This is the story of our fiber products. It all started about 3000 years ago with the domestication of …. oh, maybe we won’t go that far back. Well, our animals who grow wool and fiber need to be shorn every year because otherwise it will just keep growing, and growing, and growing. We don’t mind if they want to grow fiber, or not grow fiber. But when they do, we need to shear them. The fiber that we remove from their bodies is beautiful. We value it and have decided that we need to do something beautiful with it. Here is how this came about:
One spring day, not so long ago, Farmer Anne gathered all the animals together and they had a meeting. The animals had lots of questions, but Farmer Anne knew that, except for little Ricardo (for he was indeed little back then), they all knew about “Shearing Day”. But they still liked to ask questions. They are a nosy bunch. Plus, they figured if they seemed interested enough, there might be cookies later in the day. “Now friends,” Farmer Anne started, “today is the one day of the year that you have to try to behave. People are coming to watch…” (Gruff interrupted: ‘No no, please no watching. I am so modest.’) “…as I said, people will be watching to see just how we remove your beautiful wool in a kind and sweet manner.” (Marguerite the alpaca squealed and said, ‘do you have to touch my toenails? I like long toenails. I will spit all over you if you touch them.’) Farmer Anne looked at her gently and said, “dear Marguerite, you are welcome to spit on me. But everyone on this farm is getting a pedicure today. ” And so it went. And one by one, the animals had their turn at being shaved down to their birthday suits. It wasn’t so bad. It was only a few minutes for each animal and then there they were, naked as jaybirds and all trying to figure out who each other was.
The volunteers collected all the fiber, and labelled the bags. The next step was to wash it. They put each fleece into a big bucket, added soap (dishwashing liquid, to cut the grease), and very hot water, and let the fleeces soak. When finally they were clean, they laid out all the fleeces on a screen outside to dry in the sun.
Then they separated out the fleeces by color. They had a big bag of white, and a big bag of brown, and a big bag of grey. Farmer Anne drove out to Virginia with all these big bags. There she met with a fellow named John from Zeilinger Woolen Mill in Michigan who weighed all the wool and made notes about what they should do with it. There was a lot of wool – it was very heavy! It was decided to make three colors of yarn: white, brown and grey. But there was a lot of extra white. John said, “would you like to have some socks made?” Farmer Anne exclaimed, “you can do that?!” John said, “oh yes, we work with a knitter who makes all kinds of things. Her name is Maria at Northland Woolens.”
It took a long time. The mills are always very busy. They are family-run and there is a very large demand for their expert services. After about a year we received a call that our white yarn was going to be shipped to Minnesota. Maria called and told us all the amazing things we could have made from our sheep’s wool, and not just socks. It was almost too exciting for words. We ordered socks, of course, and also hats, neck warmers, and … the marvelous Bernie Mittens!
The cuffs of the mittens are grey – this is because they are mixed with the white of our sheep’s wool and black nylon (to give them springiness and to keep their shape). The outside of the mittens are made from recycled sweaters. The inside are fleece lined and so soft. Every single pair of mittens is one of a kind. There is literally no other mitten like it.
These woolen products have not been washed (scoured) in acid, as is done in industrial wool processing. They have only been washed in soap. If you want to soften your woolen products, you can soak them gently in tepid water with conditioner (the kind you put in your hair!). Then gently rinse and squeeze, and set flat to dry. You’ll be amazed how easily they wash and how soft they are.