Once a year, in the Spring, when the little songbirds return and the sun is higher in the sky and the mud begins to oooooooze out to the good Maine earth, I take the barn apart, scrape and clean and dust and fuss. I slip on my most worn out and comfortable pair of jeans and trudge, up to the barn carrying all of the needed equipment for the day -extension cords, broom, rakes, bags for fleeces, hoof trimmers, etc…. etc …. it’s shearing day.
With a challenging Winter behind us, Spring has come in like a lion and out like a lion in Maine. Mother Nature has been teasing us with one warm day of melting snow followed by bone chilling winds. But the fleeces are “peeling” off the sheeple and it is time for the change that truly means Spring is here.
So watch for updates throughout the day. Take a look at some of the faces as even the older ewes take on a lamb-like appearance as they are freed from their winter cocoons. The barn will be bedded deep tonight just in case … welcome Spring!
The morning sky and the afternoon sky are hinting that Spring is here. The little songbirds are calling her. She’s fighting a battle with Winter who just isn’t ready to let go of us here in the northeast. We, tough resilient New Englanders that we are, know she is there. We know changes are coming and even though we crab and complain and nurse our weary water bucket-lugging muscles, we know this is the edge of Winter balanced on the beginning of Spring. It’s an epic battle this year, but she will win in the end.
My house smells like sheep. No, there are no bottle lambs hoping around the kitchen, no wooly fence jumpers invading my deck. There is so much yarn being washed and dyed and swatched as I gather myself and ideas to present my plans for the seasons ahead. It’s everywhere.
Every corner has some sort of fiber invasion, balls of yarn on my desk, on window sills, and strategically placed so that every spare moment I have I can whip up a swatch or two to show the end result of different stitches on different yarns and different dye techniques.
I’m trying something new as well. Thinking towards summer of course, I wondered about the way a knit fabric could change by looser larger stitches on lighter weight yarn. How the tight snug stitches of a warm mitten meant to keep the bitter cold out, could be changed to a loosely enveloping fabric that could be light and airy and perfect for a cool spring, summer and/or autumn evening, allowing us to continue wearing our beloved woolens through out the year.
So I cast on RR Farm Blend on a size 10&1/2 needle and just knit away until I had a length of fabric -200 yards to be exact. It reminded me of one of the islands I grew up near and was able to walk to when the tide was low.
Slate Island was a tiny little monster of jagged granite rocks dotted with sprigs of blackberry brambles, spruce trees and rugosa roses. I guess because of the way the tides flowed and the winds blew, a lot of debris ended up on it’s shore. Tons of drift wood, escaped bouys, bait bags and smashed lobster traps littered the shore on the west side of the island making for fun treasure hunts as a kid.
Once I found an old seining net. It had been ripped and torn to shreds and much of it’s structure had dry rotted in the sun. Pieces of it had blown on to the island and had been snagged by the blackberry and gooseberry brambles making ragged flags which flapped in summer breezes.
As I knit my Romney based Farm Blend it’s loose stitches brought that sunny summer day to mind when I plucked pieces of the net from the brambles and let the salty breeze carry it on to is next destination. The drape and flow of the net was similar to the way this yarn was knitting up. So what am I making? What will this unplanned, patternless project become? Well it is telling me, slowly, but it is telling me. It is actually quite a treat letting my memories guide me, but keeping it simple. Spring is no longer a memory, it’s here. Go outside and look, listen and smell. You will find it too.
It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Romney Sheep. I have raised them for years, I was taught to hand-spin using one of my first Romney fleeces, they are hardy, beautiful, gentle creatures and the wool they produce has more crimp in it’s structure than most of the longwool breeds allowing it the adaptability to be spun both worsted or woolen. But it wasn’t until this past Fall that I took a leap of faith and stepped outside my comfort zone to try something new.
For many years I have mill-spun my Romney yarns using the worsted system. I had always been taught that was the “proper” way to put the long wool fibers into yarn was to perfectly align them. It makes sense, like combing your hair, even those of us with curly hair like to smooth it out a bit. The resulting yarn truly is stunning. Because of the lower amount of scales in the structure of the fibers, light reflects off the yarn giving it a sheen or “luster”.
So what happens when you spin longwool fibers such as Romney on the woolen system? Well, the carding of the fibers is a bit different, instead of being combed out, it is more of a jumbled, mish-mosh explosion of strands filled with air. Its lofty, airy and changes the drape of the yarn to more of a flowing piece, rather than a heavier more solid fabric. The elasticity of the yarn changes as well and gives you more flexibility in your gauge.
