I’m really excited to share with you a new feature I plan to have alongside every pattern. In the hopes of connecting you more with the yarn we spend so much of our time knitting with, I will dedicate a post to the yarn used, the company who produces it, and sometimes the face of the farmer behind the wool!
Stepping Stitches, which I revisited this week, uses three skeins of Elsawool’s Woolen-Spun 100% Cormo wool yarn. This 2ply yarn is bouncy and elastic, and left in it’s natural colour it has the incredible rustic heatherd look of the fleece. But no scratchy farm wool here – Cormo wool is incredibly soft, and this yarn is divine! It’s so warm and buttery, you want to bury your cheeky right in it.
Above images all © Elsawool www.wool-clothing.com
Just spending a few moments on Elsawool’s website you can tell that there is a lot of pride in their work. Elsawool provides high quality 100% Cormo products, from yarn, to sweaters, shawls and socks, and it is evident that incredible care and attention to detail is taken every step of the way. Even the yarn label goes above and beyond to explain how to properly care for your finished knit.
So here is the fun part, rather than me blab on about how much I love this yarn, I asked Elsa, who kindly agreed, to answer a few questions about her work, her wool and her lifestyle…
Annie : Firstly can you tell us a little about Elsawool, what it does and why it exists?
Elsa : Elsawool came into existence for several reasons. First, I saw a need for good quality yet affordable wool clothing. Second, my life and my livelihood always have revolved around animals. I grew up on a farm, always kept a lot of animals, managed a pet farm, and worked as a veterinary nurse. Third, I’ve been involved with crafts all my life. All these factors converged in 1983, and I began keeping fiber animals, and having their fleeces made into yarns and knitted clothing and other products.
So why Cormo sheep? You don’t have to have a skein of 100% Cormo wool in your hands long to fall head over heals for it, but what makes it so special?
The Cormo breed was developed in Tasmania from Corriedale rams and superfine Merino ewes (Cor-mo). The superfine ewes contributed fineness and density to the wool, and the Corriedale rams added softness. Cormo wool is as fine as average merino wool, and it’s exceptionally soft. When I met my first Cormos and buried my hands into their fleeces I was surprised at how different from other fine wools the Cormo wool felt. After that, I never considered being involved with any other breed of sheep.
I love the light, bouncy feel of the woolen-spun yarn I used for this scarf, but you also offer a worsted-spun yarn. What is the difference between the two?
In the woolen spinning system, all the wool fibers (long and short) are carded and spun without putting the fibers in close alignment with each other. This system creates an airy, lofty, warm, absorbent, and cozy-feeling yarn.
In the worsted spinning system, the wool is carded, combed, drafted, and spun. Combing removes the short fibers and leaves only the longer fibers. Drafting aligns the fibers, making them parallel to each other and tightly packed together. These processes result in dense, smooth, and strong yarns.
My worsted yarns are more expensive than my woolen yarns — because extra steps are required to make the yarns, and because only about 2/3 of the wool is used, and the other 1/3 is made into products of little monetary value.
All your yarn and fiber products are left in it’s natural color, and I love that. How hard is it for the mill to maintain the colours, or does it come down to when you sort and grade fleeces?…
The shades of gray are created at the mill by blending white wool with black and gray wools. Because the fleeces vary in color and shade from year to year, we’re not able to predict the exact color and shade we’ll get from each blend of white and dark wool. But we’re able to get very close to the shade we want.
Have you ever thought of dying your yarn?
I don’t plan on dyeing any of my yarn. I leave that to others. Several dyers buy yarns from me, dye them, and sell the dyed yarns.
I understand you also buy from a flock from Montana but how many sheep do you run? How many times a year do you shear?
Fine wool sheep are shorn once a year.
I used to run 200 – 300 or more sheep. Shortly after I bought the first Cormos, I saw health problems in some of them. Later I learned that they had come to me with OPP, which is an incurable and fatal virus. After trying unsuccessfully for 7 years to eradicate this disease from my flock, I gave up. I stopped breeding the sheep and let each ewe live until she had to be put down. Now my beloved Cormos are no more. I’ve been buying Cormo wool from a family in Montana. These people were among the first to import Cormos to the US, and they produce very good wool. My hope is to start a new flock some day.
How far do the fleeces travel to be spun into yarn?
My wool travels first from Colorado and Montana to a scouring mill in Texas, where it is washed. Some of the washed wool goes to Wisconsin and is spun into woolen yarns, and some goes to New England to be spun into worsted yarns. After that, some of the yarns are sent to other states and are knitted into clothing.
Where can we find your yarn?
You can find my yarns and clothing at www.wool-clothing.com, and also at the Wool Festival at Taos on the first full week-end of October.
What is a day in the life of Elsa?
Until recently my days were spent mostly outdoors — caring for the sheep and goats and guard dogs, tending the land, and building and maintaining barns, fences, roads, etc.. Without the sheep, most of my days are now focused on designing, making, and selling Cormo wool products.