Friday, December 5, 2008

A Wreath to inspire creativity

In the northeast here, we are definitely starting to look forward to Solstice, or more specifically to the time when the days will start getting a little bit longer. Just a few minutes a day at first, but every bit helps. The shadows start to get very long and cold just after school gets out. Luckily the moon and planets are cheering us up with their light. And there is some wonderful homey time to catch up with indoor sewing and knitting projects.

This is also the season for donations and giving. The three of us in the Hand Knitting department at O-Wool have had a lot of fun this week, decorating a wreath that will become part of an auction to raise funds for a local child care center.

Wendy used her standard gauge Brother knitting machine to create these little stocking ornaments out of our new Legacy DK o-wool yarn, in the colors lava, grove and natural.

Lynn knit up this little snowman, who can be used as a tree ornament or a table ornament. He has some beans at the bottom to help him stand up! She used a great little pattern from the winter edition of the Living Crafts Magazine (p 22.), and our DK wools (on #4 needles) in the same holiday colors.

We really wanted to include the Peace dove that was also featured in the same issue of the Living Crafts magazine (p.18). Marin made a wonderful pair of peace doves out of the o-wool melton fabric in natural.

And then perhaps the best idea of all! Marin thought it would be great to include the patterns and all the materials to make the decorations. So we stuffed the little stockings with the o-wool yarn needed, enclosed the patterns in envelopes, and rolled up a bit of the fabric. Voila!

Here it is: our beautiful wreath which includes not only the ready made ornaments, but also the supplies needed to make a set of your own. We stepped back to admire our wreath, and all realized that we would love to bid on it ourselves!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


…While Taking Care of your Earth

Our O~Wool hand knitting yarn has already experienced
an alternative processing path to keep it, the
sheep and the environment healthy. Now that you
have bought this yarn, you too are participating in
this endeavor.
Begin your project by untwisting the hank. When
your hank is an open circle again, you can have a
friend hold it to make a round ball, or you can use
a swift and ball winder. If you use a swift and ball
winder, you can pull from the inside or the outside
of the ball, or both for double strand.
After you have finished knitting your project, continue with a final
soak, the last but very important part of your processing! Remember
that no softening chemicals were added earlier, so this
last step really brings out the loft and softness of the merino wool.
Use your favorite wool wash and let your knitting gently rest in
tepid water for 15-20 minutes. (We recommend Eucalan or Soak.)
Remove from water and roll in a towel to remove excess water.
Let your piece dry horizontally. You will notice how much softer it
has become once it has dried completely. And the wool continues
to soften as you wear it. So go out and change the world in comfort,
warmth and good cheer!

An important part of sustainability is continual caretaking. To take
care of your wool garment remember that this complex, multilayered
fiber is a protein animal product. Contrary to the frequent,
agitated washing that synthetics fibers require; wool responds
best to frequent airing, gentle handling, surface sponging and
rest between wearing. Wool fibers will naturally resist soil, odors
and wrinkles, and return willingly to their original shape. If necessary,
a steam iron (without direct touching) can further encourage
shaping. If you have suffered a direct spot or stain, washing the
area immediately with cold water is a good first response. See the
Kentucky Sheep and Wool Producers Association website for a
complete listing of stain removal suggestions.
At O~Wool, we understand that our farmers, our spinners and
our customers are all part of a new awareness of the impact of
human activity upon the earth and its diverse ecosystems. When
every one of us alter some part of our daily pattern to promote
conscious change we feel the energy and mindset of problem
solving, and we know that everything is possible. We are all part
of a creative global movement.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What is new?

In Vermont this is the season of change, and it sure seems like there is plenty of change in the air! Astronomy is dictating the shortening of days, activating the color change in the tree leaves, and putting on the show of the year in these parts. The harvesting of gardens and apples is in full swing. This is a season of lush abundance and plenty, with a hint of exuberance even in the face of the looming knowledge that times will get cold and difficult in the next few weeks with the approach of winter.