Yet another positive result of woolen spinning Romney is that it it creates an incredibly warm and insulated finished piece. Where most woolen- spun yarns are comprised of shorter finer fibers who over time pull out of the strand and cause those darn little pills to form, the length of the Romney fibers make it much less likely to do so when woolen spun. Strong, soft, resilient, gorgeous, unique from-the-farm, minimally processed yarn ready to become something special for years to come.
For the past 14 years I have been experimenting, learning, designing and creating yarn. I’ve given myself the title Yarn Engineer. I’ve run wool pools, served on Agricultural boards, participated in numerous shows, festivals and markets, and attended large national needle arts trade shows. I have learned so much, watched trends come and go, and met some of the most wonderful people in the industry from designers, to shop owners, to the dedicated folks who run the mills that spin the yarn. It’s a wonderful, creative, soul fulfilling job.
2015 will be the year I expand and set new goals for my business. If you haven’t tried breed specific yarns, please treat yourself. I am beginning my lines with Romney wools, but there are several other “formulas” in the works. Remember, not only do you support the farms and farmers of New England, you support the mills and the dye manufacturers. You will hold in your hands something much more unique than any mass produced product could ever offer you and perhaps you too will develop a passion for something gentle and sweet that grows and gives back to the earth.
Here is the link to the pattern for the Red Head Wrap for all you lovely ladies who were admiring the sample this past weekend.
This pattern would work well in both Downeast and Romney Ridge Farm Blend.
Last thing I remember I was throwing hay into the feeders, lugging water, keeping up a good pace with my running, preparing for the Salem Holiday Market, followed by a trip to the mill to pick up my next run of yarn ….. stop. Chills, aches, dizziness and then a swollen knuckle. Okay, okay, off to bed … I’m just tired. Nope.
A bad infection was taking over my hand and body. Five days in the hospital, surgery and iv antibiotics and one very frustrated Kelly later, I was home. No running, no lifting, no fun. Five more days of iv antibiotics twice a day and an even more frustrated Kelly was finally was cleared to crawl into her captain’s chair and head to the mill for an much anticipated run of yarn know as THE Romney Ridge Farm Blend. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ….back in control. I am sooooo greatful for the support from my friends
I was so excited to get this run of yarn back. It’s my Romney based yarn, blended with a pinch of Mohair from my little boy goaties. After much research, and talking and looking at samples, I decided to break away from my usual way of spinning this yarn and try something new. I called a friend who agreed to sell me 80 pounds of her beautiful Romney fleeces so I could create a larger run this year. The end result? A gorgeous, oatmeal grey, woolen-spun, dk-weight yarn. It’s strong yet soft. It overdyes into rich, heathery colors. I can’t stop petting it.
Suddenly it’s January 20th. I have been to Boston to share my world at Ignite Boston, I’ve spent the weekend in Pawtucket RI at the amazing Slater Mill with my fellow fiber lovers, and today I enjoyed a few hours cleaning the barn and bonding with my wooly friends.
January surprised me! It snuck up on me! But it has been full of wonderful people and places. Can’t wait to share with you what’s in store for February.
Please consider another knitting getaway with Romney Ridge Yarns and Winona Hats.
This time it is getaway weekend LAKE VIEW in Meredith, NH. Maryly Matthewman has designed a stranded knit hat using Romney Ridge Downeast Yarn in a motley mix of colors with patterns that speak of Lake Winnipesaukee, NH.
Waves, pine trees, and mountains. The last workshop with Barney mittens we blended colors. This workshop is totally different. Colors will contrast to highlight the pattern. Corregated rib tricks and different patterns, a cable cast on, Estonian wrapped stitches and many new stitches to add texture.
After this workshop you will be able to adapt any Latvian or Fair Isle pattern to create your own hat story.
There are beginner instructions and advanced instructions so you will not be overwhelmed or bored. Something for everyone, you make the choices.
Some lodging options for those traveling:
Mill Falls 603-279-7006. Code 20U7V9
Nutmeg Inn 603-677-6245
Meredith Inn 603-279-0000
It’s funny how things stick out in your mind as you get older. There is an old farm house on the island that is now owned by Sam, a family friend. A few summers ago we spent a long weekend there with friends. The summer winds floated in off the ocean and the waves crashed with ferocity on the ledges of the surrounding islands. The house is a typical Downeast farmhouse, with the tall shallow cupboards in the kitchen, and muted tones of color painted on the molding and wainscoting in each room. There is a center stairway with a curvy banister leading upstairs to simple, small bedrooms, and and a brick fire place in the living room.
