4509 Tolt Ave, Carnation, WA
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Blog / Why We Love

  • Hespa by Guðrún Bjarnadottir

    During my trip to Iceland two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Guðrún Bjarnadottir at her dye studio in Borgarnes.   My trip was in March which is the off-season of tourism and the Hespa studio was only open by appointment.   Guðrún was so kind to welcome my husband and me to her lovely studio and to share with us her story of naturally dyed Icelandic yarn, she also took us to her neighbor's farm where we got to see some Icelandic sheep.   We are so excited to be able to carry Hespa yarn at Tolt and are to happy have Guðrún on our blog today!
    Photo courtesy of Guðrún Bjarnadottir

    I started coloring with plants about 8 years ago when I was writing my masters thesis about Ethnobotany. I found old information about coloring with plants and became facinated by the idea. I started experimenting and lost control of my hobby. Coloring with plants combines everything that I am interested in: Agriculture, icelandic sheep, dye plants and plant identification, handcraft and old traditions. It all comes together in one dyepot. Coloring with plants is always a surprise, you can never get the same color twice while coloring with synthetic colors gives you the same colors again and again… It is the surprise part that keeps me going. If the colors stop surprising me I will probably lose interest.


    Photo from Annas trip to Iceland

    Coloring with plants is seasonal. In Iceland we have a short summer, 3-4 months, and I have to collect plants in autumn so I can color in the winter and then I wait very excited for the first plants to start growing. When I was younger my grandmother taught me to identify the plants and told my about how they were used in the old days. My mother was a handcraft teacher so I did a lot of handcraft when I was young. I live in the countryside, not on a farm but very close to many sheep farms. I only have to walk outside of my house to get most of my coloring plants and meet the sheep from the next farm. Some plants I have to go further to collect like the lichens and Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). I teach botany and plant identification at the Acricultural University in the next village so plants and the nature are very important to me. I am very lucky to live in the countryside in a beautiful house with my studio in the garage. Outside of my house is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the area and the Troll peak (Skessuhorn) mountain that is symbolic for the West of Iceland is very close, there is also a Lake (Skorradalsvatn) and lots of beautiful nature and walking paths in the area. All this environment makes it perfect to work with nature and enjoy working in the area and at home in my studio.

    Photo from Annas trip to Iceland

    I color according to the old coloring tradition in Iceland. Our problem with coloring is that we are only a small Island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and we have very few plant species. We have about 500. We came as settlers from Norway to Iceland in the 9th century and in Norway they have 1300 plants. We also came from the British Isles and they have 4000-5000 plants so they have much more options of getting colors from nature. We can not get blue and good red from our nature so we have for centurys imported indigo and Madder root for those colors so that is according to our tradition. I color with the same process as people did in the old days but I have electricity and better dyepots (Stainless steel) and I also use houshould cleaning ammonium instead of old cow urine as people did in the old days. Same methods, same chemistry but easier and cleaner process.

    It is very important to me to respect nature, never take to much of the plants and be careful with the chemicals if I use chemicals that are bad for the environment. In the earlier centuries people used iron, chrome, tin and copper powder alot for changing the colors. To day we know that these chemicals are bad for us and the environment. I only use copper in very little amount and I take the leftover water to the recycling company. As a mordant for all my yarn I use Alum and that is not bad for the environment and I reuse it constantly.

    Coloring with plants and teaching provides a very happy and diverse lifestyle. In the winter I teach botany and in the summer plant identification for a few days. In the summer my studio is open for guests to look into the dyepots. I get to meet a lot of fun Icelandic students and people from all over the world that come to my studio in the summer and also in the winter. I go outside to pick plants, get to walk around in nature and working in my studio gives me great pleasure.

     Photo from Annas trip to Iceland


  • 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. 



  • 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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