Artisan Spotlight: Going Green with Brown Sheep
Jan 12th 2016
The American textile industry has a long history of boom and bust cycles since the first mills were set up along the waterways of the east coast in the early years of the industrial revolution.While most yarn, textile and clothing production has moved offshore, a small number of stubborn visionaries have dedicated themselves to ensuring a future for American-made yarn. One of the pioneers in this movement is the Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska, spinning wool yarns for weavers, knitters and crocheters since 1980.
The Brown Sheep mill was started by Harlan Brown, father of the current mill owner Peggy Jo Wells, on land in the north Platte River valley that had been farmed by his grandfather and father for over 100 years. Changing economic conditions in the 1970s led Harlan Brown to shift the focus of the family business from animal husbandry to the production of wool and yarn. By 1980, he had purchased used wool-processing and spinning equipment and set up the original Brown Sheep Company mill.
What began as an effort to make a living from the family land has been modernized to a state of the art eco-conscious yarn production facility. The used mechanical equipment has given way to automated digital spinners and winders, even as the fundamental process of introducing twist into wool to create yarn has remained unchanged for millennia. Robert Wells, Peggy Jo’s husband, brought his academic research acumen to Brown Sheep Company when they decided to join the company. Not only has the spinning equipment been upgraded, Robert has helped design a water reclamation system that allows the mill to capture and reuse up to 90% of the water used in the dyeing process. It’s an environmentally responsible approach to the land on which Brown Sheep Company sits, keeping the mill’s operations sustainable in the semi-arid climate of western Nebraska. What little wastewater is left goes into lined lagoons where sunlight, evaporation and microbial action breaks down the remaining dye molecules. The mill also harnesses the heat energy in the water generated by the production process, further reducing their carbon footprint. Robert believes that the mill is on a sustainable footing for years to come, and looks forward to advances in technology that will enhance that sustainability.
Robert & Peggy Wells
The wool in Brown Sheep Company’s yarns is sourced primarily from sheep ranches in Wyoming and Colorado and comes primarily from Corriedale, Rambouillet and Columbia breeds. Their 100% wool yarns range from the fingering weight Nature Spun to the super-bulky Burly Spun, and all their wool yarns are treated with Ecolan CEA, a non-insectide chemical added in the dyebaths to make the wool unattractive to wool moth larvae. Brown Sheep Company’s mill employs a worsted-spun process, meaning that all carding, drafting and spinning processes aim to bring the fibers into parallel alignment, creating smooth and strong yarns for weavers and knitters alike.
Skeins of Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted Yarn
Brown Sheep Company’s palette of colorways is breathtaking. Their flagship yarn Nature Spun, which the Woolery carries in fingering and sport weights, is dyed in every colorway across every yarn weight for endless creative possibilities. Lanaloft is the newest member of the Brown Sheep family. Available in sport and worsted weights, it is 100% American grown and made. Another popular yarn is Lamb’s Pride, Brown Sheep’s blend of 85% wool and 15% mohair. The fiber blend absorbs dye richly and the mohair content gives just a touch of shimmer and halo. Last but not least, Wildfoote Luxury Sock yarn adds 25% nylon to the wool content for sturdy footwear that can stand up to repeated washing and wearing. The Woolery stocks Lanaloft worsted and sport and Nature Spun sport and fingering on cones to meet the needs of weavers. Lamb’s Pride Worsted, Nature Spun Sport and Wildfoote Luxury Sock come in skeins for handknitters and crocheters (though these yarns can also be used for weaving projects if you so choose!).
Brown Sheep Nature Spun Yarn on Cones
It’s important to us to bring our customers fiber products that represent our values as makers. The yarns of Brown Sheep Company meet our desire to offer you primarily natural fibers produced using environmentally sustainable methods from American raw materials, and the wide range of colors, texture and the yarns’ quality delight us as crafters as well!
All the Best,
Wave, Perri and the entire Woolery Team