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.