Welcome to the SheepSaver Project. The story I am setting out to tell here is a tale of exploration, creation, and making. It has a beginning and middle, but the end is still a work in progress.
As I hope will become apparent, this is a story that is deeply personal to me for a couple of reasons. First, as a long-time knitter, my discovery of the magic of the many colors of undyed yarn was transformative as I thought about my work. Second, while I never met the woman at the center of this story, she was the mother of a dear friend and was, for many years, co-owner of one of most popular yarn shops in my area.
Finally, this is a story that, I fear, will be lost if I don’t try to tell it. Knitters in 2020 can take for granted that there is a wide range of naturally colored wools. But as this story shows, there was time, not so long ago, when that was not the case.
One version of this story starts in 1997 with , “…a journey to further and strengthen the value of coloured fleece” . This journey was a partnership between Jamieson & Smith and Yarns International (now closed), a yarn shop in Bethesda Maryland owned by Betty Lindsay and Bonnie Hassler.
But, as often is the case, this journey started with another one, a trip that Betty Lindsay and her family took to Shetland in 1997 that included a visit to Jamieson & Smith. The story, as told by Oliver Henry began when:
Betty Lindsay… visited J&S and was saddened when we told her that the coloured wool had little to no value. Betty vowed to do something and true to her word we set up the totally dye free range which was named Shetland 2000. (Jamieson & Smith blog, July 4, 2015).
Shetland 2000 was later taken back under the J&S label and renamed Shetland Supreme. From the original five colors to now nine, it is a wool yarn loved by many and that is part of the long history of Shetland wool. In future posts I will share more about how this happened, including the amazing patterns that were created to support the yarn.
In her partnership to create a market for wool that, at that point, had no apparent value, Betty was later referred to as a “sheep saver”. The SheepSaver Project sets out to tell this story through the records of Yarns International, interviews with some of the people involved, exploration of the patterns developed to support the yarn. There will also be some knitting, as I set out to knit one of those patterns. I don’t know where this journey or all the stories that may emerge, but I hope you will join me.