Junegrass was scoured, milled, and skeined in Craig, Colorado at Yampa Valley Fiberworks by Lorrae and Lewis Moon. Like everyone involved in this project, Lorrae and Lewis were so easy to work with and really helped us through the process of producing our first yarn.
First let me tell you about our friend Jeane deCoster of Elemental Affects. Jeane produces her own single breed US yarns including our own Heirloom. Jeane has been a great friend and mentor since we met her in 2008. She has taught us so much about yarn: its construction, properties, how to make it. She is very knowledgeable and good at what she does. She loves great yarn and she loves to support and work with US farmers. We have been working with Jeane for almost 4 years now on Heirloom - our private label US Romney yarn that Jeane sources, mills and dyes for us. The last time she came to visit we told her about our dreams of bringing it even more local and making a Colorado yarn. She immediately offered her help and guidance for the project. Jeane emailed me a spreadsheet with all sorts of fields to figure out: cost of raw wool, cost of transportation, total pounds, scour weight and cost, percentage of weight loss, spinning weight and cost, skeining cost and more shipping. It was both overwhelming and incredibly helpful. I had to start calling and talking to mills about this project and with Jeane's help, I knew how to speak their language. I needed to know yards per pound, plies and twist and I could plug their answers into my spreadsheet to see if it was a viable project. Jeane cautioned that we might conclude it was not. Spoiler alert - we did it!
I called a few mills about making our yarn, but based on questions Jeane told me to ask, it became obvious that Lorrae and Lewis were who we would end up working with. I liked the way they charge for the scouring and milling (incoming weight on scouring and then re-weigh before milling) and I loved their enthusiasm for our project. Lorrae was able to put us in touch with Cody without whose wool, Junegrass would not exist. There are a lot of questions to think about when making a yarn such as number of plies, how much twist, and what weight. Luckily, Amber and I knew exactly what we wanted. We wanted dk weight (our favorite for sweaters, and of course we want to make sweaters out of our Colorado yarn to keep us warm in Colorado), we wanted a 2-ply and we wanted it to not be too tightly spun. At this point, we had already secured a small amount of dark Wensleydale from Aniroonz farm so we knew our yarn would be a blend of this and another wool. We knew we were not going to be dyeing the yarn and we wanted a natural grey as opposed to a white yarn so the Aniroonz fiber would help us achieve this.
Scoured fiber dries on racks
I decided to make the trip to Craig myself to deliver the Wensleydale wool and talk to Lorrae and Lewis in person about the yarn we wanted. Craig, Colorado is in a beautiful valley in the north part of the state by Steamboat Springs. I learned that this part of Colorado is full of sheep farmers. I brought them samples of yarn I had spun myself from a blend I had handcarded of the two wools, as well as some commercially spun yarns we liked the looks of. We were looking for a loosely plied, lofty yarn in a dk weight. It was hard to discuss weight because Lewis and Lorrae need to know yards per pound. This varies greatly depending on many factors so I wasn't sure. I talked to Jeane to get an estimate to start with. They had to spin up several samples for us. The first was too thick so we had to ask for more samples. They sent 4 more and still they weren't exactly right, but it was enough information to go by to guess where we wanted to be and Lewis and Lorrae started the huge job of milling all our yarn.
Fiber that has been scoured and picked goes through the carder
I was lucky to be given a tour of the mill while I was up there. They do everything on site. They scour, pick, card, pin draft, spin, ply and skein. Those are all the things that have to happen to make yarn! Yampa is unique in that they do all natural scouring and milling and do not use chemical scouring agents or sizing agents. Our yarn is undyed and from sheep that grazed under the Colorado sky so we feel pretty good saying it is one of the most natural and humane yarns on the market for both people and animals.
Yampa Valley Fiberworks is fairly new - Lorrae and Lewis purchased the mill equipment from Lonesome Stone Alpacas - a well-known and long-running Colorado mill that focused exclusively on alpaca and alpaca blends. The spinning machine is from the 1980's and was made in Germany - there are only two of them in the US. Lewis is familiar with machinery and handles the spinning process as well as maintenance. Lewis and Lorrae mostly focus on small batch fiber for the hobby fiber-enthusiast - ours was their largest order to date!
Yarn is being spun onto cones
It was great to work with Lewis and Lorrae. We had a tight timeline and they didn't flinch. The finished yarn is exactly what we had in mind in terms of loft, weight and twist - they did an amazing job. We are honored to get to know and work with such amazing Colorado people. We hope to do it again next year if all goes well!
Stay tuned next week to see the finished yarn and letterpressed labels as well as a special pullover pattern we had designed by one of our favorite knitwear designers.