As the winter solstice passes and we enter the heart of the holiday season, I’m curled up at home, enjoying a two-week break from school. My festive mood has been enhanced by a couple of wonderful woolly gifts: a cone of Icelandic yarn from Uppspuni and a raw fleece from a Yellow House Cheese sheep.
My friends Karen and Lisa brought the yarn back from Iceland for me. It comes from Iceland’s first mini-mill, a mill I learned about and then was lucky enough to visit. Last year, I read about Hulda Brynjólfsdóttir, an Icelandic teacher and farmer. Hulda’s dream was to start a mini-mill to process wool from her sheep and those of other local farmers. She started an Indiegogo campaign to purchase wool processing equipment from Canada. As it turns out, her farm is in Hella, along the south coast of Iceland, where I stay when I bring groups of students to Iceland. Hulda was kind enough to host a visit from us last June. Although the mill equipment had only just arrived and wasn’t yet set up, Hulda and her spinning group were so generous in talking with us about the mini-mill and about their community of spinning sisters. The girls couldn’t get enough of the bottle-fed lamb that Hulda’s daughter showed us, and they loved chasing the new lambs and their mothers around the nearby fields.
A few months after my visit to Iceland, I was delighted to receive two skeins of yarn from Hulda, as a thank-you gift for contributing to her Indiegogo campaign. I’ve not yet decided what to make with these precious skeins. They are beautiful natural colors, silky soft.
And then Karen and Lisa began planning a short trip to Iceland. Lisa, an avid knitter, had also contributed to Hulda’s Indiegogo project and had also delighted in the yarn she received from Hulda. Interested in more yarn, and in seeing the mini-mill, Lisa contacted Hulda, who invited her to the farm. And the next thing I knew, I was sipping a beer at my local bar (The Bottlehouse) with a large cone of beautiful grey Icelandic wool at my side, listening to Lisa and Karen’s stories and marveling at the generous worldwide community of spinners, knitters, and wool-loving folk.
A few days before that evening at the bar, I was at our local farmers market, talking with Kristyn of Yellow House Cheese. Kristyn and her family raise sheep and make cheese here in Ohio. I reminded her that I was a spinner, and I mentioned that I was sorry I would not be able to attend their sheep shearing event later that day. I really didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I said those things, but without any hesitation, Kristyn said, “Would you like me to bring you some wool?” “Yes!” I replied, excitement growing. I told her I would spin it into yarn for her. We discussed details. She said she would try to remember. I couldn’t believe my luck.
And so this past Saturday I arrived at the market, and there it was: a cardboard box that contained a full raw fleece, much more wool than I had expected.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the wool, to sort and clean it, to card and spin it, to knit it up into a swatch. I’m still a beginner at all of this, but with this fleece I found a nice rhythm, sorting the usable wool from the too-dirty bits, the burr-encrusted bits, the funky stuff. When I was done, I had a box full of woolly locks ready for washing.
I spent Sunday and Monday mornings washing wool, pound by pound, in super hot water and Unicorn Power Scour. The hot water and Power Scour remove dirt and lanolin.
After the wool was dry, I used my flicker to flick open the matted tips into clouds of fluff. I carded the fluff into rolags, and I started spinning.
There’s much more flicking and carding and spinning to go, good work for these cold, dark days. When I’ve spun enough, I’ll ply a small sample and then knit a swatch to see what this yarn might be good for. I think it will be sturdy and strong.
My heart is warmed by these gifts, by the webs of connections and community that they represent. That cone of yarn comes to me by way of Karen and Lisa, from Hulda, in Iceland, whose mill was made possible by the hard work of Hulda and her family—and also by a global community of supporters. The raw fleece comes to me from Kristyn, who raises sheep here in Ohio and who sensed I wanted a fleece before I realized it myself.