This week a few friends and I played hooky and took a tour of Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska. None of us had toured a big operation before. It was impressive. The wool (all from sheep in neighboring states) is washed, cleaned, and carded in a mill in South Carolina, then sent to Nebraska to be blended, spun, dyed, and wound into perfect balls or skeins.

Our tour guide, Donna, took us through the mill where we got to see each step of the process. For privacy reasons, cameras are not allowed in the mill so you’ll have to believe me when I say that the machines are big and noisy, but impressive in their speed and efficiency. I can’t remember how much yarn is produced in a day, but it looked like about twenty 5-pound skeins were processed at a time at each station. Something like 500 pounds of yarn can be vat-dyed at a time — they were dyeing a nice dark red the day we were there. The all-around best selling color is black (go figure), followed by white, cream, and gray. We didn’t think to ask what was the most popular dyed color.

You probably know that dyeing takes a lot of water. After a couple of years of research, the company has installed a state-of-the-art water filtration system. They are able to remove the dye particulates from a dyebath, then store the hot water to use again for the next bath, even if it’s a different color.

The final stage of production is attaching the ball bands. This is probably what impressed me the most about the operation. After all those perfectly calibrated machines and processes, a person examines each ball or skein is individually examined before putting on the ball band. Except for the Lamb’s Pride bands (which are secured with a machine), each band is manually taped around the ball. When we questioned this labor-intensive process, Donna told us that it was the best way to ensure quality. If there is a knot or if the ball looks less than perfect in any way, it goes into the “seconds” pile.

And where do those “seconds” go? The mill has it’s own yarn shop where they are sold by the pound at a significantly reduced price. You or I wouldn’t be able to tell what’s “wrong” with these skeins, but Donna says that’s because they work so hard to maintain the highest quality possible. In addition to balls that have visible knots, you can also buy yarns where the dye is a little off. So, we loaded up. That’s Donna at the counter and packing our yarn in bags.

The annual Estes Park Wool Market was last weekend. Normally, it’s deathly hot during this weekend, which typically coincides with Father’s Day. This year, it was cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and rainy (rivers are close to flood stage). Except for four very drippy yaks in a mud-soaked pen, I didn’t see any livestock outside. The food vendors, however, were trying to stay warm and dry under large tents. I bought a delicious crepe with blue cheese, spinach, and walnuts that I covered with a couple of napkins until I could find cover.
But I digress.
The real reason I went was to pick out the perfect spindle, now that I’ve caught the spinning bug. I made a beeline to the Magpie Woodworks both where I’d been informed that I’d find the finest spindles ever made. In addition to spindles, they offer handcrafted niddy-noddies, nostepide,  sewing needle holders, bowls, and other things I couldn’t identify. I chose a perfectly balanced top-whorl spindle made of cherry. It spins forever without a single wobble.
Once I had the spindle, I asked the esteemed Maggie Casey (who happened to be at the Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins booth—she’s co-owner, doncha know) to point out appropriate fiber for a newbie like me. I picked up 4 ounces of handdyed superwash merino from Bonkers Handmade Originals (definitely a pair of socks), 2 ounces of a silk/camel blend from Skaska Designs (a lace scarf once I learn to spin thin enough), and 2 ounces of Australian Bond Sheep from Gleason’s Fine Woolies, which I spun before I thought to take a photo. This is destined to be a pair of fingerless mitts. Now I’m kicking myself for not getting one of the magpie hand-carved bowls to use as a backdrop for it all.

