Thursday, December 3, 2015

New Color Line-Up for Cotton and Serendipity

New color development is an ongoing process here at Brown Sheep. Our latest round of new colors are for our "spring and summer" yarns: Cotton Fleece, Cotton Fine (a blend of 80% cotton and 20% wool) and Serendipity Tweed (a newer line of yarn made with 60% cotton and 40% wool). Although I don't want to divulge any secrets, the process of selecting new shades was quite fascinating to me--basically, we try to predict which colors will be popular in the upcoming 1-2 years--something that has been extensively studied by people in the fashion industry. We try to include new colors that will appeal to women, men and children as well as coordinate nicely with the existing color palette. These colors will be available for local yarn shops to order beginning January 1:

Four new colors in Cotton Fleece and Cotton Fine: Lentil, Olive Burst, Bering Sea Blue, and Apricot Nectar
Garden Green in Serendipity Tweed

Also in Serendipity Tweed, Tuscan Olive and Heathered Plum
 Both Cotton Fleece and Serendipity Tweed knit as a DK weight or light worsted. They also go well together. One of our free downloadable patterns, the Jade Pullover, uses Serendipity tweed for the body and Cotton Fleece for the sleeves. Available here:

Although I didn't knit this sweater, I do get a lot of compliments when I wear it!
Cotton Fleece and Fine are excellent for weaving. One of my latest projects was creating a window valance with my favorite (bright!) colors of Cotton Fleece. The yarn is very strong and great for warping.
Woven fabric in Cotton Fleece

Finished window valance

Since I'm on show-and-tell mode, I have to share another itty bitty project in Cotton Fleece: these adorable baby mitts designed by Susan B. Anderson. These were a fun little gift and a very quick knit.
Baby Mitts
The pattern for the mitts is available for free:

Hopefully you feel inspired to make something with our Cotton blend yarns. . . the possibilities are endless! Look for our new colors at your LYS. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Have you discovered Nature Spun?

I've noticed that most Brown Sheep fans are all about Lamb's Pride. . . in fact, many knitters out there only think of Lamb's Pride when they think of Brown Sheep yarn! Don't get me wrong, I think Lamb's Pride is awesome but. . .  Nature Spun deserves more attention that it has been getting.
Nature Spun is a classic, 100% wool 3-ply yarn. The wool is U.S. grown and comes from the Front Range of Colorado and into Wyoming. All of our wool here is tested for fineness (micron count), and only the softest fibers go in to Nature Spun. Nature Spun is made in fingering, sport, worsted, and chunky weights in 80 different colors.
 Let me convey an experience I had trying to knit colorwork recently: I began the project using several colors of Superwash wool in sport weight. This was a stranded, Norwegian style hat for my husband and my first attempt at the project turned out to be too big. I decided to re-do the project with a new gauge: Nature Spun Fingering and smaller needles. Something unexpected happened on this go-around: my colorwork looked WAY better in Nature Spun! The stitches were so much more even and better defined. After some pondering I concluded that, of course, non-superwash wool is much better suited for intricate colorwork because the barbs in the wool fiber stick together better.
Here is my hat in Nature Spun Fingering, blocking. The first version of this hat ended up in Newfoundland.

So now as I progress further and further into fiber snobbishness, I realize that I much prefer knitting with natural wool fiber as opposed to superwash treated fiber. Not only do the stitches cling together better, the stiches are more forgiving if you happen to drop a stitch or make a mistake. Stitches actually stay in place rather than slipping undone, which is a major plus for a knitter who depends on being able to fix my mistakes as I go. This is especially helpful for lace or openwork styles of knitting.
There's certainly a time and place for knitting with Superwash--socks and kids come to mind. But for making an adult sweater or accessory-- Nature Spun is the way to go. Nature Spun has been making an appearance in many of the knitting magazines and publications lately.
Here is a project that is definitely on my queue. This pattern is called Polonaise by Ashwini Jambhekar.
This gorgeous sweater in Nature Spun worsted was inspired by Romantic era dresses

This comes from an online subscription-based magazine called Holla Knits! Check out their website and blog (featuring yarn giveaways!)

This site features fun patterns that are SO not frumpy! I'm having fun following this new site and I think you should check it out, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Story of Jimmy Beans Wool

Our latest yarn shop highlight is Jimmy Beans Wool. Chances are, you've probably heard of this store before as they've done a great job bridging the gap between traditional yarn shop and online sales.

