This is the fifth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled, taking place on October 20, 2023, in person in Saugerties, NY, and online. Tickets are available and selling fast!
I’m excited to welcome Mitchell Wool Co back to Indie Untangled! This year, along with selling yarn from sheep raised on their farm and dyed with plants they grow, they will be debuting the American Fiber project. The project started when Mitchell Wool Co purchased the fiber from a U.S. mill that was closing in order to keep it from being shipped overseas. Sherry of Mitchell Wool told me more about this effort and their plans for their second Indie Untangled show.
What first sparked the idea of the American Fiber line of yarn?
American Fiber was born of the many requests that we began to get when we would exhibit at fiber shows. Small farms with flocks of three, four and eight-to-10 sheep would ask us to buy their fiber because it was difficult to produce yarn in lower quantities and the wholesale cooperatives weren’t paying enough to even cover the cost of the shearing. We understand fully the true cost of raising animals using sustainable practices — our yarn is the lowest profit margin product that we sell. And in the back of our minds was the mantra that we got into this to impact the American wool industry. With the demand that we were seeing firsthand from smaller farms, we knew that we could bridge the gap. Farmers helping farmers to buy their fleeces at an equitable rate. Thus, American Fiber became the vehicle for us to make an impact beyond our own pastures.
For your first effort for the American Fiber line, you purchased an entire closed mill’s worth of fiber! What did that first project entail?
We learned of the mill auction just a few days before Christmas and had quick decisions to make. Were we ready to take such a big gamble? How does this work into our mission? Does it meet our financial goals as well? We didn’t have long, but chose to move forward and within a week we were poised to buy the bales of fiber. We did it to launch the inventory for our line, the Yarn Shop partnership line, but also to keep it in the USA. It made us sick to think of this beautiful American Wool getting shipped overseas. So we jumped off the deep end, and wound up with an entire semi-load of bales of fleece as well as some equipment that we needed. We were up and running.
How do you ensure the process is financially viable for everyone involved?
The mill was the starter supply, but our goal was to partner with small farms. We reached back out to the people who asked us to buy their fleeces, and we spread the word at each show we do. We pay a rate that still allows us to remain profitable and provide the fair wages to our on farm staff, but our rates are generally about double what the co-ops offer farms. They’re happy to be able to support their flock, and we can continue our efforts to produce truly farm to skein yarn.
How do you decide which farmers to work with and which fibers to use for American Fiber?
We are VERY picky who we work with. We choose breed-specific sheep that are a compliment to our own flock. Of course we want only the best quality fiber because we don’t want to impact our brand reputation. But fleece is only half the story: farms must use sustainable practices and meet our humane animal welfare standards. Anything that has the Mitchell Wool name on it will provide good practices for both flock and planet. Honestly, the majority of farms care deeply about both. We do farm visits to ensure that we’re comfortable partnering with a family before we proceed.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned while developing this yarn line?
Fleece is only as good as the shearer. Gorgeous fleece can be destroyed by second cuts — unfortunately we lost an entire harvest and neither the farm nor we caught that there were problems. But we’ve worked with them to find another provider and we’re looking forward to next year’s clip!
The other lesson is that we’re growing in a very controlled manner. It seems like we’re expanding so fast, and we are. But we’re holding back to ensure that our quality control is achievable. We look bigger than we are — everything except for washing/spinning is done on farm. Dyeing with plants exclusively takes triple the time it would with acid dyes. But that’s how we roll. Just like our partner farms, we are picky about the shops that carry our brand. We want welcoming inclusive havens for fiber enthusiasts of all sorts. How they work with people matters more to us than the bottom line.
Are there future plans for American Fiber that you can share?
We are in stage one of a roll-out plan for yarn shops — we’re adding our second round in December, so if you would like to add our line to your LYS please email [email protected] or complete the application on our website.
Will you have anything special for Indie Untangled?
We have several exciting collaborations! We have a cowl kit that is exclusive to us and Why Knot Fibers, designed by The Bean Knits. It is the United Cowl kit for $88
We have collaborated with (American-sourced ethical) Clean Cashmere and produced a yarn line labeled PASTURES UNITED that combines our 75% Cormo with their 25% Cashmere that is DELICIOUS!!
We have a fun Barbie-themed hat kit collaboration with Blue Bird Makery that is PINK AND FUN!
Of course we’re packed to the gills with our witty shirts. Two new designs included UNAPOLOGETIC YARN SNOB and YOU GOTTA BE KNITTING ME as well as all the favorites you know us for.