I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Francis Chester-Cestari, the shepherd and owner of Cestari Sheep and Wool Company in Virginia. He is passionate about increasing the number of wool sheep on the East Coast and has started a “Let’s Grow Sheep Together” program to encourage the breeding and shearing of wool sheep. Although the world population of sheep has gone from 1 billion to 1.1 billion, most of the increase is from meat breeds, or hair sheep, that do not need shearing and thus save meat farmers that expense. (He argues that the meat from hair breeds is not as flavorful (i.e. strong) as the meat from wool breeds. According to the American Society of Animal Science, hair lamb tastes more like goat than lamb. If you like lamb, you may want to talk to your local suppliers, find out what type of lamb they have, and do your own taste test. Heritage Foods USA has information on the taste of heritage breeds.)
In addition to promoting wool, Francis is adamant about processing wool without the use of harsh chemicals and maintaining the lanolin and natural characteristics of the fiber. He believes the current “super wash” processing of wool, which uses chlorine gas to strip the outer fibers, then Hercosett 125, a plastic, to coat the fiber, leaves a product that is no longer wool at all. Next time you are knitting with super washed wool, have a good feel of it. You too will wonder about the content of it. Merino wool, which is naturally fire resistant and water repellent, can be machine washed in cool water and hung to dry. It can’t be thrown in the dryer, like super wash, but you can feel good about the product you are wearing.
Cestari wool and local cotton is hand dyed or kettle dyed. At the Yarn Tasting on Friday, October 13th from 5-7, we knit/crocheted with their Mt. Vernon line of 100% Merino, Old Dominion Collection of 100% Virginian cotton, the Traditional Collection of 100% wool, and Ash Lawn Collection of 75% cotton, 25% wool. The Mt. Vernon made a lovely tonal fabric, perfect for sweaters. The Traditional Collection still has the smell of the sheep and the grease of the lanolin, another great choice for a sweater. I’m using the Ash Lawn for a baby blanket, with it’s cotton/wool easy wash fiber and gentle pastels. The cotton will make great dishcloths or cotton tops. Come check them out!