Nice article in the winter issue of Craftsman Quarterly:
Judith Schwartz writes about the people who are trying to turn around the near disappearance of American wool processing within the United States. Ecological reasons for keeping sheep (they contribute to carbon sequestrian if pastures are managed correctly), natural dying, and efforts to make American wool products competitive (based on value not on cost) with Chinese products made from American wool.
New book released Oct. 2018….Raw Material – Working Wool in the West
Follow a sweater with an “Italian Merino” label back far enough and chances are its life began not in Milan, but in Montana.
Many people want to look behind the label and know where their clothes come from, but the textile supply chain – one of the most toxic on the planet – remains largely invisible. In Raw Material, Stephany Wilkes tells the story of American wool through her own journey to becoming a certified sheep shearer.
What begins as a search for local yarn becomes a dirty, unlikely and irresistible side job. Wilkes leaves her high-tech job for a way of life considered long dead in the American West. Along the way, she meets ornery sheep that weigh more than she does, carbon-sequestering ranchers, landless grazing operators, rare breed stewards and small-batch yarn makers struggling with drought, unfair trade agreements and faceless bureaucracies as they work to bring eco-friendly fleece to market.
Raw Material demonstrates that the back must break to clothe the body, and that excellence often comes by way of exhaustion.
With humor and humility, Wilkes follows wool from the farm to the factory, through the hands of hardworking Americans trying to change the culture of clothing. Her story will appeal to anyone interested in the fiber arts or the textile industry, and especially to environmentally conscious consumers.
Stehanie’s website: https://stephanywilkes.com/book
Book also available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Raw-Material-Working-Wool-West/
“I was always acutely aware that there were less women shearers,” photographer Nich Hance McElroy said of photographing women shearers up and down the West Coast for Vogue. But last year, when he began shearing on commercial crews for a shearer and sheep rancher named Robert Irwin, McElroy noticed more and more women working on flocks – many who Irwin actively recruited. Some were already farmers or gardeners themselves, some were tech professionals in the Bay Area with a back-to-the-land mind-set, some were part-time knitters who wondered why it was next to impossible to find local wool. McElroy began photographing them, too.
“I really think, going forward, it’s going to be women doing farm work,” Irwin told me recently by phone from California. “The last five years or so, teaching guys to do this stuff, a lot of them just don’t have the mentality of waking up and thinking to themselves, ‘I’m going to get better at this.’ The women do. They’re more apt to stick with this; they’re more detail-oriented; they’re tougher.”
Read the story at https://www.vogue.com/projects/13535219/women-sheep-shearers-california-oregon-photographs-nich-mcelroy/.