Jimmy Beans Wool began in 2002 as a teensy little yarn shop in the mountain town of Truckee, CA. The owners, Laura (aka Jimmy) and Doug Zander were Silicon Valley expats looking for a change of pace (and good skiing)! when they moved to Truckee in 2001.  this time, Laura learned to knit and loved it... which is how she met Lorna - owner of a local hand-dyed yarn company (Lorna’s Laces) who she built a website for. Lorna encouraged Laura to follow her true passion (knitting!) and voila! Doug and Laura emptied their savings account and Jimmy Beans Wool was born!

Laura and Doug just after we moved to the warehouse, Laura and Huck, Laura in the new retail space before the renovation, and Laura and Doug Skiing

They took their business online the following year and soon they realized they were going to need more space (they had yarn coming out of their ears…and in their guest room)! In 2004 they opened a shop in Reno, NV about 30 minutes away, and the rest is history… the Truckee store closed a year later and the Reno shop and online business has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, and in 2011, they moved to an official warehouse space. Doug continues to be the technical backbone of JBW by managing all-things web related with a small team of experts that he has personally trained (both women & knitters!) Laura is our head business maven full of ideas and energy. Her entrepreneurial spirit drives us, and keeps us moving forward and growing. If you can’t tell, we have a lot of fun around here! 
The original Truckee shop, a guest room full of yarn, and the new warehouse and Reno shop

If you'd like to learn more about our team, you can read about them here:

We pretty much live and breathe fiber arts around here. Almost every one of our employees knits, crochets, weaves, or spins…or some combination of these. And if they don’t when they start working here, they quickly pick up something…it’s contagious! It’s in our blood! Most of us find it to be the most relaxing part of our day, and we get more energy just being around great yarns all of the time. Several of our staffers are up-and-coming designers, and being around yarn every day certainly helps to fuel that creativity. That’s really the key right there, for us, it’s how we express our creativity…and we love sharing knowledge and ideas with others so they can express theirs!

We’ve done a lot of little things over the years to make the shop experience unique and fun for people. For example, we used to have a big hot tub full of yarn in the back of our warehouse that people could get their photos taken in when they visit. We regularly let folks “shop the warehouse” and give warehouse tours when people visit us from out of town. We try to make it fun for them!


Some snapshots of the shop and the famous yarn hot tub

We really try to offer a lot of FREE learning opportunities to our local customers. We host 3x weekly free Walk-in Help Sessions (although anyone can come in any time for help) and we’ve grown quite a group of followers! We rarely have less than 8 or 10 people that show up for these sessions and many of them just come to chat and knit. We also have twice monthly knit nights and everyone puts $5 in a pool to win a gift card. It’s tons of fun. We also have special retail shop only “Flash Sales” that you must be physically in the shop to take advantage of. Being an online business, we try to be really cognizant of making our local customers who we have face to face relationships with, feel special. It would be really easy to lose sight of them, but they are our #1 priority!

Book signing event with Romi Hill

We’ve also started hosting retreats where we bring in some widely known designers and head for the nearby mountains for some awesome bonding, scenery, and learning. It’s a blast. Because our business has such a large online component, we get customers coming to these retreats from all over the world! It’s fun to meet our online customers in person and get to know them better!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fiber Arts Fair Recap

This year's Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair was a fun-filled success for the many families, friends, and animals that participated. As always, we had a great selection of interesting vendors at the marketplace and a  wide variety of fiber arts classes.

Participants, as well as vendors, came from our region and all over the country. Shoppers at the marketplace were able to revel in a delightful selection of colorful roving, yarns, and goods--everything from goat's milk soap to fish leather wallets.

One of the new highlights was the Sheep-to-Scarf competition. Three teams raced to prepare a fleece, spin yarn, and weave a finished scarf within the morning.  The teams were very interactive with the crowd, explaining the process as they worked. This demonstration helps children and people in the community bridge the gap between agriculture and textile production.

The hands-on demonstration booths were busy throughout the day giving people an opportunity to dip their toes into a new art.

A special performance was given by the Scottsbluff Sprouts, a group of five- and six-year old violinists. The crowd seemed to enjoy these adorable young musicians.

The fiber animals are my personal favorite part of the fair--the animal breeders must work with them for weeks beforehand to train the animals to walk calmly on a lead through the marketplace. Adults and children alike are delighted to pet and interact with the alpacas, yaks, sheep, goats, and rabbits.

This day is so filled to the brim with activities, it's impossible to capture all the excitement in just a few photos. To see the full album from the day, be sure to like our Facebook page, Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair.

Thanks to all who came to the fair as a vendor or participant--we hope you had a great time!



