Traveling fiber emergency

I've been insanely busy. I'm stealing time for this post.

While driving 3400 miles in August, I also knitted about 18 swatches (more on that later). I also had a traveling fiber emergency. It led, as such things do, to memorable experiences en route. In this case, those experiences involved almost no panic and several unexpected, pleasant interludes.

Just before I left on the trip, I finished writing an article that is scheduled to appear in the November/December 2011 issue of PieceWork magazine. The topic is four rare breeds of sheep. PieceWork's criterion for breeds to be included was that yarn had to be available for people to work with—not just fleece. My criterion—my reason for selecting these breeds and featuring them together—was that there had to be at least one pivotal moment in the breed's history when an individual, or small handful of people, made a crucial difference in its survival. Additionally, I wanted them to demonstrate a variety of types of wools.

The breeds that fitted all those requirements?

  • Leicester Longwool
  • Manx Loaghtan
  • Navajo Churro
  • American Tunis

As a bonus, I liked the symmetry of two "Old World" breeds (Leicester Longwool and Manx Loaghtan) and two "New World" breeds (Navajo Churro and American Tunis). I wrote the main text and consulted with PieceWork on where people could locate yarn. We chatted together about designers who could develop projects using the breeds' wool. Fun! I love collaborations.

I thought I was done with my part. (When have I thought that before?)

At approximately mile 1239.8 of my trip, I connected to the internet through one or another of the many wireless networks that kept me marginally up-to-date and found the following e-mail:

You noted before that you could provide photos of locks of clean fiber and perhaps small swatches of knitting. Are you still able to provide these images? . . .

If we can have any other photography—or swatches to shoot here, by 8/25, that would be fabulous. Our photoshoot is . . . on 8/26.

Those dates were soon enough after my intended return home that I needed to come up with solutions while traveling. I checked the hard drive of my laptop. I FOUND and sent photographs of:

  • Leicester Longwool locks: yes
  • Leicester Longwool swatch: NO
  • Manx Loaghtan locks: yes
  • Manx Loaghtan swatch: yes
  • Navajo Churro locks: yes
  • Navajo Churro swatch: NO, but I happened to have a ball of yarn with me
  • American Tunis locks: NO
  • American Tunis swatch: yes

I sent along the images that already existed. The American Tunis lock could be dealt with as soon as I got home. I could knit a Navajo Churro swatch during my trip, using the yarn in my portable project box.

The Leicester Longwool necessitated a creative solution, one that I could implement while transient. Leicester Longwools are, for the most part, found in the British Isles and the eastern United States, but . . . there might be a yarn shop in Oregon or Washington that might carry breed-specific yarns. . . . I knew it was a long shot.

But I'm part of an online group that has a disproportionate number of folks from the Pacific Northwest, and they're all into fiber. With my intermittent access to the internet, I sent out an SOS:

I'm traveling . . . and it turns out I need some Leicester Longwool. . . . I have a spindle with me, but it would be great if I could find spun yarn, because . . . well, it'll be faster, and for this audience, commercially spun is ideal.

I'm near Wenatchee, WA. . . . I'll be driving west on route 2 to Seattle. . . . Then south on I-5 . . . [to] southern OR . . . (not much time for straying from the path, although I'll need short breaks . . . I know that Woodland Woolworks is no longer available). Mid-next-week I'll be heading back east, possibly via . . . Crater Lake . . . then I-90 through Wyoming.

Anybody know of sources along this path? ONE SKEIN (or equivalent fiber) of Leicester Longwool will suffice.

Twenty minutes after my e-mail went out, one friend, Leila Wice, offered to forward the message to Portland-area spinners. Thirty-six minutes after my inquiry was sent, Janel Laidman responded with this:

I have some leicester longwool fiber in my stash and could spin you enough for a swatch in a pinch, however I also found this resource for commercial yarn . . . not far off the I-5.

If that doesn't work, I'm . . . also not far off the I-5 and would be happy to spin.  Let me know if either of these options helps…


Two and a half hours after Janel's e-mail arrived, I had arranged to meet a shepherd—one who breeds Leicester Longwools in the Pacific Northwest—at a freeway exit and get some yarn that she'd had millspun, my choice of singles or two-ply (BOTH). I said I might need some fleeces as well, if she had any that would suit my purposes. She did. (These fleeces are for a class I'll be teaching next spring.)


