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Big Yarn

Posted 2/7/2010 8:16am by Catskill Merino.

I'm selfish. The main reason I write is because it feels good and I like to write a good sentence, and I like to run words together freshly.  There is an element of crashing danger to writing too as not everything is good or fresh.

But there are other reasons and the response of a customer  this evening brings one forward.  She writes, "I do love your yarn; it's super soft and I like reading about your farm and knowing exactly where my yarn originated."

Thank you,  I feel good reading that.  I do want people to know where the yarn came from; I do want them to know how my sheep were raised; I do want them to know how I dyed the yarn. Our  yarn and sheep project is small and personal, like your knitting, but it talks proudly and loudly about itself.

Every month I get email offers from big yarn exporters in China; they will sell me cashmere, alpaca, llama, mohair, pure merino and blends with bamboo, bison and yak and many other exotic fibers all at prices that are less than what it would cost me to grow those fibers.

The merino yarns are as perfect as the knot in a CEO's silk tie, as shiny as the CFO's patent leather high heels; the wool is from sheep in Australia; it is scoured in China, it is carbonized there (bathed in acid and heated) to burn out all vegetable matter; it is dyed and spun in hi-speed factories that are larger than football fields; it is treated with chemicals to enhance its washability and to reclaim the softness lost in processing.  It is labeled and packaged anywhere but where it was made, and it is sold worldwide  in yarn stores and supermarkets inexpensively.  And you have to depend on me to tell you this because the vendors won't mention it.  Their yarn is large, anonymous, seemingly ashamed (unable to read but able to count) and wants to keep quiet in a small, green world.

Writing is really editing (unending) and as Paul Valery implied, writing is never finished, only abandoned.  So let me abandon (and  hopefully turn my back on) the latest edits on my Yarn Store page as it has something to do with the subject above:

"Local, natural and soft.  Since 1765—first in Saxony, then in Australia and in New England—Saxon Merino sheep have been bred to produce the finest wool in the world.  In the early 1990's Catskill Merino imported five rams from three of the most renowned fine wool studs in Australia to begin once again the tradition of breeding Saxon Merinos in New York*.

In early March we shear the flock.  The  shorn wool is spun into yarn by Green Mountain a small spinnery in Vermont.  We hand-dye the yarn in small lots on the farm.  Our yarn is as natural as our sheep; it has not been synthetically treated to increase its softness or washability.

*Sheep by sheep, we reverse globalization to bring shepherding and fine Saxon wool back to our shores.  But the sheep have more to do with their coming home than the shepherd does; for an explanation of this,  please see Michael Pollan's thesis about agency in the introduction to The Botany of Desire.