Instead of an employee this month, I am introducing our Shaniko wool yarns and the genius behind Shaniko Wool Company(TM) – Jeanne Carver. Without Jeanne we wouldn’t have our perennial line of yarns — Rodanthe and Happy Valley.
Jeanne lives on a ranch in Oregon that has been in her family for generations. In the midst of the “wool capital of the world” she has lived the realities of large scale sheep ranching and absorbed the history of her forbears. She is passionate about the value of wool in our textile supply chain and the value to our earth of well-managed animal husbandry. And, because she’s a “big picture” kind of gal – she’s always known that she has to set an example. She sees “the environmental green” in managing our remaining wool industry. Her commitment shows in the formation of her latest venture – The Shaniko Wool Company(TM), evidenced in her interview below.
We love wool! We source quality fiber for the Mill House Yarn Shop from around the world, but our hearts are also invested in finding the best U.S. sources possible. Wool from Jeanne’s company comes from the Great Basin region of the West and family ranches that have been raising sheep and taking care of the land for generations. And now, they are part of a group that is carefully testing and documenting results that support the Responsible Wool Standard.
It was great to meet with Jeanne and learn more about her new company (interview below). But even more, it was exciting to find this product that proves that you can afford yarn and don’t have to forego a quality, ethical product because of price.
While we don’t know the actual names of each sheep that contributes their fiber to us, Jeanne Carver of Shaniko Wool Company(TM) has chosen each breeder, based on their location, their sheep breeding and wool quality, and how they manage, feed and care for their sheep.
From this select group of Western ranchers we get fine, consistent fiber (approximately 21 micron) that Meridian turns into beautiful yarns in multiple weights for hand-dyers. Generally considered as Merino sheep, (Rambouillet/Merino), these sheep are specifically selected and bred for not only a consistently fine, long staple wool, but for their ability to thrive on the open pasture in range conditions while giving back to the land as they eat their way through harmful flora – helping the land to thrive.
Our yarns from the Shaniko Wool Company fiber are: Rodanthe (regular) and Happy Valley (Superwash). Both yarn lines come in Bulky, Worsted, Sport and Fingering sizes. Offered in 100 gram skeins or on 1 kilo cones, all of these yarns are 3 ply with just enough twist to preserve the natural loft of the yarn while creating a strong, round yarn.
- Bulky: 567 yards per pound / 1143 meters per kilo (125 yards per 100 gram skein)
- Worsted: 1090 yards per pound / 2195 meters per kilo (240 yards per 100 gram skein)
- Sport: 1453 yards per pound / 2853 meters per kilo (312 yards per 100 gram skein)
- Fingering: 2043 yards per pound / 4115 meters per kilo (450 yards per 100 gram skein)
I asked Hannah how she named these yarns. I was overwhelmed by her answer so you get the whole thing.
“The foundation for our line starts and ends with wool. We knew we wanted to continue using domestic sheep and processors, but we wanted to dig a little deeper and be even more transparent. The desire to share and be open with our story brought us to the Shaniko Wool Company. Their collaboration of ranchers are the only ones in North America to be certified under the Responsible Wool Standard. They care not only for the welfare of the sheep but also for the land. This group of family ranchers have been trailblazers in leading the path back to sustainably farming the historic fiber of wool.
The foundation line of our company is our four weights of superwash and regular Shaniko wool in fingering, sport, worsted and buily. I named the superwash line after a place dear to me that is filled with warm memories, Happy Valley. It is where my mother’s side of the family was raised. If you had asked my grandmother, Ruth, she would have told you she lived in Yadkin Valley, but they are neighboring communities so none the less they lived in the valley. I will share more about her when we introduce one of our newest yarns also made with wool from the Shaniko Wool Company, Yadkin Valley.
Happy Valley is a place where neighbors go visiting daily, green beans are snapped, and folks sit on their porches watching the world go slowly by. The place is where your foundation is set, and you learn your morals. The pace of life is slow and not over complicated. It is an easy spot to fall in love with and a lucky few call it home.
We hope our line of Happy Valley and Rodanthe yarns are what you have been searching for. We want you to look at them and smile because you have finally found your home. Thank you for choosing our little mill and growing alongside us!”
Interview with Jeanne Carver
Could you tell us a bit about why you are so passionate about wool and it’s symbiotic connection to the environment?
Well to begin with, I love sheep! We live and work on the land, carrying on activities that have been going on a very long time. In January, our Imperial Stock Ranch, will begin its 150th year of raising sheep, cattle, grains and hay on the same landscape. But the conversion of plants by grazing animals, to meat and fiber that provides sustenance to humankind, has been going on for thousands of years. Sheep in particular, have played a uniquely important role in our collective history.
We’re all aware that there’s been a giant shift from an agrarian society to an urban one, and from local, regional and domestic yarn and textile production to global sourcing. In that growth and shift, we created a disconnect between the yarns (and other products) and their origins. We lost connection to the processes and diminished the importance of place, and the motivation for stewardship that connection to place inspires. People no longer knew where and how things were made. And in that loss, we gave up much more than anyone could have predicted.
