For so many reasons, Clara Parkes is someone I really admire. From her expertise in fiber, knitting, & spinning, to her very accessible voice in her writing, to the way she is always honest & positive in her reviews, she is someone whose opinion I trust and whose writing I just really enjoy reading. When I got an email advertising her The Great White Bale project last December, I was instantly on-board. Billed as a “once-in-a-lifetime yarn adventure… [to] discover what it takes to make yarn in America,” it hit at the heart of something important to me: the elusive American wool & yarn.
Rewind about 6 or 7 years ago — on a family vacation to Colorado we went a bit out of our way on the drive out to visit the Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska. I had read that they have a mill store where you could purchase their yarns, including their mill seconds. A true farm store, I was like a kid in a candy store there. I bought primarily seconds which at the time were sold by weight. While it’s true these ‘seconds’ had imperfections, they were still great quality. I walked out once with essentially what could be compared to a large garbage bag full of yarn. I sat down in the car, looked at my receipt, and looked at my husband. He nodded knowingly and I got back out, walked back to the store, and bought another couple pounds of yarn. I didn’t regret it.
While I don’t believe that Brown Sheep uses domestic wool and I certainly don’t discriminate against wool manufactured in other regions of the world, there is something special about working with materials that are made on my home soil. Whether it is the dying, spinning, or growing of wool, I think because here in America so little — especially in the textile industry — is actually made here anymore, the crafter & artisan in me craves any materials that have been processed, touched the hands of those who live here. Part of the draw for me is that place is important. As you can certainly tell through my posts, the land that I stand on and visit and care for matters to me & shapes who and what I am. Part of me wants to support and thus help preserve the history & legacy of this industry in this land lest it be lost entirely. Companies such as Brooklyn Tweed and Quince & Co have started to sell their US grown & milled yarns in more locations, but the consistent word to those of us who aren’t located near the mills is that it is expensive to produce in the US & wholesaling to shops is difficult. Unless you are a lucky few who has access to a shop that has won the jackpot & stocks these yarns, if you want to knit with it you must order online without personal contact, without seeing or touching the yarn. It sounds silly because it shouldn’t matter, but for some of us that connection is important. It could be worse, it could not exist at all. This exclusivity, however, sparked many questions in my mind. What does it really take to wash & manufacture wool in this country?
Enter The Great White Bale. While I couldn’t afford the $300+ to become a full member that receives the yarns made from the bale, I still felt I could learn a lot and wanted to support the project so I signed up as an Armchair Traveler. For a small fee, I am able to read the updates – the story of this bale of wool. From as its origins in a flock of sheep in New York through each process along its way to becoming a four different kinds of yarns. I also was promised a tote bag & a bit the scoured wool. Oh, and first dibs on any yarn leftovers (which I don’t really expect to get my hands on). It seemed like a good deal to me — almost like taking a class, but I can read each installment at my own leisure.
Let me say that it has not been a disappointment. In fact, it has been even better than I imagined. I have enjoyed every minute of this journey and am learning so much. As with so much of what Clara Parkes does, her understanding is thorough and she has a gift for not just writing the story but framing it in history. I am not just learning about this one bale of wool, I am gaining an understanding of what the textile industry used to be like in the US, what the challenges are in the process today, and — of course — it’s all delivered with the humor of a fiberholic and the in the voice of someone who just clearly really cares for the craft & the wool.
I know this has been a lot of words, but I wanted to share with you today because earlier this week I received my tote bag & my little bag of wool. It seemed too special to not share with you. I am one little piece of this journey & these are my souvenirs. I am so happy I am taking part!
While the full membership complete with yarns is sold out, you can still sign up to be an Armchair Traveler if you want to follow this story. Simply click here & you can purchase your membership via PayPal. Gift subscriptions are available, too.
Happy Reading, Happy Knitting!