The Big Announcement

by Susan on November 20, 2012

It all started with a sweater, as these things often do.

I bought this sweater 20 years ago at a farmers market in Washington D.C. and I wear it nearly every day in the winter. I wear it to feed the sheep and work around the farm, or when I’m running errands. It’s almost like a coat for me.

When I first bought it, it wasn’t particularly soft but it has softened up a bit over the years. Most remarkably, it hasn’t pilled the way sweaters knit from softer yarns are apt to.

Last year, I brought that sweater with me when I did my yarn shop book tour, and, in nearly every yarn shop I wore it into, a customer would come up to me and say, “I want to make a sweater like that! Where can I find that yarn?” I would explain that most shops don’t carrying hard-wearing Aran weights and why, and all the knitters within earshot would protest loudly that they would absolutely buy that kind of yarn if shops sold it. Then the shop owner would point out that they had carried that kind of yarn and it never sold.

It was like being in Groundhog Day. It happened in every store I wore that sweater to.

The fact is, most knitters judge a yarn by it’s softness, not by it’s hard-wearingness. I admit I am guilty of this too. Don’t believe me? Hang out in a yarn shop for a couple of hours. Everyone who walks in will pick up a yarn they are considering and rub it on their neck to see if it’s scratchy.

The problem with this is that every garment isn’t suited to a buttery soft yarn. There are some yarns that will pill if you stare at them too hard, let alone lean against the back of a chair. The key is to select the right yarn for your project, and for a sweater like the one I’m wearing above, you need a sturdy, aran yarn. And if you live in the United States, good luck finding one.

My dear friend and sheep shearer Emily Chamelin and I lamenting this sorry state of affairs a few months ago around my dining table when we decided to do something about it. Why not start an education campaign to show knitters the value of the traditional hardy yarns?

And, while we were at it, we could have the yarn of our dreams milled to our own specifications!

And, to help the project get some legs, we could ask a couple of famous-famous designers to collaborate with us on sweater patterns to match the yarns!

And we could put the patterns in a book that documented the entire process of making the yarn, from Emily’s shearing the sheep through the milling process!

And Emily could buy the fleeces from the people she shears for!

And, since we are both women in jobs that are traditionally reserved for men, we should do something awesome with the profits that would encourage women to become shepherds and shearers!

As you can see, things very got a little out of hand. But we are shepherds, so we were able to round all and sort our ideas up fairly quickly. We did a lot of research. We had hours-long conversations with mills about process and timing. We decided to reach out to two of the most important and respected designers and ask them to collaborate with us on this project. We assumed they would both say no. They both said yes. We screamed and danced around the kitchen and asked each other if we were crazy for taking on such an enormous project.

And then we decided that we had to do this because it was too important not to do it.

 

 

Today, I am over the moon to present to you, The Shepherd and The Shearer, a collaborative knitting project.

For the details, and how you can join us, you’ll have to come back and read Part Two this afternoon. The Shepherd is out of caffeine…

 

{ 47 comments }

1 Amy P. November 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

Susan, I squealled with joy just now!!! How exciting of a journey you continue to be on! I so admire you and so many more will too because of this new adventure! Congrats!

2 summer star November 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

Squeeeee! :-)

3 Sarah November 20, 2012 at 11:31 am

Awesome! I love you.

4 rona November 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

a true knitting rock star legend story continues…
so cool (and warm) at the very same time!
i love it. you always inspire me and make me smile.
congratulations!!! new ventures, treasures and intrigue mixed with education and new open doors. xoxoxo right on/knit on. mhm.

5 Jan (Jcoop on ravelry) November 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

Whoohoo! Sounds great! Can’t wait to hear more!

6 hope November 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

You are always up to something awesome. Can’t wait to read part 2. Love the graphic btw.

7 Amber (HowdyPandowdy) November 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!! I am so so so excited, ESPECIALLY because I am wearing my own eerily similar sweater right now, as I do every day this time of year!

8 Carla November 20, 2012 at 11:41 am

One of the most exciting things I’ve read in a long time! I’ve had a sweater like you describe and there’s nothing more warm or comforting. I can’t wait to dig into one of these projects! If it’s a Susan Gibbs collaboration I know it will be wonderful!!