Of the many essays in Knitting Green, Touching the Sun Through Fiber is the most meditative. It is written by Carmen S. Hall, a dear personal friend and sometime spiritual mentor. Carmen doesn’t have her own blog, so I’ve invited her to share her thoughts on how she “touches the sun” through knitting.
Here’s Carmen:
My family and I just finished driving from Colorado to Cape Cod. I, of course, brought along a knitting project to pass some of the hours, but this project was not planned with my usual attention to detail . . . and it didn’t take long for me to realize that this lack of attention was precisely what enabled me to have a sun-touching knitting experience.  
Normally, I spend a lot of time selecting the fiber with which to knit. I then spend a lot of time selecting just the right shade. Then, I agonize over selection of just the right pattern. Finally, I studiously analyze the gauge swatch to make sure the needles are exactly the right size. At last, I’m ready to cast on.
My recent travel project involved none of this prep work. In fact, yarn and pattern were selected rather blindly. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to travel to Taos, New Mexico, you may have met Martie Moreno, owner of the Taos Sunflower, which has morphed into the Taos Sunflower Too on Etsy. If not, you can get to know Martie through her blog at I could write several pages on Martie’s humanity and explosive creativity—simply knowing that her footprints are set on this planet at the same time as mine gives me deep comfort. Recently, Marty posted about some of her handspun: “I don’t know how to begin to tell you about this skein. It was my passion for an entire week. I have approximately 28 hours spinning and plying time invested in it, and my goal was to try to spin something close to a lace weight, just for the fun of it.” With that introduction, I honestly didn’t care what the yarn looked like—I knew it would be full of seriously good juju and I bought it on impulse. 
A week later, I happened to be celebrating a dear friend’s 50th birthday along with a group of amazing friends (including Ann Budd). We visited a local yarn shop together and were having one of those rare and wonderful times possible only amongst true friends and confidantes. At the shop, I saw a pattern for a    lace shawl (called Traveling Woman and designed by Liz Abinante and available at and without so much as a close examination, I paid the copy costs and put it in my bag. Then, with only a cursory gauge swatch, I started knitting the described pattern with Martie’s yarn. 

I immediately understood that I was creating something special—I was touching Martie’s spirit at the same time as I was surrounded by women who mean so much to me. It was a powerful sense of time shared with people who bless my life and, I realized, I was knitting this very experience! No doubt, this shawl is destined to be one of my favorite projects…ever. I’m glad it’s still on the needles and, like a favorite book, I’ll be sad to see it come to a close. However, I rest easy in the knowledge that I can touch a beautiful spinner and deeply treasured friends and can wrap myself in this kind of warmth and goodness whenever needed. Yes, I am touching the sun.  –Carmen S. Hall is sponsoring a 10-Day Blog Tour of Knitting Green, which will include stops with many of the book essayists and contributors. The timing couldn’t be better.

A couple of days ago, my sister called to rave about Knitting Green. The idea for Knitting Green came about when she visited and we mused about what my next book might be. Initially, we focused on the projects–things like shopping bags to replace paper or plastic bags; kitchen cloths to replace paper towels; and of course, sweaters, shawls, socks, and scarves to replace turning up the heat. But as the book took shape, I wanted to include something about the ecological dilemmas surrounding the yarn itself, similar to the issues brought up in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which Michael Pollan investigates the carbon footprint of four very different meals.

Although she leaned to knit before I did, my sister didn’t take to it in the same way and I’ll wager she hasn’t picked up needles for a couple of decades. But I was interested to hear that even as a non-knitter, she found the book interesting and informative. Besides pointing out her favorite projects (ones that I suspect she hopes I’ll knit for her), she was most enthusiastic about the articles. Like a lot of people, she hadn’t given much thought to the “greenness” of knitting other than the idea that it was more ecologically sound to make something yourself than buy it a big box store. Before reading Clara Parkes’ essay The Gray of Green, she hadn’t considered that yarn itself has a carbon footprint, which can vary greatly depending on how the fiber was raised, processed, and distributed. I don’t think she’ll ever look at bamboo fiber the same, and she’ll certainly expect me to know the origin of the yarn in anything I knit her from now on. She found Pam Allen’s essay The Meaning of Organic equally enlightening. With so many regulatory hoops to jump through, it’s no wonder organic yarns cost a bit more. And she felt that Kristen Nicholas’s article Ode to Sheep is essential reading for anyone who gets lamb (or any other meat) wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.

I encourage you to digest the other educational articles in Knitting Green as well. In Darlene Hayes’s article It’s All About the Color, you’ll learn about the joys and pitfalls of natural dyes. A Shop Owner’s Dilemma by Lisa R. Myers offers insight to the practical limitations of running an environmentally conscious shop and explains how you can help your local yarn shop grow in a green direction.

For lighter reading, Sandi Wiseheart considers the difficulties inherent in eco-friendly knitting in It’s Not Easy Knitting Green; Carmen S. Hall offers a meditative look at how natural fibers connect her to past generations of knitters and bring her closer to inner peace in Touching the Sun Through Fiber; former earth-mother Kristeen Griffin-Grimes muses about the days before electricity and there was no time to knit for fun in Knitting Stone-Age Style; and Amy R. Singer suggests ways to use leftover yarn in earth-friendly ways in Too Much of a Good Thing?

