USA wool

Cestari Sheep and Wool Company–Doing it Right

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!


The search for USA superwash…who would have known?

I have been looking for USA superwash for my shop.  Who would have known that there were zero facilities in the USA by 2010 that super washed wool?  The journey has also taken me to find Larry Kissell on my radar, a democrat from North Carolina,  who worked in a hosiery factory, understood the effect NAFTA had on the textile industry, and who worked to beef up the Berry Amendment, which basically “restricts the Department of Defense (DoD) from using funds appropriated or otherwise available to DoD for procurement of food, clothing, fabrics, fibers, yarns, other made-up textiles, and hand or measuring tools that are not grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the United States.”  The DoD has been the biggest influence on the rebirth of the wool industry in America.  In 2010, a grant to Chargeurs enabled the company to buy equipment to super wash wool.  One company, Jaggerspun of Maine, buys from Chargeurs.  A good article by Debra Cobb in the Sourcing Journal  talks about this history.

All well and good.  It is important to note, however, that many people don’t support super washing wool…period.  It uses chemicals and often people don’t even consider it a natural product by the end of the process.   As one hand spinner writes, “Superwash wool is created in a surprisingly toxic way. There are several different processes that can be used to make superwash wool, but all of them start with its chlorination by caustic chlorine-based chemicals. These chemicals can cause burns and can easily produce deadly chlorine gas.”  (Bren)  It’s hard for sock knitters and people knitting for families with young children to think about not using superwash, so I think its place in our knitting lives is pretty secure; however, in a world where we want to know what is in everything we consume, yarns should be part of that landscape.


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