After visiting every yarn store in Portland, I finally discovered the only fiber sold in a yarn store that is grown (on the animal’s back) in Oregon and milled in the United States. It seemed crazy to me in my research that there are plenty of wool and alpaca producing farms in this state and yet none of the shops carried any if their fibers.
I was privileged to be able to meet with the woman who owns and works the Imperial Stock Ranch in Maupin Oregon, www.imperialyarn.com. We talked for a long time about the history of textiles, the importance of buying local (not only for her sake), and Beauty, one of her favorite lambs. She spoke of the energy transference of sunlight to the grass to the sheep to our finished objects. On her laptop, she carried photos of people sheering the Colombian sheep in the 100-year-old barn.
She obviously has a deep affection for the animals. She was even wearing a lambskin that she sewed into a vest and felted around the collar. I was told that the skin is the only part of the animal that they are unable to sell or use due to regulations. Thus, she has a huge pile, waiting for an outlet.
Jeanne told me the history of the ranch. Since the first homesteaders, the women have depended on animals to create goods for sale enabling them to raise money for the ranch. Today, Jeanne finds herself avidly promoting her sustainably produced fiber by seeking out designers, pattern translators, and knitters to transform fibers into runway quality garments.
The road to producing heritage yarns has not been easy. Jeanne had to research mills, consult several color/dye experts and establish relationships with various designers. For several years, she experimented with many different dyes, including natural vegetable and plant dyes. When that avenue did not produce consistent results, she decided to try another non-toxic option. There are no harsh chemicals or high heat used during any part of the custom-milled process.
Jeanne has also commissioned local weavers to make yardage. In one sample, she showed me pencil roving being used as weft. For my vest I decided to go with the 2ply mule spun because it mimics the quality of hand spun.
Jeanne understands what sustainability really means, and I cannot help but think its because she lives on 30,000 acres of preserved land. Even the meat is organic and grass feed. Her livelihood directly depends on the natural world and so the cycle is more apparent to her than maybe perhaps those living in urban areas. She considers all aspects of sustainability from proper stewardship of the land, supporting the local community with jobs, to promoting American made goods.
I was pleased to see that her website that she educates her reader on the meaning of sustainability.
What I learned from talking with Jeanne is that tradition is a beautiful thing, especially if it upholds its purpose in current society. The tradition of caring for the integrity of a fiber’s source and production is related to one’s connection to the Earth and community.