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Blog / US Wool

  • Why We Love Brooklyn Tweed

    We have loved Brooklyn Tweed for an age. When Anna first envisioned the shop of her dreams, Brooklyn Tweed was part of it. To us it is a perfect fit, U.S. wool, classic designs and a beautiful palette.

    Our fixture on the first day we released Brooklyn Tweed at Tolt in May 2015

    We love the yarn, we come back to it again and again for the lovely fabric it makes. Shelter, Loft and Quarry are very lofty and light, while still making a warm garment.

    We love Brooklyn Tweed's commitment to high quality American yarn and what that means for U.S. farmers and the U.S. wool industry.

    Snoqualmie from Brooklyn Tweed's Winter 16 Collection, knit in Quarry

    We love their dreamy palette. The colors of Brooklyn Tweed are heart clenching-ly gorgeous, viewed altogether they are a visual delight. In the shop we love watching and helping people choose their colors from our wall of Brooklyn Tweed.

     

    We love Brooklyn Tweed's patterns, we cannot say enough about their design aesthetic, attention to detail and very thorough patterns.

     

          

          

    Pattern photos by Jared Flood

    Last, but not least, we love working with Brooklyn Tweed's amazing team!

     

    Next week we'll feature an article from Jared Flood, Founder and Creative Director of Brooklyn Tweed. 

     

     

  • Jeane de Coster - U.S. Shetland Wool

    Before I started Elemental Affects, I was a hand-spinner with a yearning to leave the corporate world. My early spinning efforts saw me spinning with both Shetland and Romney fleece and I was fascinated by what you could do with the rustic, naturally colored wool. I was also convinced that we deserved to have an affordable Shetland yarn made here in the U.S.

    Only a crazy person starts a yarn company with a sheep that is too small, comes in too many colors, has variable lengths and qualities of fiber and . . . . oh by the way . . . is only raised in small, hand-spinner flocks in this country.

    One of the boys watching . . . just watching.

    But take a look . . . . they are so cute! And that became the key to the whole ball of wax.

    In the early 90's, one of my favorite spinning teachers (Judith MacKenzie) introduced me to a friend of hers who had just acquired what seemed to be the largest Shetland flock in the United States (in Montana). Cathy acquired the sheep (thinking they were very cute) to do a job she desperately needed done on her ranch – weed control. She tried selling the fleece to hand-spinners, but she is a rancher through and through and wanted to sell the fleece all at once instead of one at a time to hand-spinners. I made a deal with Cathy and I was suddenly the proud owner of “fleece futures.” She agreed to sell me all of the fleece every year into the future at a decent market price.

    First, I had to learn about shearing, skirting, sorting and classing the wool. Judith (an expert on Shetland fleece) came out and helped us for several years trying to teach us as much as we could cram into our brains and hands. That first year, I even asked one of the shearers to teach me to shear and I have to say, 10 years older and later, I am really glad he said no!

    These little guys are not easy to shear – too little and wiggly.

     Dennis (the shearer) and one of the retired guard dogs on a break.

     Shetland fleece ready to go to the sorting bin.

     Sorted, bagged and ready to scour.

    Now, I just had to learn how to turn the wool into a commercially viable (quality) yarn. Until that time, Shetland yarn was only available as an import or from hand-spinning flocks produced through the small custom processors/mills we have here in the U.S. I needed a commercial mill that would process the wool into yarn at a price that would make the yarn affordable through the wholesale marketplace.

    Without dragging you through the process, I eventually found a woolen mill on the East Coast that is, I believe, owned by the 3rd generation of the same family and run by 5 brothers. I remember talking to John, who runs the carding part of the operation, for an hour and a half grilling him on how, and if, he could process the wool properly. I was so giddy with relief at the end of the conversation I asked him if he'd marry me. Unfortunately, he didn't think his wife would approve. Fortunately, he's been processing both my Shetland and Romney yarns for years – in spite of the fact that I started by sending him about 500 pounds of clean wool. (We now process about 3000 pounds a year of these yarns.)

