Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The fabulous picture of the sheep coming off the mountain where they've been all summer was taken by a cowgirl who wears spurs. I had never seen spurs on anyone before. They do make a wonderful noise when walking!

Meeting the two "wranglers" was so interesting because in our mechanized world we forget there are people that still do work like ride a horse to bring open range cows or sheep into a new pasture. Sheep apparently respond well to dogs, but the cows definitely need people on horseback to do the work. In the wide open spaces of Wyoming, getting around on horseback in the hills makes sense.

I'm so glad there are still animals raised on open range. All the wool at Mountain Meadow Wool comes from open range sheep.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It Does Make Sense!

Jill Says:
Valerie and Karen are to be admired in how they have researched and adopted such wonderful sustainable practices, and continue to look for ways to make their practices even better!

I got so caught up in the pictures of the sheep I forgot to even read the blog post earlier this week. One of the thrills for everyone who came to Buffalo with Y2Knit was meeting a real cowboy and cowgirl just returning from driving sheep. Picture a couple up on that ridge on horses. We'd seen lots of cowboy boots and big buckles in the saloon but it was cool to see someone in their broken in boots and gear (they were wearing spurs).

While I don't want to do any of that, I think it is wonderful that Karen and Valerie are part of making it possible for ranchers and cowboys to continue doing what they love.

The fact that they can make such a wonderful yarn while doing that is icing on our cake.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mountain Meadow Wool and Sustainability

When I read what Valerie shares about sustainability it reminds me of all the reasons (which she has listed) we like working with Mountain Meadow Wool and their yarn. I admire their actions and goals and want to support that kind of business. When Jill and I buy yarn we are interested in the carbon footprint, how the workers are treated and what factory conditions are like. Some yarn companies have a story and can tell it and many don't really know the story behind the yarn. I encourage all knitters to search for the story and make sure it resonates with you. This one will. It just makes sense!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



Sustainability is a catch phrase often tossed about these days among those of us interested in treating the earth well. But what exactly does it mean? For us it means that we are able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It is an attitude we hold in each decision we make – we call it eco-driven decision making. For example, when choosing the growers for our program, we were particularly interested in the members of the Mountain States Lamb Co-op . Many of our neighbors belong to this group and we were impressed with their commitment to their animals and their land. We have seen them in action first hand at lambing and shearing and in trailing down the mountain on horseback.

The mills commitment to sustainability doesn’t end there. We have identified five issues of sustainability

1. Global Carbon Footprint: Prior to our existence, all wool from Wyoming was shipped overseas for processing. We were surprised to find that transportation costs to China are so low. But think of those shipping containers that bring finished goods to your local Big Box Store. They return to China nearly empty so costs are low when the raw wool is shipped to these mega-industrial mills. No one knows for sure the impact those mills are having on the environment. A news article in the National Livestock Round-up news stated that China had restricted wool scouring (washing) two months prior to the Olympics and one month after. I’m sure this was done so that visitors were unaware of the impact this process is having on the earth. Its not enough to ask where the wool is from…you must find out where and how it is processed as well.

2. Water Conservation and Recycling. We currently have a 60% wastewater reuse system. Water is scarce in Wyoming and is a very valuable resource. We are applying for a Phase II grant from the USDA-SBIR program to build a proto-type system through which we hope to recover the nutrients (manure) and wool grease (lanolin) in the water. The soap we use to clean the wool is a citrus based cleanser and our spinning oil is a non-petroleum based anti-static oil. Harsh chemicals have no business next to our skin.
3. Energy Conservation: Our electric consumption is fairly low for a facility such as ours, but we wish to one day be completely self sufficient. We use a 90% efficient natural gas boiler for heating our water right now. But we have a huge roof and believe that we can reduce the need for the boiler by heating our water using a piping system on the roof. Heating in the winter would be another story!

4. Recycling and Waste Reduction: Our goal is to have zero waste to the landfill by 2013. We’ve established an in-house recycling center and are using wool scraps and our carder waste to create felted mats for industrial use (they are a great oil absorbent). We are down to a once per month garbage pick-up, which is impressive for our 12,500 square foot building. We are always looking for uses for our scrap material. With the addition of plenty of nitrogen, wool fiber waste can be composted. We will be mixing this scrap wool with the seeds, weeds, dirt and gumbo that comes off the dirty wool in order to make a marketable compost product. Also, we try to use re-cycled packaging whenever possible. We’ve found the availability of used cardboard boxes to be abundant. (But that can be tricky. We once shipped yarn to a customer in a Unicorn Books box. She didn’t realize it contained our yarn and called the alarm that it was lost. She discovered the hidden yarn just as we were shipping a replacement order!)

Being sustainable just means thoroughly thinking through (say that 3 x fast) our way of living. It means putting the needs of the whole group ahead of our own convenience and comfort. It really just makes sense.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Playing with yarn

Susan says: It was fun playing with the few yards of the different yarns. I already knew the attributes Jill had found in each one and how she saw each one best being used. Still, I was interested to try them and see if I had the same assessment.