But now is the time to harvest, prepare and share, and at O-Wool, we are in the final stages of preparing a new line of organic wool hand knitting yarn for sale.
This new line of yarn has a wonderful color palette that is both muted and timeless, yet has a depth and complexity that grows as you work with it. The colors take me back in time, to an era of hand tinted photographs, antique lace, strong dusty cowboys and wild distant hues reflecting the natural landscape.

There are a number of avid knitters here, and the knitting, planning, sharing and showing of projects and ideas has reached a new threshold of energy. We have all had a lot of fun exploring the colors and the new weights.

In the new DK line, a skein of yarn gives you 305 yards of wool! The gauge is 22-24 st = 4" on 4-6 needles (US size). In the Bulky line the Gauge is 11-13 sts =4" on 10-11 US needles. Both lines are available in the same 12 colors which are: Gamboge (a yellowish resin from a tree in Indonesia, Lava (red), Russet, Clay, Desert Blush, Olive, Sand, Natural, Sprig (lt green), Grove, Storm and Charcoal.

So now is the time to create something new that echos the old and pulls together those illusionary wrinkles in time. With 100% organic O-wool yarn you can knit up a subtle garment or eclectic accessory and create your own wearable Legacy while keeping the health and well being of the sheep in mind.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wool and Knitting in Children's Literature

As my daughter and I were cleaning (deep cleaning because of a house renovation!) her picture books, we became immersed once again in the beauty and humor of some of these books for youngsters. Suddenly we were drawn right back to the time when we both enjoyed our nightime routine of my reading aloud a few books before sleep. I remember the amazement I first felt at discoving this whole world. I just had not realized how immense, and beautiful the selection of children's literature is.

And of course I was looking at books with the eyes of a knitter...haven't we all seen patterns in passing that we run home to sketch. Once, I was asked to take off a vest I was wearing at the food store, and the "cheese lady" returned with a xerox copy of my garment in her hands, a huge grin on her face, and a head full of plans for her next project!

Jan Brett is an author and illustrator that all knitters can enjoy. She is a fabulous artist that writes one glorious children's book every year, and travels to the geographical region she will highlight in order to get every tiny, amazing detail just right. The books that take place in Europe feature wonderful knitted clothing that serves both as background, and even as important plot features. The Mitten, which you can start reading to kids even before they can walk, has a knitted piece as one of the main "characters", and a well timed sneeze that delights every time. And of course,grandmother's "knitting held tight".

In The Hat, each animal tries on a garment of Lisa's, and so we view the entire winter knitted wardrobe as Lisa unpacks the big trunk.

Jan Brett draws knitwear in detailed perfection as we can see in Trouble with Trolls.

Another wonderful book which has appeal for fiber artists is Pelle's New Suit by Elsa Beskow. This wonderful book has already stood the test of time: it has a copyright date of 1912.

The lamb in this book has a coat that grows longer and longer, while Pelle's coat grows shorter and shorter, so Pelle decides to take action. He shears his lamb's coat, and then proceeds to trade for all the tasks involved in turning the wool into a garment for himself. We get a delightful look into the whole life of his extended family as the wool takes it journey through washing, carding, spinning, dying and sewing, becoming both a woven suit and a large family project. The story is at once more simple and grounded than our own O-Wool story could possibly be, but it surely exemplifies many of the ideals we hold as desirable and strive for in our company mission.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Something Old, and Something New

Well, it’s been too long, and really there are no excuses …although I can come up with a few. In any case, it sure is time to get back to this WEEKLY blog!

So, here at O-Wool we are getting closer to offering a new line of 100% certified organic wool hand knitting yarn in 12 wonderful colors inspired by nature. We are all looking forward to seeing the new shades, and are busy knitting up swatches for the sales reps kits. In the meantime, my job has included making up the little skeinlets that you see in the sample packets when you open a new account, or get a sample at a trade show. These little samples offer between 10 and 20 yds of yarn so that someone can actually knit a little swatch.

What I find interesting about this task is that the machine we use is truly a functioning antique. It weighs about 50 lbs, is made of heavy gauge indestructible iron, and has gears that work together like a dream. The crank just begs to be turned. It’s magnificent.

