People usually laugh when I tell them that starting a yarn and design company was something I came by accidentally. And truthfully it wasn’t really an accident, but the route from my days as a new knitter to where I sit now has been so much about improvisation and openness to unfamiliar territory that I don’t feel 100% comfortable claiming it as an engineered path.
Though I learned to knit as a child from my mother, I didn’t begin knitting in earnest until my junior year in college. Over the Christmas holiday, a close friend knit me a grey scarf and with that simple gesture ignited with me a strong desire to master the craft so that I could make my own sweaters, which suited my earthy, somewhat incidental personal style at the time.
As I began to approach knitting seriously, I found it difficult to track down knitting patterns for men that I actually wanted to wear, which was the primary reason that I started “designing” (I use quotation marks because I never thought of my early sweaters as design work, but as simple problem solving).
After graduating from college I packed my bags and moved across the country to New York City. While there I started a blog that I very literally called “Brooklyn Tweed” (my location + my favorite type of yarn) in hopes of connecting with people who shared my hobby and perhaps find community in a new and foreign place.
Through sharing knitting on my blog I began getting professional requests for design work, which at the time felt almost comical since I had no idea where to even begin in writing or grading a knitting pattern. Having always been a disciple of the “fake it ’til you make it” motto I took the challenge and found that designing knitwear was something that I enjoyed very much. After four years in art school pursuing heavily right-brained pursuits, knitting provided an intriguing outlet for someone like me who occupies that funny middle ground between right and left brain, art and math. The kid who wanted to color all day, but did so neatly, within the lines.
My first experience of the knitting industry proper came a few years later when I attended TNNA, the bi-annual trade show for the knitting and other needle arts. Prior to this experience I had an idealistic (naive) notion of how a yarn company operated. My assumptions were that large yarn companies thoughtfully developed yarns in-house from sheep to skein — sourcing fiber from known origins, testing and refining yarn construction and composition, carefully developing color palettes, and designing finished knitwear with these experiences as fodder. My bubble quickly burst when I learned that most companies at the time acquired new products by meeting with mill reps from Italy, China, South America, etc. and choosing pre-designed yarns — often trend-driven — that a given mill was offering for the coming season. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this model (it’s one of the reasons we have such a wide variety of interesting and innovative yarns available to us), it was very different than the picture I had in my head for how this all worked.
Shearing in Johnson County, Wyoming
The seed for my own journey as a yarn maker was planted in that moment and, with no particular agenda in mind, I began asking myself questions like: How is yarn made? (I began handspinning to figure that one out.) What does the process look like at an industrial scale? Does anyone make yarn here in the USA? Can wool be sourced here? Is the US textile industry as doomed as it seems?
Johnson County, Wyoming
My brain likes solving problems and these questions provided quite the juicy puzzle to piece together. I soon found myself connecting dots that I’d never once thought about — finding breed-specific US wool sources (yes, they still existed!), discovering a handful of small mills in New England that were still able (and happy) to spin hand knitting yarns, and thinking about my how experience in photography and design might allow me to bring this small, meaningful project to the right people through the magic of the internet.
Harrisville Mill in New Hampshire
In October of 2010 I released Shelter with a post on my blog, completely unprepared for the response that my little yarn line — with 17 colors and a mere 6 patterns for support — generated almost immediately. Up until that point, I was hoping that this project would, at best, be something that would allow me to support myself in New York between completing graduate school and finding a “real job”. I hadn’t imagined that creating US-made wool yarns would’ve been a viable career option for myself, or anyone else.
Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyoming
6 years later — with a lot more help than I started with — the interest in breed-specific wool yarns and American-made continues to grow and find support among the knitting community. And I feel so lucky to be spending my time working towards something I really believe in.
I’m often asked if I think it is realistic that textile manufacturing could come back to the US in broader sense, especially in the fast-fashion world we live in. While I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, one thing I know is that education on this subject is of vital importance if we hope to see tangible shifts toward a more ethical, environmentally friendly ways of producing textiles here. I am hopeful for further progress, given the increasing number of small businesses — both in the knitting world and outside of it — pursuing the opportunity to create yarns in a thoughtful way, mindful of our connection to each other and to the natural world around us.
Jared in the Redwoods
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