I'm not as discriminating as many and have a hard time figuring out if I like A or B or C better, because I'm able to consider the attributes and virtues of both. This is true for wine, yarn, people, foods, etc. Yet, while all the yarn was great, it was clear which one I wanted to work with the most.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why this One?

Jill Says:

The yarn was found, and Karen was brought in on the secret. The next step was to try other blends. No matter how great something is, when it happens by accident it is hard to imagine that by putting some intention into it that you couldn't do better!

I didn’t get to play with the original mistake hank because Valerie needed it for reference. We all agreed the component fibers should remain the same. We talked about what we thought we could do with the yarn and Valerie and Karen soon ran three new hanks for me to try out on needles.

What fun to get the three sample hanks in the mail. Fortunately, I had the foresight to clip a piece of yarn and write down what the note on each hank said about the fiber blends. Each yarn was done so it had a different color blend which proved to be ingenious as we went further down the road and Valerie and I couldn’t always find the notes we’d written at the moment we needed the info. Why does important information get written on random scraps of paper?

So I was a bit like Goldilocks. Three hanks and each had it’s own attributes. Hank 1 was the original. It was mid-tone, it knitted up beautifully into a soft, drapey fabric. Hank 2 was dark, it also knitted up beautifully, was soft, and the fabric it made had lots of body. Hank 3 was light, it too knitted up beautifully, was soft, and the fabric had lots of body and somehow felt much more casual and masculine.

This wasn’t about the “better” yarn--soft, drapey, body, casual were all factors, but mostly it came down to what we wanted the yarn to do. I scanned my swatches so everyone could see them and when we next saw each other, we all felt the swatches and made our choice.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How "Shtuff" Happens

Valerie Says:

So...if you were to take a close look at a piece of your yarn, you would see that it is made up of two, three or even more single strands of yarn. Each strand is spun seperately and begins its life as a single. These singles can be made in a variety of sizes and colors. The spool of the single is then taken to our plyer machine where it is twisted "plyed" together. Sometimes, though, we don't get the exact amount of yarn on all three spools and so there will be a little bit left over. Its not a big deal if the yarn is our Lilura. It is a fawn brown and so easy to see. So rather than empty the spool, we will sometimes just leave that little bit on there, knowing that we will be able to see when we've gotten to the end of the spool.

One day, our #1 cowgirl spinner Chele came to me and said..."Lookee what I just made!" She had two Lilura singles and one soft grey plied together. Because I am such a creative soul I just blinked my eyes at her and mumbled something like.."Swell" or "Neat-o" or something profound like that. We were, afterall, trying to get things tidy for our fancy visitors from both coasts. I shoved the bobbin to the side and chased after another dust bunny in the craft room.

So there it sat until it caught Jill's eye!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Yarn is . . . Found!

Jill Says:
If you have never owned your own fiber-related business, you might be surprised at the all the hats we wear in order to make this fuzzy stuff an important part of your lives. Susan and I have been at it for about 10 years (doesn't seem possible! Our mother was right--the days may be long, but years are short) and consider ourselves incredibly lucky to be able to do things we love and that this work has brought us so many wonderful fiber-friends.

Susan and I went to Wyoming in May of 2010 for a "pre-enactment" for our Y2Knit Buffalo Event to take place there in September. [A pre-enactment is when we go and scope everything out so we can present the special Events Y2knit puts on. Susan lives in an area where people do Civil War Re-enactment--so our trips are like planning out how the battle will go!) Prior to that trip in May, we reconnected with Karen and Valerie at TNNA in Long Beach. We made arrangements to go out to dinner with them, where I showed them samples of things I'd knitted with their yarn and we got to know each other a bit. Susan and I felt a great deal of affinity for both Valerie and Karen and they were fun, enthusiastic, and we loved their story and their yarn.

Back to Buffalo. Susan and I met Karen and Valerie for lunch (you know it was at the Sagewood Cafe!) then they took us to the Mill. Nothing is quite as exciting as going to a Mill for anyone who works with yarn, fiber or fabric, so we were pretty excited! We're getting the tour (pre-actual mill) and Karen goes to put water on for tea and I spot this pretty soft gray heather skein of yarn on the table in the Shop. Okay, I'm surrounded by yarn in the shop so what made me even look at the worktable? Probably the same thing that always makes me spy the most expensive piece in a shop! But my hand went out for it, and I called Susan to look. When I asked Valerie what it was she said "oh, that's a mistake. I haven't even shown it to Karen. I might not show it to Karen." Or something like that. And I said, "Oh no, you must make this yarn!" And Karen came in and found out about the mistake.

And no, that's not the yarn!

Basque Connections

Susan says:
I share the same history as Jill in terms of being introduced to the Basque culture as a child. As I read and learn more about the Basque culture now, I love the way they are connected to the earth. There's a respect for nature that has ancient roots.

I recently watched the video, "The Last Link" about some Wyoming Basque. that went to France where they have many cousins in the Pyrennes region where the Basque are found. I was so struck by the way they live and their respect for nature. It's so grounding and seems like if people have that, then they tend to live peacefully and take care of the land and it's inhabitants.