So, I feel like I take a step into the past when I use this wonderful tool. Its an amazing time we live in ...when one can go from this old machine to typing on a computer ...all in a quick minute. Globally I hope we can appreciate the well functioning old tools as well as the great advances of the new. Its an ongoing process of evaluation that we all take part in every day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

summer knitting projects

As a quick diversion from our trip upstream with a skein of Hand Knitting Yarn, two of us here at O- Wool must, really must! share our latest projects with you.

I’m very excited to be nearing the completion of a lace vest and pattern that I have been working on. The vest, (2 1/2 of them so far actually), is complete. Its the pattern that is still wanting attention. Will it ever stop!? Isn’t there always one more revision, one more number to confirm? Fortunately a friend has offered to “test” the pattern. So, there really is hope that it will be available soon.

All this knitting has given me alot of time to think. And what I got to thinking about were the ancient Classical Greek Elements of Earth, Air Fire, Water and Aether. The first 4 were states of matter, and the fifth was used to describe “that beyond the material world”. These 4 states of matter represented a connection also between hot, cold, dry and wet.

And haven’t we all experienced the discomfort of imbalance in these states of matter: whether in life activity, weather, friendships, knitting projects etc. I think I will dedicate this vest in our line of Balance (50% organic cotton, 50% organic wool) to the Elements ....not the periodic table of, but to the concrete, physical aspects of life. And sometimes as I knit I end up repetitiously chanting the mantra: earth air fire water, as if somehow the arches merging upwards representing all the forms of matter will indeed find a balance if I just knit hard enough.

Our shipping guru here at O-Wool has been working hard (in this summer heat) to complete a very special sweater. This garment is an 80th Birthday present for John Blake who breeds and raises cormo sheep organically in Southern Patagonia Peru. O-Wool purchased fiber from him for the two new lines coming out this autumn, the DK and the Bulky weight in a natural palette.

As a special request by John Blakes’s son, via Matt, Marin received, and rose to this challenge of knitting up a gorgeous XL sweater in Bulky. She used 4 colors and worked a wonderful wrapping pattern around the entire neckline. It will have no problem keeping its wearer warm and cozy as he surveys his flock of Cormo sheep! These sheep, by the way, are a scientifically researched cross between corriedale and merino types, and offer some of the benefits of each breed. Their fleece is appreciated for its very soft texture.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Twister Sisters

How does the hair off a sheep’s back end up cozily hugging your back in that beautiful shade of green?

Maybe we have taken things for granted a bit, but there is quite a fascinating story here involving families, ecosystems, an old spinning mill that has reinvented itself, dye houses, and our own wonderful group of skeiners here at o-wool. You know your story from yarn as newly discovered and gleefully stashed, to wip, to ufo or to beautiful, admired, finished piece of art. Ravelry and the other blogs document your stories. We all love to share these stories. Its fun, and inspiring.

I’m going to travel the other direction, from the skein at your LYS to the hair on the sheep back. We’ll take it in steps, meeting people and places along the way.

At o-wool I am the assistant to the head of the hand knitting program, Cathy Campbell. My responsibilities lie with receiving shipments of yarn and escorting them through the whole process; ending on the yarn shelf at your store. For instance, on Monday we received over 200 lbs of yarn in 12 boxes, in three different weights. I knew I had a workout coming: weighing, stacking, sorting and general inventory. The very next day skeining began.

The yarn arrives to us in large hanks, measured by yardage, and loosely held together by a tie. We separate the hanks into the individual skeins. Then we twist them so that they look nice, and are easy to handle for shipping, and for retail display and sale. Its one of those jobs that could be described as boring, but then so could knitting! That is definitely not my style. I prefer to describe it as repetitious, heart opening movement. The way you hold your arms out and twist really does get your blood flowing across your chest, and feels, well.... healthy!

