“I keep sheep and my sheep keep me. ”
As one wanders through life making choices one hopes is in line with their purpose… sometimes you stumble on an ah-ha moment. I have been struggling with the notion that perhaps farming is not for me after all. It has been tough this last year especially as I singularly work at the daily chores, feeding all the hungry mouths.
There is just so much, not to mention household stuff that goes undone (Why can’t there be maid service at home and not just at hotels!) And to pay the bills, I have gone back to doing corporate travel. And fortunately I work out of the house, but it does take up some 25 hours weekly.
Well back to the subject at hand. One of my goals with the farm is to manufacture an end product derived from the Shetland wool. I have produced yarn and roving and other supplies for spinners and knitters…but in the back of my mind, I wanted it to be clothing. So I had this notion, why not try to obtain one of the antique sock machines used at the turn of the century? Well that journey alone had a few dead ends as I learned more about these machines and to evaluate them. But finally I made a wise purchase. I then went about the business of learning how to use it. I had lots of sock yarn I have dyed, so last Christmas, all of my family received socks and I have posted some for sale in my farm shop on Etsy.
The other part of the equation was getting usable yarn from the wool fleeces I have been collecting. I was working with a mill close by for a few years in the hopes of achieving a sock yarn. But her experience with her equipment and the unusual qualities of Shetland fleeces did not lead us to that goal. And by now… I had a very good fix in my mind what the yarn needed to be. No more than fingering weight, smooth with no slubs, two ply and a little nylon mixed in.
So last fall, while vending at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, I stumbled upon a booth for Gurdy Run Fiber Mill. I looked at all the sock yarn she had on display and asked a few questions. She specialized in sock yarn. Music to my ears of course. So I decided to give her a try. She let me wash my fleeces so the incoming weight would be less and my costs less too. And another piece of luck… She was in Halifax PA, on the way to my youngest son’s college and I could drop off fleeces instead of adding the cost of shipping. So we dropped off 9 fleeces and crossed our fingers.
Nearly five months later… The yarn came. Cost was not too bad.. a rare thing from a mill. And the eighteen pounds of Moorit and Shaela colored yarn… was what I had been seeking for the last five years.
I was eager to try it on my machine. I tweaked the tension… And made two pairs of socks, a Shaela pair in my husband’s size and a Moorit pair in mine.
They were strong and had the unique silky feel of Shetland. And there it was… a realization I had achieved a major farm goal that few are doing…growing the fiber and manufacturing a piece of clothing on the farm. It is done with vegetables, soap, and meat. But not with clothing. Local sourcing clothing has happened little since mass production, especially since it has gone overseas. But there is a movement afoot (yes, pun intended) to grow the fiber arts. And with it, a quest for locally sourced clothing. A farm is a business and the numbers have to work, but also the work has to have meaning. If the heart is happy, the body might not mind the sacrifice and work. We will see if this part is true, stay tuned.
Oh and visit the farm shop for your own 1910 Shepherd’s Socks. They will be posted soon along side the colorful hand dyed socks I mentioned.