I loved seeing (in the video) how they make all this cheese. The French government has supported and worked with the people to revive and grow this art as part of an economic development plan. I don't know if they are doing this in Wyoming. That's another project, "A Cheese is Born"!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Basque Envy

Jill Says:
I share your Basque envy. Mine comes from exposure to a couple of Basque things when I was a child. We grew up with a book called Tales of a Basque Grandmother (like Grimm's) and although I've not looked at it in years, I recall it as a fairly thick book. I think Mom must have read it to us and for unknown reasons, she treasured the book. I recall reading it on my own as well. The second was that when we would visit our grandmother in San Francisco we always ate at the Basque Hotel in North Beach. Looking back, I'm sure it was chosen for the quantity and price of the food offered and that it was a great place to take kids. It seemed very special and it was always lively. I ended up having a very strong feeling for the Basques, although it is not rooted in anything other than those childhood exposures. On a particular route doing my errands I now drive by the alley that the Basque Hotel was on. The sign remains, but I can't imagine that the restaurant still serves family-style meals anymore.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Basques in Wyoming

I have Basque jealousy. Or more like…Basque envy. I’ve admired the Basque story and the immigrants for years. Perhaps it is my own Polish Mountaineer heritage that resonates because a recent DNA search ties my Dad’s haplogroup to this culture. What ever its origin, I’ve long admired their fierce independence, strong family networks, great food and a sense of balance in their hard work and relaxed play.

The following link is a great short video produced by the Wyoming Arts Council on the Basques in our area:

The Basque region is located on the Iberian Peninsula…sharing land currently held by Spain and France. It is believed that they are some of the first people to appear in Europe perhaps having originated in Egypt tens of thousands of years earlier. Perhaps you have heard of the cave pictures in Spain that are the oldest graffiti in the world? It is believed to have been produced by the Basque. Their culture produced a unique mathematical system based on the number 7. They were excellent seamen and some evidence exists that they landed on the East coast of the Americas 1000 years before Columbus. In fact, most of the sailors that went with Columbus on his voyage to the new world were Basque.
Young men from the region travelled to the United States to make their fortune beginning in the late 1800s. They would spend several years as herders facing isolation and the elements in remote pastures of the American West. Once they had a bit of money saved and perhaps a small flock to begin with, they’d break out on their own, inviting more friends and family members to join them in the opportunities that the US provided. This group became heavily involved in the sheep industry and has probably done more than any other ethnic group to make it what it is today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another perspective . . .

Jill Says:
And my recollection is slightly different. I remember Karen coming up like she says, and Susan being enthusiastic because their posters were so pretty and she loves nature, and I'm thinking "WTF, I'm not going to Buffalo, WY!" So I asked to see their fiber. Because most lightly processed fiber is rough and I can't wear it, so it seemed a perfect out. Well the posters were pretty, but the fiber was luscious! Like any of us, common sense flies out the window when fabulous fiber is involved. And I liked the connection to the ranchers and their Basque heritage. So I said sure, we'd go to Buffalo.


Karen Says:
This is the story of the beginnings of a great pairing and it started with two young companies.
We (Karen and Valerie) are Mountain Meadow Wool, a very young company with beautiful, locally grown merino wool yarn. We are engaged in what few others are – processing beautiful fibers here in ranch-country, focusing on the natural aspects of the wool raising, and processing in order to make a wonderful product.

June 2009 was our first time at the TNNA tradeshow in Long Beach, CA. We had a small booth, stuck back in the boonies with other newbies so not much traffic and Valerie and I do not do well just sitting and waiting for things to happen….BORING….so we took turns wandering the floor, making connections with other companies we thought looked interesting. Well it was my turn and I had seen these two beautiful red-headed women walking around. When I found their booth and saw the beautiful patterns I went straight back to Val and said “hey this company puts on these knitting retreats - lets ask them to come to Buffalo – it can’t hurt to ask, I just know they would looove it” Val is great she doesn’t discourage creativity or craziness so she just said “Are you nuts!”. That said we both went over and just blurted “You guys need to come to Buffalo, Wyomin’ and have one of those knitting retreats” or something really profound and smart like that. Susan and Jill looked at us and smiled and then we left……the rest is history!

Y2Knit and MMW meet

Susan says:  
In June 2009, we were standing in the Y2Knit booth at TNNA when Karen (unknown to us at the time) came up to us and said something like, "Meredith from Fair Trade Knitters says you do the best retreats and we think Buffalo, WY would be a great place for a knitting retreat."  She went on to enumerate some of the highlights to Buffalo and gave us some lodging possibilities. Jill walked back to the Mountain Meadow Wool booth with Karen and checked out the yarn.  She was pleased and gave me the nod to checking further into this as a retreat location.

Back home a few days later, we checked out the Occidental Hotel and Paradise Guest Ranch on the web.  We began to see the possibilities:  not too difficult to get to, interesting history, shopping, places to eat, minimal transportation needed, and, of course, this new Mountain Meadow Wool Mill. Certainly that would be a draw!