    In context, this is a company that runs 2-3 shifts a day – often 7 days a week – processing contracts for Navy Peacoats and baseball guts. I am still grateful that this is a company interested in helping keep small companies alive by processing what is, to them, very small potatoes.

     How many of you know that there is wool in the guts of a baseball?

     

    Change is constant and Cathy eventually decided to retire from having a full-time flock. Through community and incredible luck, we found a breeder in Colorado who was interested in continuing our quest to make these tiny sheep into a viable flock. Jared Lloyd and his wife are a young couple working to keep livestock and prove that a living is to be made on the land. I am delighted with our new partnership.

    My focus is using the resources here in the U.S. to help (in a small way) prove that we can make commercially viable yarns. It's not easy, but it can be done. I love my breed-specific yarns, but I also hope as I introduce my blended yarns, that I bring to the market yarn that is well-designed in form, function and color. I want projects made with my yarns to last for years and look as beautiful well-used as they did when they come off your needles.

    I hope they bring you joy!

     

     

     

     

  • Why We Love Elemental Affects

    We love Elemental Affects because of how Jeane de Coster's love of fiber is reflected in how she creates her yarns. She is out there sourcing wool directly from farmers at fair rates and then having it milled to her specifications.  We carry Elemental Affects' Natural Shetland Fingering and Heirloom Romney, which was created with our friends at Fancy Tiger Crafts.

    The glorious shades of Heirloom Romney

    We love the character in the yarns, their single breed origin.  Both the Shetland and the Romney are hard working fibers on the softer end of the breed characteristic.  The patterns that we have designed for them reflect their hard working nature and take advantage of the luster and beauty of the natural shades of the wool.

    Our Hearth Slippers Pattern, knit in Heirloom Romney

    Our Iron Horse Mitts, knit in Elemental Affects Natural Shetland Fingering

    We love the colors that Jeane creates when she dyes over natural fleece colors, thebeautiful complexity that results keeps us coming back for more. 

        

    Shades of Elemental Affects Natural Shetland Fingering


    We love how Jeane is willing to collaborate and work with others in the industry, strengthening our community of makers, designers and fiber enthusiasts.

    Please watch for another article, in the next week or so, to learn more of Jeane's story, from her perspective.

  • Cestari, The Shepherd's Perspective

     

    Francis Chester

    Three milking goats, two dozen laying hens, and a large garden in June of 1946 at the age of 10, was the commencement of my desire to be a farmer and the start of what today is Cestari Sheep & Wool Company. Initially going door to door selling my products was noteworthy, because it gave me experience in dealing with people, a practice I still believe in today at the age of 80.

    Francis Chester at Age 12, 1948

    Within two years of selling goats milk, eggs, and produce at the age of 12, I operated a farm stand on a newly acquired property that fronted a major highway on Long Island just acquired by my father. This stand proved to be my gateway to the real world of business.  I had to learn how to negotiate purchases from produce brokers and farmers, and how to deal with the public. This operation paid my entire way through college, law school, and graduate school, and also allowed me to buy a small farm in Mill Neck, New York, adjacent to Oyster Bay, Long Island.

    During this time, I acquired my first herd of sheep, old type Suffolk’s and Horn Dorset’s, which back then had a pretty good fleece. I had a great time selling both lamb and wool.

    In 1968, recently married to my lovely wife, Diane, I sold everything on Long Island and moved our herd of sheep to a farm in Virginia. My marketing approach, by necessity, had to change. In 1969-1970, I proceeded to have our wool processed and spun by a New England mill. Diane and I packed the yarn, loaded it into our car, and took it off to yarn shops in the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.  We sold the finished yarn from 3,000 lbs. of our wool within 2 weeks of our road trip and thus started a new approach to our sheep and wool operation - selling yarn.  It was about this time that I changed breeds, first to Columbia, then adding Targhee sheep later. In the 1970s, wool mills were going out of business around us. I was very concerned about where I could get my wool processed and converted into yarn going forward, so I decided to buy wool mill equipment to establish my own mill. I visited many mills and studied their operations carefully to learn the ins and outs of the manufacturing end of the industry.