Though I love the original house, I look forward to spending time in the addition that Sam built on to the back side overlooking the field that drops down into a jagged cove. It’s a simple open room full of large windows, but the gem of the room is a tiny wood stove that the fire flickers in on a cold night when the wind howls. To the right a grove of tall, perfectly triangular spruce trees block the view from the neighbors making it the perfect place to “hole up” with good friends after a walk down the Cape Shore Trail followed by devouring “a mess of lobsters” -as we say on the island.
I collaborated with Talitha Kuomi for the design of the Frost Farm Hat and Mittens pattern. Tal took my idea and put it together in such a wonderfully unexpected way! The trees are striking against the multi-color sky. They are those Spruce trees that sick out so clearly in my memories.
You can buy the pattern here.
The colors we chose are Olive Green and Kennebec Blue.
DOWNEAST is available here.
On the end of the island where I grew up you will find some of the most amazing rocks and rock formations in Maine. The ledges are massive formations comprised of red granite that one can only imagine are just the tips of huge underwater mountains that have lost their “peaky” shapes to the relentless pounding of the deep ocean waves. Look to your left. Look to your right. It is the “end of the world” so to speak. There are no other islands or signs of land for miles in either direction.
One of the largest juts of rock has been named Red Head. The trail that leads from the center of the island to Red Head is know as the Cape Shore Trail. It’s a short 3 miles of prehistoric-looking trees on thin, winding pathways that one could easily loose their way on if distracted by the beauty that surrounds them. During a summer hike, as you near the end of the trail and emerge on to the shore, the salt air and sunshine are sweet and refreshing. Take a moment to lay on the smooth flat ledges and let the sounds and smells envelope you. It’s a warm wrap of earthy goodness like no other.
I incorporated this place, and these memories into the design of the Red Head Wrap. The shape -narrow on one end and thick on the other, the veins of rock that run through the ledges are represented by simple cables. DOWNEAST is the perfect yarn for this pattern. It’s warm, woolen-spun strands are light and airy, yet cozy and warming. It creates a light weight fabric that almost instantly warms you.
I’d like to thank designer Elisha Cram of World On A String Designs. Elisha took my hand sketched vision and incorporated her own special design style into the project.
You can purchase the pattern for The Red Head Wrap in Elisha’s Ravelry store here.
Choose from 15 bold colors of DOWNEAST worsted-weight yarn here.
It’s been a busy four months. Markets and weekend shows, keeping up with schedules, preparing for winter. Ask me what I do everyday and I will never answer the same way twice. This business isn’t seasonal, it isn’t a hobby, it’s my “bread & butter”, it is work that I have created to exist in happiness everyday. It is my love, my passion, my soul food and even during the times that it becomes a bit chaotic, I am incredibly grateful for what it has given me.
Each week is full. Pick up wool, sort wool, drive wool to the wash, pick up the washed wool, drive to the the mill, pick up the spun yarn, fill orders in between, finish design work, keep up with kid’s schedules, find a few quick moments of “me” time, barn cleaning, move fences, move sheep, stack hay, skein that yarn!!! …. dye, dye, dye! Whoa! Wait a minute …. where did my summer go?? Over the summer I managed to break the riding lawn mower, break the sliding glass door panel by shooting a rock from the riding lawn mower -just before I broke it, drop and break my favorite pie plate, and screw up my shoulder. I’m on a roll … a one-woman wrecking crew my friend called me! I fear boredom! My life is busy, busy, busy … and I love it.
This morning I fed the dogs, just like I do every morning. Maddy the Mastiff eats in the living room corner away from everyone else …she is afraid of everything. Max the Mutt eats by the front door … he likes to go out immediately after. Pirate and Puddin’, the two doxies, eat on either end of the the kitchen. Puddin’ is very old and has few teeth … her food is small and soft and has to be soaked for a few minutes. Pirate likes to stand over and “hide” his food until everyone is done then fiercely guard it from the other dogs who dare to walk by. It’s crazy, loud, and maybe a little silly. And why do I do it? I love them.
