois Olund of Blakesley Creek Farm to see if she could send me a shade card, and during an exchange of emails, Lois said she now had 100% Wensleydale in natural colors (which she’s willing to dye) that aren’t on her website. I slavered, and soon a promising plump envelope came through my mail slot. Inside was this:

(Look at that irresistible sheep face! I have the card on my desk where I can look at it all day long.) And this:

Lois sends her wool to several different mills for spinning; two in Michigan and one in Vermont. The 2-ply sportweights (“sportweight” appears to mean something different than I’m used to: heavier than DK rather than lighter) by Stonehedge Fiber Mill (second and third from top left) grabbed my attention first. They’ve opted for a loose, low-twist structure, so the long, shiny fibers of the Wensleydale wool are displayed at their softest and most glistening. The other Michigan company, Zeilinger Wool Co., has gone a very different route. Their yarns (at left and lower right – some are 100% Wensleydale, some are blends, and the brown at upper left is 100% Romney) are dense and heavily twisted. They’re rougher and stiffer to the touch, but Lois says they’ll bloom when washed. They’re mostly bulkies and seem to beg for a thoroughgoing cabled project. The yarn peeking out in the extreme lower right is processed by Green Mountain Spinnery. The singles are more tightly twisted than Stonehedge’s, but they aren’t plied as tightly as Zeilinger’s. These, too, look like they’d soften and bloom. Only one way to find out, right? I only have about a yard of each, but I’m going to try to knit up some mini-swatches. I’ll show the results here in a couple of days!

I’m already thinking of that darkest Stonehedge Wensleydale as an Amanda cardigan from Lisa Lloyd’s A Fine Fleece. What would you want to knit with wools like these?

Blue September

Published on Thursday September 4th, 2008

Thanks to everyone who has responded to the Knit Local idea. We’ve got a new group flourishing on Ravelry – invite yourself in if you’re interested! I envision it as a resource for crafters trying to find local producers, research the origins of various yarns, discuss local yarn substitutions for popular patterns, and spread the word about small companies they love, as well as a showcase of beautiful knits made from local materials. Perhaps it will spawn swaps as fiber enthusiasts from different regions exchange hard-to-find local gems.

While I’m dreaming about the directions Knit Local could take, I’ve also been knitting. I’m thisclose to finishing my Indigo Ripples skirt: only another ten inches of the (seemingly interminable) bind-off row remain, and the quest for a suitable drawstring, should I opt out of the five feet of i-cord.

I’ve got a cabled hat going for my brother’s belated birthday present, in a lovely alpaca grown in our hometown by a farmers’ collective called Honey Lane Farms. This stuff comes in 52 colors, and it’s soft as a baby’s bottom.

Speaking of babies, I’m bog-bog-bogging along on a Baby Bog Jacket for the little man across the street, whose first birthday is next week. I’ve passed the “thumb trick” arm divide and I’m getting ready to toss in a handful of shortrows and a measure of shoulder shaping. All that garter stitch makes good carpool knitting, now that school is back in session.

Oh, school. The year promises a steady rolling boil in all the pots on the stove, requiring precise timing and keen attention, but will be fulfilling if I can keep a cool head while coaxing all the projects to fruition. I haven’t even counted the minutiae I’m responsible for this year on top of the major publishing efforts; I’m just taking it as earning my stripes in this place where everyone gives all they’ve got for the kids and one another and the broader community.

Besides, the sun is out this week, and September in the Northwest, when it’s good, is very, very good indeed. All that blue knitting might reflect inaccurately on my mental state, so here’s a glimpse of what’s next:

I’m not going to blog it just yet because it’s a secret something for a special someone with an approaching birthday who sometimes reads here. But tune in on Ravelry to glimpse the pretty in the next couple of weeks.

Finally, thanks to everyone who’s written with kudos and excitement about my Footlights Cardigan. I’m loving the absinthe-green version just as much as the yellow one.

(Even if I did accidentally knit an extra repetition of the lace pattern on the second sleeve.)

Knit local

Published on Wednesday August 27th, 2008

Yesterday’s news (to me) that Butternut Woolens had closed hung heavy in my heart. Shelly’s wrenching post about giving up her farm, her dream, her family’s lifestyle, her sons’ chance to grow up on the land as she did, touched something deep. I’m a rural girl — not a farm girl, but a woods girl, an island girl — who moved to the city, but all along I’ve trusted that the doors are open to go back to that life of forests and fields, seashore and small town, flora and fauna and clean air and quiet.

But it’s hard to make a living close to the land nowadays. My sister-in-law and her husband breathe the struggle every day as they fight for their dream of living off the land in Texas, or Oklahoma, or wherever they can manage to lease enough acreage and scrape by to get their lambs to market. The scope of their vision, their sheer cussed determination to make a go of it in a profession conventional wisdom says is doomed, has always astonished me. But dreams like Shelly’s — a five-acre plot, a modest menagerie of sheep and rabbits, a little business dyeing, spinning, and selling wool — it saddens me deeply to see those die. It wasn’t so long ago that many, many Americans lived this way. I’m not saying I think life was easy for them, or financially stable. I just want to believe that it’s still possible to farm on a small scale, as a vital part of a local economy. I want to live in a world where you can get eggs and milk and produce and wool from your neighbors, because I think it’s a sustainable way to exist, and because I value the bonds that are formed when your children can see where their food comes from and when neighbors know they can rely on each other for help, solace, and celebration.

These relationships exist in the urban world, too, of course. I’ve never had as close-knit a group of neighbors as I do in Portland. I love that we’re part of a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) that lets us help with the farm work now and then. It’s important to me that we can get good food that hasn’t had to travel around the globe to reach our table. But yesterday I started to think: if Local is valuable to me in my food, and in the clothes and goods I buy, why haven’t I carried that sentiment over into my knitting? Why haven’t I committed to supporting small farmers like Shelly whenever I can?

So I’m trying the idea on. At this point, I’m not ready to go totally ascetic and cut international brands like Rowan out of my yarn diet, but whenever it’s possible — financially and design-wise — for me to support a local grower or dyer or spinner instead of buying a more commercial fiber, I’m going to do it. This means buying Oregon stuff when I’m at home (I’m eager to try the Imperial Stock Ranch wool, for instance), but doesn’t exclude souvenirs from my travels. If I can’t achieve a design idea with something local, I’ll still try to favor a small, family-run producer over a big company. With my rudimentary skills in Adobe Illustrator, I made a little button:

Download it to your computer and put it on your blog if you think you’d like to support more farmers and artisans in your own community. (Or use your own superior skills to make a better button, and then come back here and tell me about it!) I might even start a Ravelry group where folks can share their local-origin knits.

The background photo in the button is another skein of sock yarn from Butternut Woolens. I happened to be loitering in Abundant Yarn (a great resource for local stuff – they do a lot of their own dyeing with natural dyestuffs, and they also carry Imperial Stock Ranch and a number of other Oregon products) yesterday afternoon, and I spied this tempting skein of shifting rusty reds in a display basket. I picked it up, and lo, it was from Butternut Woolens. It was one of only a few remaining skeins, and it felt like a sign after I’d been mulling over Shelly’s quandary all day, so home it came with me. The gesture was small, too little too late, but it felt like a tiny step in a worthy direction. Butternut Woolens may be gone, but a beautiful pair of red socks in my drawer will remind me that it existed and meant the world to one woman in Gaston, Oregon. Thank you, Shelly, for the lovingly crafted yarn, and for opening my eyes a little wider.