     


    In 1981, I set up my first yarn mill with great success. Later, I moved the operation to my present location in Churchville, Virginia. Our business is family owned and operated.  My wife, Diane, is my rock and the caretaker of the herd.  My son, Scott, heads up production at our mill and helps around the farm.  My daughter, Sabrina, is our head sheep shearer in the Spring.  My grandson, Tristan (age 12), helps in our country store, does all the landscaping around our business, helps out on the farm (he herds the sheep on his four-wheeler) and travels with me from time to time to trade shows and events.  My granddaughter, India Rose (age 8), is the new face of our marketing initiative.  

    India Rose

    Looking ahead: We have been very happy in Churchville, but would like to move the mill closer to our sheep and expand our operating capacity.  We are in the process of building a new large building to house both the woolen system processing equipment, and also the late model cotton and cotton blend processing equipment which I am now acquiring. This will be, as best that I know, the first commercial wool yarn operation built
    in decades in this country.  Our new location will be fronting our home and sheep ranch.
    Chester Family

    Once completed, we will conduct seminars and tours of our business. I have great confidence in the future of the yarn craft business, and the following incident is added reason for my continued enthusiasm. In January 2016, while traveling to the National Needle Arts Association show in San Diego, California, I took a room at a motel 20 miles from Phoenix, Arizona. That night my son called me and expressed some concerns about the relocating and building of a new plant, as things were, at that point, rather slow. I told him that I would think about his concern and would call him the next day. I prayed about his concern and asked God about my son’s concerns and whether I was doing the right thing. In some way, I was hoping for an answer from Him.

    The next morning, the rain had just stopped and the sun started to appear. I hadn’t traveled but one mile when ahead of me appeared the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. The colors were extremely bright. I pulled over and got out of my truck to observe this magnificent sight when all of a sudden another rainbow appeared in back of the first. The rainbows went from Interstate 10 up to the mountains.  To me, this was God’s answer. Also, that day, we took some big orders from around the country. Decision made and answered!  My hope is that our new facility enables Cestari Sheep & Wool Company to continue to produce high quality yarns for generations to come.
    Francis Chester will be here at Tolt Yarn and Wool on Saturday July 23rd for a Day with the Shepherd.  He is bringing special products with him that we don't normally carry, like his 100% US merino wool throws and his family farm's sheepskins.  Francis will be doing a special talk from 1pm - 2pm, we hope you take this opportunity to meet this amazing man!
  • Why We Love Cestari

    We love Cestari yarns.  Cestari's Traditional 2-ply is one of our absolute favorites for its woolly goodness and workhorse durability.  Garments made with Cestari Traditional 2-ply wear beautifully over time.

     Cestari Traditional 2-ply in our Camp Tolt Hyak Sock pattern

    We love Cestari's Virginia cotton, the story of how these fields are so rich, creating a wonderful cotton, that while not organically certified, are, grown totally naturally. The Old Dominion Collection is 100% Virgina cotton.

    Cestari Ash Lawn in our custom colors, Elderberry, Natural and Red Raspberry

    We especially love the Ash Lawn Collection which is 75% natural Virginia Cotton and 25% US Wool.  For this year's Camp Tolt we requested some custom colors to be featured in our new pattern Bandera.

    Bandera, Ash Lawn Collection, custom color Spinach

    We love the fact that Cestari is a family operation, Francis' children and grandchildren contribute to the business. Anna, Rachel and I were lucky enough to meet Tristan with his grandfather when we were East for a business trip.

    Tristan with a lamb at the Chester Farm

    We love that Francis Chester is so willing to work with farmers and yarn shops to bring US Fibers to fiberfolk.  Cestari has an initiative "Let's Grow Together" that is all about the success of the US fiber industry and local yarn shops. 

    Francis with his wife Diane

    Francis Chester will be coming across the country to visit our shop, with every color and yarn that Cestari has in production, along with US Wool throws and sheepskins.  He'll be here on July 23rd all day, doing a special talk at 1pm. We hope to see you there!

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