A few days ago I had a lengthy discussion about life with my 14 year-old daughter, as we often do when we are alone and enjoying a much deserved ice coffee. We talked about the difference between “liking” something and truly looooooving something. How even though they sound like such a similar thing, the emotional reaction is very different. I may say that I LOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEE deep, dark, rich, muddy coffee, and cowboy boots, and the color red. But the truth is I only like them. Yes, they make me happy, but I they do not give me that wonderful feeling in my chest that I felt when I held my own babies for the first time, or each spring when I smell newborn baby lambs and watch, or the feeling I have when I create. We both decided that love makes us happy AND feeds the soul and that we are ultimately responsible for finding our own “loves” and keeping them. She is very wise for her age and I am very proud of her.
As I frantically gathered up 187 freshly-dyed skeins that I had dyed for The Common Ground Fair this past September and brought them in from the disappearing sunshine, my youngest son helped me. I was a little flustered and he asked me why I do this for work when it is so much work. I instantly replied without even thinking, “because I love you.” My hard work pays off in many different ways. Do you know how lucky I am? I do.
My point? Find your loves. If you can, make them an important part of every day. Find them and hold on to them with ferocity. Feel that feeling in your chest that only love can give you and if it does not, slip it in to the “like” category. It’s ok. There has to be a place for them as they make their way up. Be grateful for your loves every day.
When Maryly Mathewman and I talked about creating a mitten pattern together, it only made sense that a class should accompany. This past weekend 13 ladies spent two afternoons creating their own versions of our Barney Cove Mitten at our October Knitter’s Getaway. It was warm and beautiful at the Cod Cove Inn and our gracious hosts made the knitter’s quite comfortable in a brightly lit room overlooking beautiful gardens and nature’s palette of changing leaves.
The colors in the design came from the memories of my father’s boatshop.
Colors have always stood out to me, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much. Memories, jogged by words, create images in my mind.
Years later I have discovered that what stood out to me about my Dad’s shop were the colors of the curing wood, the sky reflecting colors on the ocean, the Rugosa roses that decorate the island from corner to corner, and the boat keel painted and drying into a soft orange shade from the water-proofing Red Lead.
Maryly interpreted my memories into a design, and we rightfully named these mittens Barney Cove Mittens, where my Dad’s shop sits and the surrounding colors of the area and the inside of the shop created the palette.
The Barney Cove Mittens were knit with my seasonal yarn Willlow – a DK weight, grey yarn, that I hand-dyed in colors designed for the class, but you can use any variety of colors. We used Peacock, Orange, Chartreuse, Red Grape, Woodrose, and Natural Grey. But you can use as little as three of these colors. You can find the current Willow colors that are available here.
These are merely suggestions. If you decide to knit the Barney Cove Mittens, just know that the Willow Colors are seasonal and they are starting to run low. HOWEVER! Romney Ridge Farm Blend will be available very soon and would be FANTASTIC for this pattern.
Like the Barney Cove Mittens, the Winona Mittens are also a mix of colors. But Maryly explained that that because we are using a hand-dyed yarn that started as a white base ( rather than the heathered look of the Willow) , it is better to use one of my gradient/multi-colored Kaleidoscope skeins as your main and choose two like colors as the second and third colors.
As Maryly says, “The effect is a bit more stable if you pick Solid colors which are in the Multicolor Yarn. Otherwise the mitten looks a bit too jumbled. Change Solid color when you want to, no special time or place, just when it looks good to you and the 2nd mitten does not have to exactly match. Be colorful!”
With that in mind I have come up with a few suggestions for the color choices to knit the Winona Mitten.
Downeast is the recommended yarn for the Winona Mittens as it is worsted weight. These are merely suggestions.
Be sure to read the pattern all the way through before you begin …and I will be expecting you to send me pictures of your finished mittens!
If you travel with me, you’ll find that I stop and stare at my surroundings a lot. For a “go-go-go” person I suppose that seems a little odd … well maybe refreshing to the people I am with. Do you do this? Do you see the colors in a single brick stacked in a wall creating the southern side of a building? Go and look at it again when the sun sinks lower in the sky and watch the shades change. Stand under a maple tree in the early morning hours and marvel at the shades of silver and grey. Is snow really white? Are white sheep really white? How about the night sky as the sun goes down over a lake, a city skyline, or the majestic mountains. Can you see the many colors in the ocean??? We were all taught that the sky and water are blue and the grass is green. And it is … but it is more than that.
I remember when I was pregnant with my first son and decided I needed to learn to knit. Before sheep and yarn, I used to paint. I loved oil pastels and water colors and I chose strange colors that somehow, when blended, turned into the shades I was trying to achieve. Even without thinking about the blends of shades I would just put them together and work my blend and rub and … ta-da! Perfect! Well in my eyes it was.