9 Karin November 20, 2012 at 11:41 am

Your desire to find answers (and share them) is truly inspiring. Looking forward to part 2.

10 Jenny Depa-Karl November 20, 2012 at 11:46 am

Wheeee!!! I couldn’t be more excited about your project and collaboration and to support more women in-the-traditional-man-field!

11 Kristin Mccurry November 20, 2012 at 11:47 am

knitting a Hikers Waistcoat vest in aran Border Leicester right now. Can’t wait to see your new baby!

12 Lyn (coppertoptoo) November 20, 2012 at 11:54 am

WOW!!!! What a FANTABULOUS idea!! Here’s to taking your dream and making it happen! Good for you! I’m ridiculously excited to read part two!!

13 Diana November 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

I love hard-wearing sweaters! Can’t wait to hear about more details.

14 Mary (grandmatutu) November 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

I love this more than you can know! It’s totally me! C.a.n.n.o.t. Wait!

15 Carol Seitz November 20, 2012 at 11:57 am

About time that attention was given to something other than softness where yarn is concerned! Good for you! I so look forward to following the development–and buying your new yarn. Thanks so much—

16 Shelley Noble November 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

An awesome development, Susan. You’re really giving meaning and substance to the world in every sense. Hooray and yay for all your ideas.

We all could use such sturdy, practical warmth right now, if you know what I mean.

17 Sarah November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

This is SO exciting! I can’t wait to hear more. I’m loving this concept!

18 Carole Pivarnik November 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm

You are a terrible tease–and this from me who is not even a knitter! But I have a box full of yarn that I love to take out and…well…fondle. So that makes me an honorary yarn person, right?

I love that photo at the top of this blog post. It so authentically speaks to the country way of life we both enjoy. Rock on, Susan! Can’t wait to read Part 2…

19 Anna November 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Can’t wait to hear the plan!! This would be a sweater that would finally replace my hardwearing sweatshirts in the Winter!

20 Shele Vail November 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

OMG! What a fabulous idea! Can’t wait!!!!!!

21 Dianne@sheepdreams November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Finally, a voice of reason concerning yarn. Softness is nice, but it’s not always the best choice and those of us who raise sheep can’t (and don’t want to) all raise Merinos (though their fleeces are lovely). Wool is a wonder fiber and there’s a sheep breed just right for every type of yarn. I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with!

22 Sarah V. November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I’m almost speechless. This so extremely cool, so right in line with where my interests in wool are going these days (breed-specific wool yarns instead of just “wool”, using different kinds of wools in the ways best suited to their characteristics instead of having everything be the same, reviving historical design traditions…)

Susan and Emily, you are the coolest, and this idea has so much potential – it is just crazy good :D

23 Alicia November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I just had a knitting weekend with some girlfriends, and this is exactly what we were talking about! I LOVE the “scratchy,” hearty wool yarns – they are the first ones I gravitate to in any yarn store. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the details!

24 babs707 November 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm

So excited for you and for us–thank you for pointing things out and explaining them, because as a consumer-only, I had never thought about yarn wearability, other than that I’d love for something I worked so hard on to last that long.

25 Koni November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I am so overjoyed for you!!

26 Tracy Wells November 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Wow! Is your middle name “Energizer Bunny”? You seem to have so much energy for so many wonderful projects. Amazing. I can’t wait to find out more about this one!!

27 Shirra November 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I’m imagining wool like they used to sell at my favorite wool mill in Wales. I can’t wait! You are amazing!

28 Kristine in VA November 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Awesome! I keep hitting ‘refresh’ for Part II.

29 DebbiRYarn November 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm

You really hit a chord with me. Years ago… like back in the Dark Ages, Bernat made a yarn called BlarneySpun. It was a worsted spun, Aran-weight yarn with the lanolin left in. It shed rain. It was warm. It was sturdy. It was lovely. It was discontinued. I cried. I knit a couple of sweaters from it, one for my brother and one that started out as mine and became my husband’s. I… well, I don’t know what I’d do if something like that was available again. As it is, if I want a yarn like that I have to 1) get a fleece that’s unscoured, 2) comb it, 3) spin it, 4) ply it. I can do all that, but geez. Count me in on this project!

