By Patti on November 26, 2013
One of things we love best at Yarn Culture is getting to know the people behind the products we carry. This month we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Westra of Feederbrook Farm. Lisa marries her experience as a modern-day shepherd, an understanding of chemistry and her artist’s eye to create her own lines of hand-dyed yarn.The owner of Feederbrook Farm is not sheepish about color and fiber
Family-owned and operated since 1971, Feederbrook Farm is located in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. Lisa began tending sheep nearly two decades ago after a herd had been orphaned on her family’s property. “It’s a wonderful thing to fall into your passion serendipitously.”
But it was only a year ago that Westra took what she calls “a leap of faith” and “engaged in full-scale wholesale production.” When she began to expand her products into different markets she needed more sheep and bought high-quality local base stock and supplemented it with wool from hand-selected farmers. She also relies on wool from the UK and Falkland Islands.
YARNS TO DYE FOR
After all these years, Westra can choose her yarn by breed. She has three criteria for choosing which yarns to dye: softness; push factor (squishiness); and how well they accept dye.
“While I see the dyeing process as primarily a fun time to play and explore, I can say that understanding the importance—and different implications of—pH levels does help in preventing mistakes,” says Lisa Westra, who was a chemistry and physics teacher.
“Alpaca doesn’t take dye as well as wool, and bamboo doesn’t take dye at all! It’s shiny, so it’s beautiful as a blend, but it’s difficult to dye on its own. Silk is also somewhat dye resistant, so some people soak it in citric acid (or vinegar) for 24 hours prior to dyeing. I don’t do the soak, however, as I like the look of the streak of silk in the fiber.
My favorite fiber to dye is the Blue Faced Leicester because I know what it’s going to do, and when it comes back from the mill I’m using, it’s dense, and I love to see the colors poof it up, making it bloom like a flower.
My least favorite fiber to dye is a superwash merino. It’s harder to control the consistency of the dye, and because of the chemical-laden process of making it a superwash, it’s difficult for me to pick up as a product that fits my eco-friendly criteria.”
Westra’s three wool lines–Plumage, Wishes to Wings and Common Ground—are a testament to the effort she makes to meet those criteria. More on those lines as well as a couple of lines she sells only in her own store coming up in future posts.