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Midwestern Knits

As we transition into a new season, there's suddenly an abundance of new patterns, colors, and trends. . . And with the weather getting cooler, knitters are gearing up for new projects.

We wanted to highlight a new book, Midwestern Knits, featuring a pattern in our Nature Spun Sport. I especially love the name of this garment: the Storm Cloud Tee. One of the best parts of living in Western Nebraska is being able to see the entire sky, all the time. I no longer need to check my weather app when I can scan the horizon to the west and see, from miles away, what kind of weather is approaching.

Earth and Sky by Nebraska photographer Michael Forsberg

All of the patterns in Midwestern Knits are sourced with yarn from the Midwest. When you live in a place where the weather could be 80 degrees and sunny one day, then snowing the next, wool is a necessity. This pattern is a versatile top that could be layered on a cool day or even worn on a warm summer day. There is just enough color work to keep the knitting interesting, without being too daunting.  I am loving the current trend toward knitting with lighter yarns-- Nature Spun Sport is the ideal weight to wear comfortably. If you're looking to start a new project--check out Midwestern Knits! Be sure to look up the Ravelry group-- and if you're an Instagram person, post your project pictures with #StormCloud.

Happy Fall Knitting!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wool, Warp, and Wheel

As we continue to highlight local yarn shops across the country, I can't help but wish to hop in the car and road trip to Richmond, Illinois. The folks at Wool, Warp, and Wheel have such a way with words--I'll let them tell you about their shop.

Tucked behind the old hotel on Mill Street in the little Village of Richmond, Illinois is one of the most unique shops in the town.  Bright yellow, with a white sheep hanging over the door, customers enter into a world of color, texture, and tactile delight.

Started in 2003, this little shop offers a different fiber experience.  First, our hours are not what you would typically expect.   We are open evening and weekends only-catering to the working fiber artists.  Hours are Tuesday thru Friday 7PM – 9PM, and Saturday and Sunday 10AM – 5 PM September thru April and 11AM-4PM May thru August.  (If you haven’t guessed, we also work day jobs.)

Every Sunday is “Open Workshop”, where the coffee is hot and the help is always free.  Our focus is on building a community of fiber artists, bringing together people who would otherwise never meet.  Their passion for fiber is the common thread that joins them.  We simply provide a place to meet and a supply of tools, fibers, and yarns.

We also offer classes-about 38 different classes each year.  Classes are taught in the evenings, and cover spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet, tatting, rug braiding and toothbrush rug construction, needle and wet felting, as well as project specific classes.

When a community is built, it’s remarkable how far it can extend.  Our former students have moved outward from Richmond, and now teach in places like Sweden and Antarctica.  Several have started small fiber related businesses of their own, from fiber farms to mills - some have even gone on to design schools and have worked for major textile manufacturers.

Our emphasis on building community creates and atmosphere of welcome, warmth, and relaxation.  Winters are spent in front of the shop woodstove working on projects.  The tea kettle is on, the coffee pot brewing, and there is usually a pot of soup on Sunday free for the taking. 

All of this would not be possible without a varied supply of tools and fibers.  We carry several lines of Brown Sheep yarn, and fibers from all over the world.  We even carry some locally grown and processed fibers for spinning.  Needles, crochet hooks, spinning wheels, and a full line of notions, are also available, as well as a limited supply of patterns and books.


Although we are a small shop in a small town, you can keep up with what’s going on by checking out our web site and subscribing to our newsletter, published on the web site.  Classes, events, and my thoughts are listed there each month.  It’s as close as you can come to experiencing the shop without stepping through the door. 

You can also visit us at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in Jefferson, Wisconsin and at the spring Fiber Fling in Woodstock, Illinois.  More information about these events can be found on our web site.  And, if you happen to be in the area, stop in.  We’ll have a rocking chair and a cup of coffee ready for you.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Rumpelstiltskin: Spotlight on a LYS

We at Brown Sheep feel that local yarn shops are the heart and soul of the fiber arts. We cannot begin to express how important local yarn shops are for delivering our yarn to customers, and for providing instruction, support, advice, and a sense of community to go along with it. Local yarn shops make sure the arts of knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, tatting (there are so many more!) will continue to grow and flourish rather than die out.
The front window--I love the yarn flowers
Although the internet is certainly changing the way customers purchase things, I think it's doing some really great things for the world of fiber arts such as giving people access to hundreds of new ideas, and the ability to connect with like-minded crafters across the world.
Today we would like to feature Rumpelstiltskin in beautiful Sacramento, California. This store is located on historic R street in downtown Sacramento--and has been in business at this location for 44 years!
The storefront--actually all of these businesses look wonderful!

