As mentioned waaaaaay back earlier this year (in a post called the 100-Mile Yarn Diet), I had this idea of shopping locally for knitting wool. This is a variant of hte 100-Mile Diet, but for knitters. It seemed to me that there were lots of people with critters in my vicinity and that maybe I could buy locally.
The first step in doing this was hunting down local breeders and potential suppliers of fibre. There are a lot of them regionally, but they tend to be quite small producers and don’t always have websites or store-fronts. It takes a bit of hunting, but I found quite a few. There are probably some near you, too, although you might need to use your local connections to find the ones local to you. My LYS knew of some, the people at the farmers’ market knew of others, and once I found one, that fibre-producer seemed to know everyone else.
One of the easiest places for me to find is quite well-established. It isn’t that local, though (still within the 100 miles!) which is why it took me a while to get there. But recently, we made a road trip to Wellington Fibres. This farm is outside of Elora, Ontario – they raise angora goats, and make rovings and yarn out of the fleece.
Wow. I’d never seen an angora goat, live and in person. (Of course, I forgot my camera, but there are some good pix on this site for another Canadian breeder and small fibre-producer. T-Ray Woollies is in the Maritimes, so I won’t be getting thee soon, but she does do mail order of their yarns. The male is on her index page – you can tell by his horns.)
First, we met “the girls”, the breeding herd of angora goats, and saw this year’s kids. The studs looked on from the other side of the barn. Those are “the girls” on the index page for Wellington Fibres. The kids were incredibly cute, and all of the goats were woolly. The fleece is shiny and kinky, and because they’re coming up to a fall shearing, they seemed to be carrying around a lot of it. They were pretty serene and a bit shy – but watchful!
Even though we weren’t there on a tour day, we were given a tour of the mill facilities and shown how they make yarn. It was fascinating to see these fleece chunks be transformed into finished yarn. First they sort the fleece and dye it, if it’s going to be dyed. Then it has to be rinsed and cleaned. They have solar panels to heat the water and are quite careful about being environmentally friendly. Mild soap and lots of rinsing!
The machinery is interesting – one combs through the fleece to clean it, the next has a series of rollers with combs to pull the fleece into a roving, the next weaves four rovings together and stretches them out to a more consistent roving, the next spins the roving into a ply and the last one spins the plies together into yarn.
Everything was calculated mathematically and he explained how they work backwards from the thickness of the finished yarn desired to the first machine that cleans fleece.
If they’re going to blend fleeces (50% wool and 50% mohair, for example), they can do that on the first machine, or they can mix fibres when they ply. For many of their yarns, the mohair (which is what you get from the angora goats) is blended with wool. They buy sheep wool fleece from Ontario breeders, so it’s all local, then blend the fleeces on the bed of the second machine so it’s mixed together in the roving.
Because they have the mill equipment, they also make yarn and rovings from fibre from other local breeders. (Rovings are loose tubes of fibre that are unspun. Handspinners use these to make their own yarn.)
Then there were the yarns.
Not only do they dye the fleece, but they handpaint the finished yarns. The selection was gorgeous and it was hard to choose what to bring home as a mill souvenir. I bought some 3 ply fingering in a variegated colourway called Wellington Spring Break to make a pair of fingerless gloves for my sister-in-law’s upcoming birthday.
Here’s the first one:
Left and right are the same in this pattern, so they’re interchangeable.
The pattern is Andra Asars’ Sport Weight Fingerless Gloves with Petite Cables. It’s a free pattern that you can download from that link. There’s another variation of the pattern made from a lighter weight of sock yarn. I wanted to be right in between, so I used 3.0 mm needles and cast on 64 stitches. I also made the glove a bit longer after the thumb gusset ended, so made a teeny thumb to keep things in balance.
If you want to do this, put the thumb stitches on a holder instead of casting them off. Cast on four new stitches (another pattern repeat) when you close the mitt into a circle for the palm again and work to desired length, then cast off. Put the thumb stitches from the holder on to your needles again, then pick up four stitches from the bottom side of the four stitches you created. To avoid holes, pick up an additional stitch on either side of those four. In the first round, work those stitches in – (p2tog) with the new stitch and the first stitch from the holder; (p2tog) again with the last stitch from the holder and the made stitch, then work the four stitches you’ve just created. It’s easier to do than explain. Work the thumb to desired length – I did one pattern repeat – then cast off.
This wool is wonderful. It’s so soft and springy to the touch. It’s hard to stop touching it, and knitting it was a dream. I think I’ll be visiting the farm again one of these days. I was a bit skeptical when he said it makes good sock yarn, but I couldn’t break the yarn no matter how I tried. Oooo, imagine having mohair socks!
And yes, Pam, these fingerless gloves are something else you can knit with sock yarn!