Connect to the West: Wyoming-Grown Wool and The Legacy of American Ranching
In the shadow of the Big Horn Mountain range sits Mountain Meadow Wool, an American spinning mill dedicated to preserving and protecting the American wool industry. In 2007, Mountain Meadow opened its doors offering fair trade prices and ecologically friendly practices to local Wyoming ranchers. Mountain Meadow is known for its unique Mountain Meadow Merino™—a springy, rustic, and unexpectedly soft wool.
This story of Mountain Meadow began more than 30 years ago when owner Karen Hostetler signed up for a weaving class at Colorado State University. Her love affair with fiber extended to knitting and spinning, which sustained her fiber passion while she raised seven children. In 2002, when her kids headed off to school, her interest in fiber expanded from personal crafting into a small business venture.
After visiting several yarn shops, she noticed that there was little-to-no fiber available from Wyoming, which piqued her interest. Karen began researching and to her dismay discovered the American wool industry had plummeted over the past 20 years, threatening the tradition and culture of local Basque sheepherders—shepherds of the windswept plains of Wyoming since the late 1800s.
Karen partnered with a friend, and together they set out on a journey to revitalize interest and added value to the sheep ranching industry while educating the public and offering top-quality, ecologically friendly yarns. Initially, they bought 400 lbs of wool from a local rancher, packed it, and hauled it up to Canada (the closest available wool processor at the time). Here, they were promptly stopped at the border crossing by several confused Canadian patrol guards. “They thought we were trying to smuggle something in the wool!” said Karen. After three hours of questions and searching, they were allowed passage into Canada returned home with 200 lbs of white, clean, beautiful wool, but they didn’t know where to go from there.
Through a period of trial and error, help and advice from experts, and six grants through Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR), Mountain Meadow Wool was born. Karen currently works with sixteen local ranching families—each skein of yarn produced can be traced back to the source, connecting the knitter to the West and the story of Mountain Meadow Wool.
In our Fall 2017 issue of Interweave Knits, we featured the All Who Wander Cowl by Kyle Kunnecke, made in Mountain Meadow Wool Jackson, a worsted-weight, tonal merino. The famous J.RR. Tolkien “Not all who wander are lost” quote stitched across the cowl attracted attention; Karen was surprised with the amount of orders placed for Jackson, and she now offers the yarn kit on the Mountain Meadow website.
To learn more about Mountain Meadow Wool, the mill, their LEGACY YARN CLUB and to sample their yarns, go to their website and discover a gateway to the West.
All photos provided by Mountain Meadow Wool.