There is a romantic old world quality that shines out when you talk about Rickwood Farms with owner Peggy. A short jaunt from our shop, Rickwood farms is a local fiber producer growing lovely Rambollet and Columbia sheep. On 80 acres with about 60 breeding ewes and market lambs for 4Hers, fiber is her breeding focus. Peggy is a hand spinner who has spun for over 50 years, and her flock is focused on creating the best fleeces she can. Her breeding standards are to create “Medium fine garment fleeces.”
For the people that consider micron count as the definer of perfection this might not sound ideal; however, Peggy has sound reasoning for her fibers standards, and I have to say that I understand where she coming from. Micron count can be deceiving while being an objective measurement. An entire batch of wool is only as soft as its coarsest fibers. Furthermore, micron count doesn’t summarizes everything about a fibers. Fiber quality includes the personal element of your fingertips, how a fiber feels to you might not be adequately reflected in its number- nor does micron account for loft, warmth, elasticity or the amount of wear that it can take.
Peggy is looking for those other elements- warmth, elasticity and wear, while still having wool soft enough to wear. Her wool feels bulky in the hand, with lots of air, and spring. Her fiber has a springy body that is soft but with texture. The spun yarn can take more active wear then finer wools, there is a solid crimp in the wool that makes anything spun from the fibers have air and therefore warmth. The fiber creates a great yarn, just don’t over spin to lose the loft and softness.
Because Peggy is a hand spinner, she wants fellow spinners to be able to create pieces of work that will last for a long time. She owns a pair of hand- spun and knit socks from her fiber that have held up for the last 8 years of winter wear and spinning.
Peggy expressed her frustrations about how many fibers are over processed before the spinner even sees them. When you only buy wool that has been combed, carded, dyed, and super-washed, you lose some of the basic qualities of the fibers, they have often been chemically changed and garments made from it don’t last as long, don’t wear as well and don’t have the elements of the fibers that make it wool.
Peggy sends her Columbia and Rambouillet fleeces to be blended and processed at Fibers First Inc, a local mill that processing includes: washes, picking, and carding to create pin roving. They use eco-scour industrial hot water heaters and a specialized fiber washing machine. After washing, the fibers are picked and carded. This sometimes leaves the wool with vegetable matter, the dreaded VM! But here is a great way to change about how we think of VM. -There is some vegetable matter in a fleece because the wool was not soaked in a chemical that can dissolve grass- All of a sudden the wool with a little VM looks more appealing.
In many commercial wools from outside the US, wool is over processed, and often the second grade wool, as the best fleeces are sold to garment companies. Different methods of labor, fiber cleaning, hay cost and sheep treatment change the cost of wool. Small scale farms have a difficult time competing in the market, understand that domestic wool is going to cost more than Chinese’s wool helps keep farms alive in the US. With small farms you can find out everything about the fibers- about the farm, about the sheep, about the people who make their living off of one of the oldest domesticated animals. Wool is the miracle fiber, every year we learn more about the wonders of natural verses synthetics.
Rickwood farms fiber is another way for Paradise Fibers to connect with the communities of sheep and fiber lovers directly, we are supporting local wools, our local mill and trying to help make sure that one of the foundations of America’s sheep and wool are not lost. We still have time for the small farmers, just as we have time for the people who use natural fibers in their products.