Not every shepherd is a knitter

Katie Sullivan, Bobolink Yarns Founder

That is what Bobolink Yarns owner, Katie Sullivan, has realized over her years raising sheep.  There is an informal divide between shepherds with small fiber flocks who focus on yarn, and shepherds with large flocks focused on meat and other sheep products.  For those larger shepherds, spinning their wool into yarn and bringing that yarn to knitters effectively can be a huge challenge- milling costs, market knowledge, and time all stand against such shepherds.

Local yarn shops face a different struggle: with the rise of ecommerce, visitors treat them as “showrooms” for merchandise later purchased from dominant online retailers at lower prices.  Local yarn shops are key to the ongoing vitality of the fibercraft community, offering lessons, tutelage, inspiration, and connection. But they can’t compete with large online retailers on prices for bulk yarns. They have to offer a different product that large retailers cannot afford to carry: unique, small-batch yarns from local flocks that highlight our regional wool heritage.

Tired of seeing shepherds getting poor returns on good wool and local yarn shops struggling to stock local yarns, Bobolink Yarns aims to bridge the sheep to yarn market gap by paying shepherds a fair and sustainable price for raw wool, locally milling it into top quality breed-specific and supplying that yarn to New England yarn shops.

Buzz in our community

We are excited to see our wool spun into something special!

Sean and Annie, owners and operators of Scuttleship Farm in Panton, VT

Classic yarn for projects that will look good for years to come.

Donna Druchunas, owner of Sheep to Shawl, a yarn shop in Barton, VT

Real yarn from real sheep – I appreciate the local, ecologically-grown wool that makes this yarn unique.

Judy S., Customer

Disrupting the monoculture yarn market

When you enter a yarn shop, what do you see? I immediately notice that the vast selection is mostly Merino-based yarns. Indy-dyers celebrated for creating unique palettes, all use the same base stock produced by large Merino mills. Meanwhile, I hear knitters lamenting that after countless hours their hand-knit sweater is already covered in pilling.

While I enjoy soft Merino wool as much as the next person, it sometimes feels like every yarn shop is a candy factory that only produces jelly beans. Sure, jelly beans come in “every flavor,” but what happened to lemonheads, peanut butter cups, and pop rocks?

We’ve become afraid of wool that isn’t soft-as-kittens, but soft wool doesn’t work for all garments. Merino fibers are relatively short and weak compared to other wools, so it pills easily. Classic medium wools have the body and durability to withstand the life of a sweater. Save Merino for garments meant for your face!

Fiber diversity from local farms

At Bobolink Yarns, we pride ourselves in sourcing the best New England flock wools and offering the finest yarns available. Our wool mainly comes from dual-purpose, medium-wool breeds with unique and interesting characteristics. Cheviot is crisp and springy, Romney drapey and lustrous, East Friesian a comfortable compromise between crispness and softness. Celebrate the diversity of sheepdom with our farm-specific, breed specific yarns and try using medium yarns for mittens, hats, and, especially, sweaters.

Our inventory is always changing due to the seasonal nature of shearing and the time required for small, independent mills to process our yarn. For yarn stores, we offer custom-dyeing so your inventory will always be unique to your shop and your customer’s tastes.

The bobolink (pronounced ‘bah-buh-link’) is a threatened grassland bird that breeds in the open fields of New England. Their unique, bubbly song and spirited courtship have inspired Americans for generations, including writer Emily Dickinson and broadway composer Cole Porter. They can be heard, rousing dormant hay fields as winter yields to spring.

As farming practices have shifted in the United States, the Bobolink’s natural habitats have disappeared. Fields that belonged to small farms have grown back into forests and others have become monocrop corn. Bobolinks are now limited to small fields where late haying allows young to fledge in hedgerows that provide perches and shelter.

We are proud to have bobolinks on our home farm- these songbirds are part of our rich heritage, as is each unique breed of sheep, milling process, and spinning technique. Bobolink Yarns is about reconnecting shepherds, yarn shop owners, and fiber artists with the unique, beautiful aspects of our Northeastern fiber traditions.

Check out the Bobolink Project to learn more about this precious species.