30 Maggi November 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm

You. Are. Amazing.
XXO

31 Marla November 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I remember examining this sweater at shepherding camp last year. I have been on a quest to find the right yarn to make one for myself ever since. No luck. I decided to try and spin it myself.

Very excited for part 2!

32 Dawn Richardson November 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

VERY VERY VERY COOL!!!!!!!

33 Leslie from California November 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm

boy was I wrong! but I don’t mind being wrong at all, especially if it means getting some hardy yarn!

34 Kathy Oliver November 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Lovely project. I always appreciate a hard working wool. And so glad you are working on it with Emily as there is no better sheeple I know. It is great having her as my shearer for not only is she so good at what she does, but knows sheep and fleeces. I love picking her brain. Some pics of her in action from yesterday on my blog. I look forward to seeing your progress on your idea.
Kat

35 StephCat November 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Congrats!!!!

36 JacobsReward November 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm

My Shepherd Heart wells up with joy! What an indomitable team – Susie and Emily! WOW. On the edge of my seat…

37 Mary November 20, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I’m very excited to see this newest book!! I have your whole collection!! You are an amazing human!

38 jamie November 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm

man oh man I await for part 2! This is so….. very exciting! Cannot wait!!

39 Lauria November 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I was JUST talking to my director about her hearty sweater that needs a small repair. I told her to go to a LYS and ask the owner to help her find a matching yarn and the owner scoffed at the rough yarn. And I was telling her about YOUR sweater and why she scoffed – because knitters look for soft yarn.

40 Nancy November 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

Is your dog an Akbash?

41 Nancy November 21, 2012 at 9:58 am

After exploring your wonderful site/blog I discovered your info on your dogs. Thanks for posting that and sharing. We presently have a Akbash mix with a Weimaraner (interesting) she came from a ranch in eastern Montana. All I can think is the ranch had a bird dog and Akbashes enough said. She is a very interesting animal and now I have become even more interested in this working breed.

Your site is wonderful and I am glad I found this gem you call home!

42 jeannette November 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

this is thrilling, i blogged it and facebooked it today, apropos kate’s post. so happy to find your blog. charlottesville is my idea of heaven. spin on!

43 Lolly November 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm

That’s a wonderful photo! We had a Great Pyrenees several years back and they are special dogs. The project sounds fun!

44 Lolly November 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Well, pardon me, please. I just read the ‘Dog” page and found out that your dogs are not Pyrenees, but Maremmas. Learn something every day! It’s tempting to become a shepherd just as an excuse to have the dogs!

45 Susan November 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm

No worries, Lolly! Maremmas are the Italian cousins of Pyrs and they are hard to tell apart. My big dog, Cini, looks particularly Pyr-like.

46 Deborah November 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

I love that you addressed the issue of hard-wearing versus buttery soft yarns. I have two sweaters made out of Rowan Scottish Tweed (discontinued). Harrisville makes nice yarn in lovely colors, but you are correct–it is difficult to find such yarn in the States.
Looking forward to the progress of the project!!! Kate Davies blog, Needled, led me to your blog. Sweet puppy dog, btw!

47 sUSAN November 22, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Well, I for one am ‘over the Moon’, no pun intended!! I am also very excited about this project, about bloody time!! I knit an Aran jumper out of hand spun Jacob’s, not your softest wool!!, for my brother-in-law 25 years ago and he wore it under a jacket for skate sailing and eventually it sort of felted and it shrunk (he grew :) ) and my sister now wears it, like a coat, and invariably EVERY time she wears it someone Wants it. so funny because it is usually a young man. Good on all of you. I just spun some Cotswold that i am very pleased with but it is slightly ‘scratchy’ and am debating it’s use.
The above was what i posted on Kate Davies site and of course she led me to you!
I also just got a Pitcairn fleece from NZ and love it’s signature ‘coarseness’. :)
good luck with this wonderful project. Thank you.
Susan

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: