Wool is the best. It’s cozy when you want to be warm, it’s airy when you want to be cool, it’s a joy on the needles, it’s hypoallergenic, and it’s all natural and renewable. This list goes on but we’ll stop there for now.
Our core line of wool yarns is made from American wool known in the trade as “territory” wool. This wool comes from Merino, Rambouillet, and Columbia-based sheep that roam the ranges of Montana and Wyoming.
For Piper and Ibis, our soft and fuzzy (but not too fuzzy) wool/mohair blends, we source superfine merino from Texas ranches which make some of the softest fiber available in the world. Once called the “world capital of natural fiber” for both its wool and mohair output, Texas’s wool output has shrunk from over 80 million lbs in 1943 to under 8 million lbs in 2000. But the end of the Federal subsidies and price floor in the 1990s has encouraged farmers to concentrate more on quality than quantity. The results speak for themselves – soft, buoyant fiber that is perfect for pretty Piper and irresistible Ibis.
Alpaca fiber is smoother than wool, allowing thicker alpaca fiber to feel softer than similarly sized wool fiber, and giving alpaca a soft sheen. Spun on its own, however, alpaca yields either a weak yarn, or a highly twisted, dense, heavy yarn. By blending wool with alpaca in our Owl line, we get the best qualities of both fibers, elasticity and bounce from wool, a soft hand and halo from alpaca.
The commercial alpaca market in the US is in a nascent stage. When we first created Owl, we used American alpaca. It made a great yarn, and we were happy to help the growth of the industry here. When we went to make our second batch of Owl, however, we were unable to find enough American alpaca in the colors and quality we needed. So we went overseas to New Zealand where their industry is more advanced, and we could get the colors we needed. We are continuing to work with American suppliers to help them grow the industry to the point where it can be a reliable, consistent source for us.
Mohair fiber comes from the hair of Angora goats. Its luster and fuzziness make it a prized fiber for hand-knitters and fashion connoisseurs alike.
We source our mohair from Texas ranches that produce some of the finest mohair in the world and which are known as well for their fiber’s style (twist and ringlets) and character (crimp and waves). Mohair fiber with optimal style and character are the easiest to process and create the best, most consistent yarns. For Piper and Ibis we use super kid mohair, the soft, soft fiber from young kid goats.
The Texas mohair industry used to export 35 million tons of fiber annually. Today, mohair export is roughly one million tons annually, resulting in fewer ranches, and a wasteland of closed collection and processing facilities that used to employ hundreds of people. The vast majority of what remains of the Texas mohair crop goes to South Africa for processing. We like to think we’re “rescuing” a small piece of the crop when we send it to American processors.
Humans have used linen to make textiles for millennia, perhaps as far back as 30,000 years ago. And for good reason. Linen is very durable and comfortable to wear, especially after it has been broken in. It also has a subtle sheen that we love, and it is wonderfully airy in the spring and summer months.
Fine linen is not grown in commercial quantities in the US, so we went to the heart of historic linen production, Belgium, to find the finest quality GOTS-certified organic linen we could find. Flax, the plant from which linen is derived, is a hearty crop that generally needs few pesticides, little water, and little to no fertilizer. We chose organic fiber to ensure that there were no toxic chemicals used at any point, from growing to processing to dyeing, and that the workers along the way are treated fairly.
Cleaner Cotton™ – Willet (100%)
Grown by family farmers in California, Cleaner Cotton™ consists of long and extra-long staple, acala and pima cotton fibers. These luxurious fibers combine to make an incredibly smooth and soft yarn, with just a hint of sheen.
Though California is capable of growing some of the finest cotton in America, it is unfortunately not possible for most farmers there to grow organic cotton economically. Given the grave environmental problems with conventional cotton growing, but knowing that we wanted to work with the best fiber we could, we turned to the folks at the Sustainable Cotton Project, who produce Cleaner Cotton™. Cleaner Cotton™ growers take a pragmatic approach to farming responsibly, eliminating the most harmful chemicals used in conventional growing, and using integrated pest management practices whenever possible, all while using less water than organic methods. Read more about Cleaner Cotton™ here.
Silk – Tern (25%)
Tussah silk, made from wild and domesticated Antherea silkworkms, is the humane silk. Tussah silk is collected by boiling silkworm cocoons after the worm has taken wing and emptied its shell. Mulberry silk, on the other hand, is made by boiling the cocoons with the silkworm still inside. We are on the hunt for more traceable sources of silk, but for now we buy our silk on the commodity market. It generally comes from India and China.