Sheep to Skein : my wool sourcing, processing, and dyeing process

Hi, I’m Rachel Bingham Kessler, the creator of 44Clovers. I’ve been knitting, spinning, dyeing since 1996. I have a deep passion for sheep and their wool and working with color. I studied painting and have turned my passion for color to include fiber arts.

Foraging for color is often a sacred act that I find great peace in. Working with wool and being around sheep brings out a primitive love in me. Putting it all together grounds me.

Providing beautiful, soft, and durable yarns sourced from NewEngland and Irish raised wool for my customers is such a joy of mine. Including natural dye education for those who want to expand on their knowledge or who are just beginning. Natural dyeing is truly a beautiful and rewarding experience.

I only use alum as my mordant which is a mineral salt to help set the color. I recycle as much water as I can. I use safe and beneficial foraging practices that allow for pruning when needed and not depletion. For example, when I collect my lichens, I take what I find already detached from their substrate (fallen limbs, etc). When collecting living plants and flowers, I wait as long as I can until they are about to dye off so pollinators are not left without. I also aim to collect no more than 10% of an area.

I focus on wool breeds that are unique to the area, such as a Maine Island sheep flock of North Country Cheviot that live wild on Metinic Island in the Penobscot Bay. Lee Straw of Straw Farm in Newcastle, Maine has been the caretaker of this Flock for decades and I source from him upwards of 80lbs. I’ll also source local primitive and rare breeds such as Jacob, Shetland, Icelandic, Finn, Scottish Black Face, and Horned Dorset for my hand spinning from New England Fiber shows. From Ireland, I bring back a bit of Roscommon and Galway and when I can.

For the Maine Island wool, I send it to a mill with this year 2023 being the first year to use Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont.

Once I receive all my yarn from the mill, I move forward with washing, cold mordanting, onto dyeing, drying, rinsing, drying, re-skeining, labeling, and then finally listing here. If mill spun, roughly 3 sets of people will handle your yarn before it reaches you. The shearers, skirter (me) the mill team, and then me, the dyer. The Maine Island yarn travels from Metinic Island, Maine to Putney Vermont, to Peaks Island, Maine, and then to you!

I cannot wait to see what you make with your 44Clovers yarn. Follow me on Facebook or Instagram to tag me or simply send me an email with your makes.

Following this ancient thread of providing a truly beautifully built and well cared for yarn for other fiber creators is my utmost pleasure and privilege.