Rumpelstiltskin is owned by Linda Urquhart, who studied design at UC Davis and opened the shop after graduating. Rumpelstiltskin offers a wide variety of classes including knitting (3 days a week), crochet, weaving, spinning, and felting. There are 6 knowledgeable staff members.

Linda says they've been a customer of Brown Sheep forever, and love our yarns! Oh, how I would love to visit this delightful shop in Sacramento someday.

Wall of hats

Once a year, Rumpelstiltskin has a sale day where the customers come in wearing something made with yarn from the shop.  They love seeing what amazing projects their customers have made.

Throughout their 44 years, I'm certain Rumpelstiltskin has made a valuable contribution to the surrounding community. Thanks for being ambassadors of warmth, color, and joy!

LYS owners, employees, or fans: help us use this wonderful tool called the internet to share photos, stories, and info about your LYS! Feel free to contact me at

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Prairie Hand Knits: Trunk Show Time

Prairie Hand Knits in North Platte, Nebraska has a special place in my heart. This is one of the first yarn shops I ever got to enjoy, in my very own hometown. Prairie Hand Knits has recently moved to a new location in North Platte and Vicki, the owner, has done an amazing job remodeling the building.  As yarn shops are few and far between in Western and Central Nebraska, Prairie Hand Knits draws in knitters and crocheters from all around the region.

This month, Prairie Hand Knits is displaying the trunk show for Green Gables Knits. This is basically a collection of finished projects from Joanna Johnson's wonderful book--all patterns inspired by Anne of Green Gables.  This collection of patterns speaks to the hearts of many knitters (kindred spirits) who have fallen in love with Anne Shirley, Gilbert Blythe, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and Diana Barry. I myself have knit Anne's Sweater from this book and I LOVE it; it's become a staple in my fall and winter wardrobe.

Anne's Sweater knit with Lanaloft Sport--If you're not a sweater veteran, this pattern is a great first sweater to knit.

Prairie Hand Knits has done a beautiful job of displaying the projects. Vicki has used antique trunks to show off the yarn and books. If you will be in North Platte this Saturday, stop in for an open house between 1:00 and 5:30. . . rumor is, there will be cookies. :)
A gorgeous display of Lanaloft, Shepherd's Shades, and Cotton Fine

Marilla's Apron and Miss Stacy's Shawl

This trunk show is available to any local yarn shop who would like to put the garments on display for one month. If you are a LYS owner interested in getting the trunk show, feel free to give us a call.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Taste of Weaving at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins

If you haven't been to Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado, then you need to experience it. This is probably the most extensive yarn shop I've ever been in.  I'm pretty much getting used to being around a huge amount of yarn without spazzing out--but this store has so many looms, spinning wheels, and books! A person could move in there and not get bored for months.
This weekend, my mom and I were immersed in a weekend weaving class taught by Judy at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins.  Even though we had already learned the basics of how to warp a loom, there was still a large amount of information to absorb from Judy. We wanted to know how to do the calculations correctly, how to read the pattern charts, how to set up our looms for more complex weaves, and how to fix mistakes! Judy planned this course to maximize our learning within a short period of time--we even had a homework assignment on Saturday night.
Judy, our fearless leader

The first day of class was a step-by-step on how to warp the loom, then weave a small sampler piece. Judy broke down the process into a bunch of small, manageable steps which she would first demonstrate, then let the students loose to complete on our own looms. Time went by very quickly during the class because we were constantly progressing to new and different things. We learned a few different methods of finishing a woven piece.
A few of our samplers from Day 1

Our mission for the second day of the class was to plan and finish an entire weaving project. We Nebraskans needed to bring our projects home at the end of the day so I made a sampler of "mug rugs", or coasters. This was a great way to practice reading simple charts, weaving several different patterns, and hemstitching multiple edges.
Twill in progress. . . I think 'twill be a nice project.

I couldn't help but marvel at Judy's teaching ability. I was actually reminded of watching my brother teach kayaking on a swift-current river. It really takes a lot of patience to cater to each person's needs and skill level, and remain upbeat and encouraging when things get messy or frustrating. Some students in the class chose more complex projects that they could come back and finish throughout the week.
Julia's cotton placemat piece

Marian working on her piece

Roger weaving away

This class was a wonderful experience--it was a great mother-daughter weekend, plus we now have the foundation needed to take off with weaving. There's nothing more invigorating than learning.
My mug rugs before and after felting

Mom's mug rugs and bookmark--made with Pearl Cotton