It left us with anonymity, which is fertile ground for devaluing products, breeding distrust of companies who make and sell those products, and a sense of not feeling responsible for the care and nurturing of those places where products originate. We have been separated from the people, the processes and the impacts of our purchasing choices and industries in general. This has made a significant contribution to the degradation of natural resources, and increasingly, is connected to negative environmental and climate impacts.
I believe the greatest deliverable we provide as land and animal managers is not the harvests (food, clothing and shelter) that give us life, but the positive impacts on the whole ecosystem. Sheep biting plants stimulates those plants to grow, and during photosynthesis, plants pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their stems, leaves and roots. Well designed and managed grazing of our natural ecosystems, plays a vital role in the health of the land. It is imperative we reconnect and understand the significance of working landscapes, and support their ability to bring positive ecosystem benefits along with the harvests we depend on.
Since 1999, we have been connecting with partners in bringing traceable wool products, made in the USA, to customers. It is incredibly rewarding to be working with a partner like MSYG, who cares deeply about these issues and is a leader in the yarn industry, bringing a fully traceable and certified responsibly produced wool (RWS) to its customers. As ranchers, we are very proud to be working with MSYG.
What’s so different about your Shaniko Wool Company project and other organic or green efforts?
Many have focused on improving sustainability, but typically ecosystem impacts haven’t been measured. Our Carbon Initiative launched in 2020, will measure the net carbon budget and carbon sequestration totals of each ranch on an annual basis, as well as the aggregate impact of all ranches combined. Computer Models, Sampling, Data Analysis and Carbon Offset Values will be 3rd party verified. Our project will provide supportive evidence of the positive climate impacts of grazing sheep and harvesting wool, and support potential increases in revenue to the producer through the sale of carbon offsets.
I know that many of the ranchers that joined your project are running ranches that have been raising sheep for generations. How hard was it to convince them to join you?
I was really nervous in approaching other ranchers about the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certification. However, my experience since 1999, of taking our own wool through processing to product, and selling those products to brand and retail partners as well as direct to consumers, taught me many lessons. I believe this certification is an opportunity for us in many ways, gives confidence to consumers, reduces risk to us and to our supply chain partners like MSYG. It’s important to share the good work of farmers and ranchers, and provide evidence of good stewardship and animal husbandry. It’s important to help reconnect our urban neighbors to the sources of food and fiber, and the people and processes that bring it to them.
Being in a program like this does put extra demands on the rancher. I take away the two biggest ones for the producers in our group. I do the bulk of the paperwork to get them set up and pay all the audit fees; and then I purchase their wool at a premium and send it for scouring and hold the clean wool to sell to partners like Meridian.
Early on, I told a group of ranch families about the RWS and offered them the opportunity to join me. One gentleman, the patriarch of his operation, said, “Jeanne I’m tired. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m still working hard. My costs keep going up and my market prices don’t. I don’t want to work any harder.” Then he got quiet. I understood exactly what he was saying, and I didn’t blame him for how he felt. I thought I knew what was coming next. But he said, “When can we get started?” I was overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion. He believes this is the future too.
What would you say the biggest change the ranchers had to make to the way that they normally operate?
None of us have really changed the way we do things. But our documentation and record keeping has had to improve. We’ve moved from “pocket notebooks” which are descendants of the “tally book” from much earlier times, to spreadsheets on the computer. We do still use our pocket notebooks and daily calendars, but the information gets transferred into the spreadsheets for review by the auditors. We’ve also had to formalize some of our employee training. It’s actually been a really good review of how we communicate and manage our operations. It’s been somewhat of a challenge to get these guys who have done things for decades, as did their fathers and grandfathers, to give detailed explanations of how they do it. What they do is so automatic, and it’s hard for them to explain it. But we have captured their methods onto paper; and I think everyone who is part of this certified wool supply, is standing just a little bit taller and prouder.
I am so honored to work with these ranchers and tell their stories. They are doing an amazing work.
I know Jeanne could give us a Master class on her project but space considerations make that impossible. To find out more about the Shaniko Wool Company and the Responsible Wool Standard, take a look at these links:
Our free knitting project this month comes from Jill Wolcott of Jill Wolcott Knits. She has graciously offered us this miniature sized (1/4 scale) garment as a beautiful showcase for our Happy Valley or Rodanthe sport weight yarns and a preview of her multi-size pattern to be released early next year.
Catena Quarter-Scale Pullover
Knitting this small garment as a swatch or shop sample is a quick way to try out the yarn — AND have something to show for it when you are done. It will be a great show sample to help sell your hand-dyed yarns.
To get your free copy of this miniature, single-size version of the Catena Pullover, Click here to download the pdf from Jill’s website. While you are there, sign-up for Jill’s newsletter so you can be ready when Jill releases her multi-size version of this pattern in early 2021.
©2020 – This pattern is offered as a free pattern by Jill Wolcott and Jill Wolcott Knits
* Meridian Mill House Yarn Store, 40 Rex Avenue, Gastonia, NC 28054 *