We had an awesome retreat in Staunton. What a great town! Beautiful hotel, lovely little shops along the downtown streets, and plenty of wonderful restaurants nestled in the foothills of Virginia's Allegheny mountains make it worth the three-hour drive. A friend I haven't seen in more than 15 years lives in Staunton, so we caught up over lunch in a bakery so decadent I visited it every single day we were there. On top of all that, I had the pleasure of spending an entire weekend with 22 fantastic women and 2 amazing men who all love knitting (or a knitter).
The centerpiece of this particular retreat was a visit to Francis Chester's Cestari Farms, a small operation that produces lovely yarns of wool, cotton, and linen yarns for hand-knitting and weaving. This is a labor of love, and it shows. Francis' face lights up when talks about his sheep, his yarns, and the struggles his company has faced and overcome. He's passionate about bringing the wool industry back to the United States and about creating better yarn from healthier sheep. Better nutrition produces stronger sheep with more lustrous fleece and a greater resilience to parasites and disease. It's a beautiful old fashioned kind of operation - earthy, small scale, and just generally lovely.
Joanne, Cestari's dyer, gave us a tour of the dye operation. Joanne has a long history with the textile industry, and a background with one of the high end fabric companies whose name I'm sure you know. She did commercial dying on a huge scale and brings that expertise to this little operation because she too is passionate about this little farm.
It was fun and interesting to see wool production from the very start to finish. When you see the process and follow the yarn's path from the sheep to skein, you have a better appreciation for what it is you are working with. It's the same in all aspects of our life, I think. In our insulated first world, it's so easy to be disconnected from the origin of the products we consume, whether it's the food we eat or yarn we use. Meat comes boneless, skinless, and tasteless. So many of our vegetables are pre-cooked, canned, pre-chopped and frozen. I know it makes things convenient in our busy lives, but honestly, how long before children don't even know what a fresh squash looks like? In pursuit of garments we don't have to take care of, now most of our yarns are washed clean of all hint of animal origins - chemically scoured and stripped of their insulating scales.
What this retreat taught me was that there is great value in stepping back and appreciating the time and effort that goes into the fibers we use. Recognizing the provenance of our yarns and being mindful of the time and effort it took to get them to us, connects us to everyone involved in the process and makes the time we spend with our yarns that much more special.
I look forward to seeing you in the shop and around the table. You are always welcome here. ~Ellen
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