I stopped a little farther down the road to show Janel what she'd facilitated (two skeins and three fleeces).


The wool was so pretty that Janel took photos of it, too.


And I knitted swatches on my way east (although not while driving, so progress was slow but steady).



Soon after I got home, I opened my e-mail to find this message from PieceWork:

I hope you’ve returned from your travels safely and that you had a great time.

I’m following up with you about the possible lock and swatch that we still need a photo of—either your photo or the items themselves for our photoshoot Friday in Ft. Collins. Did anyone respond to your [appeal] for yarn?

My response:

Funny you should ask! I got the second new swatch finished last night, and those two missing ones (Leicester Longwool and Navajo Churro) got washed/blocked last night. I checked them this morning to see if they were dry, and they're close enough to be photographed this afternoon. I'll also pull the American Tunis and get a lock photo–plus I was thinking I'd set up a single photo with all four breeds' locks in it, to give you an alternative.

So I did.

Thanks, Janel!


I suspect that Janel may still be smiling about all this. I definitely am!


17 thoughts on “Traveling fiber emergency”

  1. Plusses were meeting the shepherd, who is wonderful, and having a break that involved a visit and cup of tea with Janel, instead of my usual quick leg-stretching walk around a highway rest area. She had Jacob fleece freshly clean and drying on her new rack, and berries gathered from along the bike path.

  2. What a hilarious and wonderful story! What’s the online group that you belong to? I’m in the Seattle area, and would love to join! I want to know all the fiber peeps I can around here! 🙂

  3. Sara, the Seattle area is a fantastic place to be a fiber person. I got seriously hooked on weaving there, and on spinning when I lived in Port Townsend. Keep trying groups until you find the one(s) that feel like "home." I have friends who are in knitting circles at bookshops, and that's been a good place for them to start. 

    The specific group that I put out the appeal to is a group of textile-book writers who are also into independent publishing. They're called the Visionaries, and we've just started doing some collaborative work out in the world. It's a group worth writing a textile book and learning about independent publication to be part of–! General information is at and, for anyone interested in getting involved, the "how to apply" info is at (deadline for the 2012 newcomers' submissions is very soon; it often takes a while to develop an idea and prepare the application).

  4. Wow, Deborah, thank you for the info! Oddly, I have a book idea that I am currently working on! That sounds like an amazing group. Yes, we’re very lucky here in the Seattle area. All kinds of fiber, fiber events, yarn shops and perfect wool weather 9 months out of the year! In my suburb alone, there are 6 or 7 alpaca farms and a few sheep farms. Pretty much perfect. 🙂

  5. Well, Sara, definitely keep the Visionaries on your radar! It's an extraordinary group of people. And able to connect me with Leicester Longwool fiber, in multiple forms, in 36 minutes. That says something right there.

    Check out the books. They are very fine. More coming all the time.

  6. The combination of the interwebz and the fibre community is amazing! What a lovely story – and I’m looking forward to that Piecework already.

  7. I'm looking forward to that PieceWork myself, Freyalyn. It's going to be an *incredible* whole section of the magazine, with the article I wrote plus four projects, all by different, wonderful designers. I haven't seen the projects. I did help connect people with yarn. The rest is surprise!

  8. Oh, yes, being qualified to join the Visionaries is now added to my list of goals! I love Cat Bordhi, and all of the books look fantastic!

    What the Visionaries are doing is so inspiring, and very much necessary! We need innovative, independent-minded, non-mainstream fiber books and ideas. There is way too much of “same old, same old” being published right now by the bigger publishers, so what you’re doing is important! BTW, your Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook is high on my list of the next books to buy. 🙂

  9. Sara, participating in the Visionaries is a wonderful goal. You could write Cat now and say you're not applying for this year but want to keep it in mind for future years, so could you have the application information. It would likely help shape your book-making thoughts. Glad to know you're thinking about the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook! I'm really proud of that project.

  10. I love the serendipity of this venture. And I LOVE that you had most of what you needed on your laptop – how lucky was that!

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