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…