For more ecological food for thought, I invite you to join the Knitting Green Blog Tour (sponsored by, where you’ll hear from many of the book’s essayists and contributing designers in the days to come. Click on their names and visit them on the dates below:
June 6: Kristeen Griffin-Grimes (Knitting Stone-Age Style, page 109; Caterina Wrap, page 110)
June 7: Kristen TenDyke (Soap Nut Vessels, page 22)
June 8: Mags Kandis (Paris Recycled, page 142)
June 9: Cecily Glowik MacDonald (Solstice Skirt, page 18)
June 10: Veronik Avery (All-(North) American Hoodie, page 50)
June 11: Kimberly Hansen (Knitting enthusiast and reviewer)
June 12: Sandi Wiseheart (It’s Not Easy Knitting Green, page 67)
June 13: Carmen Hall (Touching the Sun through Fiber, page 89; Carmen doesn’t have her own blog so you’ll visit her via Ann Budd)
June 14: Katie Himmelberg (Eco Vest, page 14; Better Baby Rattle, page 56)

What you’re about to read is a true story, and like a fairy tale, it has a happy ending.

Last September, while on my annual retreat to Taos and Santa Fe with some of my best knitting buddies, I bought some Marianne Isager yarn to make the Sugar jacket from Marianne’s recent book, Classic Knits. In fact, four of us bought the same yarn (but in different colors) to make the same sweater. I bought extra yarn so I could extend the body beyond my thickening mid-section. We called it the Sugar Jacket Challenge. I lovingly placed the yarn in my to-get-to-next basket while I caught up with other work.

As luck would have it, I got busy and still hadn’t started at the end of October. But as in all fairy tales, fate interfered. In November, I attended Clara Parkes’s Knitter’s Review Retreat in western Massachusetts. One of the requirements was that we each bring a new project to start for ourselves on the last day of the retreat. I resisted the urge to take a pair of socks that were under a deadline and instead, I packed the Isager pattern and yarn in my carry-on bag.

Come Sunday morning, Clara gathered us for some concluding words. Because it was Massachusetts—and therefore because she could—Clara surprised us by conducting a group ceremony to join each of us to our new project in blissful matrimony. We repeated words of commitment and vowed to remain true to our projects to their completion, giving them our dutiful attention and forsaking all other projects (within reason) along the way. Then to seal the union, we cast on our stitches and had “witnesses” (read that anyone else in the room) knit a few stitches of recognition and confirmation.

Despite the hilarity of the situation, I found that this gave the Sugar jacket special significance to me. Not only did I buy the yarn with my closest friends, but I started the project in the most wonderful of environments—a weekend retreat with new-found best friends. I can’t remember everyone who knitted a few stitches on the body of my jacket(I wish I had kept notes), but they included Clara herself, Kathryn Alexander, Melanie Falick, and Anne Hanson.

When I returned home, I continued to give the Sugar jacket as much attention as I could. And I finished just in time to wear it while teaching at Midwest Masters in Neenah, Wisconsin in April. Since then, I’ve worn the sweater most every cool day (and there have been a lot of them this spring). I don’t know when I’ve been so pleased with a garment. If fact, I expect we’ll be happy together for a very long time (though now that I see a photo of it on me, I suspect the sweater will start looking for a more flattering partner).

The weather finally warmed up weekend and I decided that my dirty windows were interfering with my view of the sunlight on the flowering trees. So, I spent yesterday washing windows—all 24 of them—inside and out (each with 2 panes, I might add), as well as screens. I have the aching muscles to prove it.

While washing windows may not be notable (unless you’re like my sister who has never washed the windows in her house of 30 years—I’m not making this up, either), I made a startling discovery when I moved various piles and baskets of yarn and projects in order to get to the windows. I unearthed an embarrassing number of knitting bags and baskets.

I counted 17 knitting bags and 5 notions bags. When I sat down to unload the digital photo onto my computer, I realized that there were 3 more bags under my desk! Then I realized that I hadn’t included the handmade bag a friend made that I left in the living room. That’s a lot of bags. I certainly don’t need all these bags, but when I looked at them critically to decide which to donate to charity, I found myself loath to part with any one—each holds memories of a project or an event or a shop that I visited.
And here’s the best surprise—I found a half-knitted sock (along with yarn and needles) in one of the bags. I estimate that the sock has been in this state for two or three years, which brings me to a philosophical question—when does a work-in-progress, otherwise know as a WIP, become an unfinished object (UFO)?