Of course too much of a good thing is a bad thing after all, so the next idea was how to get more people involved with this skeining. I decided to try a volunteer program modeled after food coops. We invite fiber lovers (better yet; yarn addicts) to come skein for an hour in exchange for a skein of the hand knitting yarn. To date over a dozen people have participated. We have had a really enjoyable group. We skein and chat, have “show and tells,” and generally share our time together. In exchange people have gotten enough (sometimes second quality due to spots, tangles, color variation etc.) yarn to make hats, sweaters, crochet square blankets, wash cloths etc. There is nothing like a volunteer “job” for college students, moms with newborns, homeschoolers, pregnant moms, older grandmothers etc. These folks appreciate being part of the working world, but can’t commit the time for a full time position because of other responsibilities. Its a win-win situation, and we all appreciate each other.

Well, gotta get back to skeining, we’ll travel back further next time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Knitting Green

Knitting has been there for me as a hobby (I thought) since college. But what keeps surprising me is how knitting seems to direct my work life (or career, as my mother would say). Even in college my trusty circular 6’s made hats for everyone I knew and earned me some pocket change. Then my customer service job at Garnet Hill morphed into supplier of knitted Christmas Stockings. The latest rounding back came last summer. I was dusting off my teaching certificate, getting ready to re-enter the field of education. Instead I got turned right around by two opposite phone calls, and now I’m back in another dimension of the world of knitting. And frankly, it’s a delight!

At O-Wool there is an additional twist that I also love and appreciate: the environmental focus. It is absolutely fascinating how quickly things get complicated when you add in the activity of environmental self-examination. When all wool was organic and spun in small batches by industrious neighbors, quantities and questions were small and intimate. Now that we have so much technological capability to enhance quality with chemicals and produce goods on a global scale, the line of questioning becomes frightfully complicated. Who wants to make the value decisions that please some people and disappoint others? I make them for myself, yes, but for a company that has investors to please and a reputation to there is a challenge. These are exactly the types of questions that Matt Mole, our founder, has been immersed in for the past decade. He has worked on the Global Textile Standards (GOTS), and with the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and continues to refine specifics of organic certification. This isn’t something that is ever completely finished.

I like to collect quotes that inspire me, and one of my favorites dates back to the 70’s, from Tom Bender’s appropriate technology publication Rain Magazine:

“ Appropriate technology reminds us that before we choose our tools and techniques we must choose our dreams and values, for some technologies serve them, while others make them unobtainable.”

I think some of us are feeling that word “unobtainable” in a stronger way than we have before. We are feeling the loss of pure waters, clean air, icecaps, traditional cultures, peaceful lifestyles and real political freedom. It has gotten to the point where MANY people are ready to speak out and act out in public about these concerns.

Actually isn’t it a weird coincidence? Both knitters and environmentalists were largely hidden and ignored by the mainstream buzz and media in the 70’s. They were there, and they were smart, but if you engaged them in public you were considered a bit strange: old fashioned or doomsdayish. Now it’s all so different. People of all ages, all professions, all religions across the whole continent are knitting in public AND talking about how to take real steps to address the losses in our natural environment. And why not?

I think the qualities of a knitter make a good environmentalist. Look at us... We don’t mind a bit of repetitious work, don’t mind backtracking sometimes (well not much), and always want to have more projects on hand that we can possibly get to. We want to share ideas, be in groups, learn new techniques and invent new designs. We want to make our own, wear our own, give our stuff away, and see it passed down to the next generation. Those simple little needles make some pretty great values and dreams obtainable!

Well, I feel like I’ve come full circle to some earlier parts of my “me”, but then again, it’s not a circle; it’s more like a spiral. Each time back around, things look a bit different, the circle is expanding to include (or just more yarn?!) But on this round at O-Wool,I am ready to embrace both the knitter and the environmentalist in me. And I know I am not alone!

This first post is dedicated to the wonderful grannies of Lincoln, VT who knit on Sundays, and create all sorts of awesome things including the beautiful antler basket (by Nancy Willis) pictured above.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

coming ... a new voice

As an employee of the Vermont Organic Fiber Company I have the pleasure of working with wool every day! I look forward to sharing some of the daily moments, observations and happenings of our global business here in rural Vermont.