Dyeing yarn for me is not mass production. Over the past 15 years, I’ll bet I have pulled thousands of skeins from the dye pots. Each dyelot is different as I have perfected my secret technique that pulls different tones and shades from the dye as the yarn enters the water. My color choices over the years have ranged from brilliant jewel tones to softer grey over-dyes to mixes of colors that create another color as the two bases bleed into each other.
Last year I created my ELEMENTS colorways using a white yarn base dyed gold and then over dyed again in a second color. They are softer combos of colors yet they knit up into a brilliant mix of shades and tones in a bazillion different combinations in each row!! Start knitting and see what each row becomes and suddenly you are done with your project!! …can you tell I get a little excited about color??
As Autumn approaches (yes I know we may not want to think of that just yet) the color choices change and I find myself dyeing more rich reds and oranges. A new Taupe shade is on the schedule as well as a deep Olive Green, and soft blue I am calling Kennebec Blue for the many shades I see in the mighty Kennebec, a river I cross every day who “wow’s” me with her beauty. I’ll restock my supplies with ELEMENTS and several Kaleidoscope colorways for that POP of color everyone knows Romney Ridge Yarns for. I get very excited for crisp air, cooler temps and earthy smells as we transition into the next season. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to and receive announcements for our new yarns, new colors and upcoming festivals and markets we will be attending. Until then enjoy the rest of your summer!
It my come to shock to some of you, but I have never finished a sweater … nope, never, not one. I’m a “yarn engineer” from the sheep to shearing to washing to spinning, I start the process. I dabble in knitting, but I find my happiness choosing fleeces, putting together my “formulas”, and firing up the dye pots. The knitting process does not top my list of yarn happiness. Having said that, I am capable of some things. I once knit a cute little vest for my daughter using a chunky yarn and size 11 needles. It was fast and held my attention long enough, and she was only 5 so it was pretty small. I have attention issues, sitting issues, do, do, do, go,go,go needs. So that is why when I do “take up the needles” I knit mittens. They are fairly fast and easy and I can satisfy my need for color by blending my Kaleidoscope dyed yarns with odds and ends of more solid colors, and I can leave them for weeks and come back to them when I have time.
If you are familiar with my spinning dilemma this past spring you know I had to switch spinning mills. The emotional piece that came with that change has now adjusted into the “it’s okay” phase. And as much as I fight changes, they always seem to have a way of working out. Ta-daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! It’s all okay! ….and who is always saying “it’s time to switch things up a bit??”
It’s funny how we do things the same way for so long, and we never really think about changing the methods, the design, the flow …. sort of that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. For a few years I spun my yarn sort of “locked” into the the yardage restrictions of a pound of yarn, i.e a pound of yarn spun in a worsted weight broke down into ~ 250 yards/4 oz skein. A pound of Dk weight would equal out to ~ 430 yards/40z skein. The yarns were spun and skeined, and I would dye them and tag them, and that was that. Looking back I’m sure if I had asked we could have made adjustments, but between work, kid’s schedules, running this farm, and all the other things that needed to get done, the thought never really crossed my mind.
When I found myself needing to switch mills, I learned that this new mill only put yarn on cones. Whoa! My control freak alarm went bonkers! Never mind the fact that it needed to be skeined, I had lost the control of my comfort zone … change was seriously on the horizon! But then I began thinking about the doors this opened for me. I could skein off hanks for kits and smaller projects -like those mittens I enjoy putting together. I could dye new colors on smaller skeins rather than larger skeins to see how popular or unpopular they would be before I “upped” the yardage And most importantly I could offer my customers ( who I love to pieces! ) a new option! They could choose to buy my yarns in more of a variety of colors! I had seen you all struggling to choose which colors you needed or had always chosen , but how you would like to try others, maybe just not an big of a skein. And the best part???? My prices would stay the same! It was a no-brainer!
So my daily schedule has changed a bit, and though it seems like I have added a new “chore” to my tasks by adding the skeining part of the process to my end product, I am loving the versatility it is giving me. My new electric winder makes the job go fairly fast, and I choose a few days each week to just skein yarn while I listen to and semi-watch movies I have missed on my ipad.
So what do you think? Judging by your orders, you are loving the Willow Mini’s. And though I will continue to produce the larger skeins, is this a good option for you? Smaller is not necessarily better, but it is definitely good.