Shortly after I posted a blog about learning to spin (New Tricks, posted April 2, 2010), I got an email from a reader named Anne in Reading, Pennsylvania. Anne complemented me on my spinning and asked how I went about starting my blog—she’s considering starting one of her own. Of course I replied, but I had to be honest and say that it was all mumbo jumbo to me without the help of a couple of very smart (read that computer-savvy) friends. I could never have figured it out by myself and I was not at all clever enough to help someone else. In response, Anne thanked me for my sparse information. Then she sent me a box of fiber treats to encourage me to keep spinning—five different kinds of prepared fleece, a pile of silk hankies, a dyeing kit, some beads, and even a twisted glass pendant that Anne made herself!

What Anne doesn’t know is that last week I had to return the wheel and spindle that I had on loan during the 5-week spinning class. What she also doesn’t know is that my husband said quite clearly that he hoped I would not take up spinning because, from his perspective, I can’t keep up with everything else and something important like the laundry or cooking dinner would slip. And he’s got a point—there have been many times when both have suffered as I was absorbed in my knitting, writing, editing, or reading. We both know that I don’t have time to knit all the yarn that I already have (but that’s beside the point).

But, now that I have unspun fleece in the house—and a gift no less—I feel a moral obligation to spin it. I figure that through Anne, the universe is telling me not to give up on spinning. Thank you Anne! The Estes Park Wool Festival is in a couple of weeks and I’m sure that there will be a spindle with my name on it.

Ever since the box arrived, I’ve been humming a line from a song Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music—“somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

I had planned to write about my handspinning endeavors today, but look what was out my window when I woke up. It’s May 12 for heaven’s sake! I fear that we’ve gone straight from early spring to fall and I’ll never have a chance to complain about the heat.

I’ll take this opportunity to show off my handspun anyway. My 5-week class is over and I’ve produced some yarn that I might actually knit with. The white yarn is from the fleece that we washed, carded, and spun. I’m not sure I can bear to take this yarn out of the skeins (I’m so proud!). The purple yarn is from some prepared fleece that I bought at the yarn store (what a treat to circumvent the whole washing and carding process). This may become a shawl. The beautiful mud-colored yarns are singles that I spun then dyed in a variety of natural dyes—walnut hulls, cutch, onion skins, and cochineal. I plan to keep these as reference because I really do love the colors.

Will I continue to spin? My husband thinks I’m nuts (he points out that I don’t have time to knit the yarn that I already have—but since when has that been an excuse?), but I think it’s likely that I’ll spend more time at a wheel or with a spindle. I just can’t get over how clever I feel when I make yarn out of a pile of fluff. The proof will be when I actually knit with the stuff. If it feels better than store-bought, I’m a goner.

I imagine that at least some of you know that sick hollow feeling that comes from planning a party that nobody attends. I have to admit that I’m having similar feelings now that it’s been a week since I announced that Becky McKnight is the winner of the drawing for Knitting Green and she hasn’t contacted me with her mailing address. Imagine the explanations that I’ve come up with—Becky really doesn’t want the book; Becky is on an extended cruise to some remote south sea islands; Becky passed out in a fit of delight when she learned that she won the drawing and no amount of wool fumes can revive her; Becky lost interest in reading my blog; etc., etc.

If any of you dear readers knows Miss Becky, please, please beg her to respond to me at so that I can stop imagining the worst. Her copy of Knitting Green is all packed up but has nowhere to go.

I received more than 150 green tips in response to my April 22 post! You can read 118 of them in the comments to the April 22 post; the remainder were sent directly to me at my website. I’m impressed with the varied ideas and hope to put some of them in action. Thank you all!

This morning I wrote all of the names on slips of paper, put them in a bowl, and drew a name.
The winner of a free copy of Knitting Green is Becky McKnight.

Becky’s tip:
I like to think being “Green” is being self reliant. Stay home to eat dinner because it saves on gas in the car and make something with the things you grow in your own garden! Which is much healthier for you and great for the environment because you grew it hopefully all organically and saved gas money from going to the store to keep picking up fruits and vegies!

Congratulations Becky. To claim your book, email me at and let me know where to send the book and how you’d like it inscribed (or not).

In the meantime, I’m going to spread my coffee grounds on the garden.