I’m not sure I’ve ever really written about this, but I’ve spent considerable time in the wine world. Between living where we lived (including a few years right in Napa) and having a cousin who’s a small-batch winemaker, we’ve spent a significant amount of time in vineyards and cellars, literally working harvest many years and drinking the fruits of our labor, among other things. So I find myself pretty routinely drawing comparisons, in my mind, between yarn and wine. I’m oversimplifying here to keep this brief, but in wine you basically have a continuum that ranges from stuff like Charles Shaw (aka “Two Buck Chuck”) — a dude who buys up everyone else’s leftover juice and dumps it together in a tank — to “single-vineyard wines.” In between are brands that buy specific quantities of known fruit from known growers, winemakers that contract with growers to grow fruit to their exacting specifications, and wineries that grow their own fruit on their own property. With Estate and single-vineyard wines, you know exactly who grew it on what exact plot of land. (Plus there’s all the blending of varietals and whatnot.) There are equivalents for all of that in yarn, which starts with farmers all around the globe selling their fleece to be graded, sorted, blended and resold for assorted purposes — from mattress stuffing to yarn for hand-knitters. The big yarn brands buy fiber through brokers. One might not care at all about breed or origin, only that it meets a certain micron count (the way fiber is graded for softness); another might be specifically looking for merino or alpaca or whatever, in addition to the grade. Then you have yarns such as, for instance, Brooklyn Tweed, where they can tell you not only that the fleece comes from Targee-Columbia sheep but that those sheep live in Johnson County, Wyoming. Or Woolfolk, which is built around a specific Patagonian merino. And so on. My very favorite yarns are undyed (sheep colored) and minimally processed (sheep scented/textured), but the ultimate are what I call “single-flock yarns,” and I was lucky to bring two of them home from my trip to Tolt.
If you happened to read the article I wrote about Tolt for Knitscene, you already know about Snoqualmie Valley Yarn. Anna approached some neighboring farmers who raise BFL–Clun Forest sheep, and together they produced 400 skeins of rustic, undyed, bouncy yarn — “farm to needle” — three of which are now mine. My friend Lori asked Anna for other local yarns, and when Anna walked up to us with an armload of options, I grabbed one of them right out from under Lori’s nose. (Sorry!! Geez, I’m such an asshole sometimes.) As you can see from the handwritten label, it’s 200 yards of “Longwool Lamb” from Abundant Earth Fiber on Whidbey Island. It’s soft and fluffy and one of my favorite sheep colors, that nearly-black brown. Some other lucky person had made off with the rest of it before I got there, so this one precious skein is all I have. But what treasures.
The one other place I was dying to visit while I was in Seattle was Drygoods Design, which did not disappoint, and the one thing I was hoping they would have is the freshly minted Linden Sweatshirt pattern from Grainline Studio (love that Jen Beeman), which they did. So those are my know-your-source souvenirs from a thoroughly lovely trip.