By Joanna Bastian
Sunlight streams through the glass of the floor-to-ceiling dock doors of Katie Haven’s workshop. Originally designed as a place for her to build her wooden ship, today the shop is a busy scene of washing tubs, drying stations, tumblers, and bags and bags of wool.
The retired mariner and engineer pictured herself building a ship during her retirement. In the process of building the workshop, she met and fell in love with Bill Tackman, a surveyor who happened to own a herd of sheep. As a knitter, Katie decided to try her hand at processing all that available wool into yarn. The sunlit workshop was the perfect space to process monumental amounts of wool.
Katie and Bill raise Romney sheep on McFarland Creek Lamb Ranch, the site of an old hydro power plant. In the early 1900s, the power plant supplied electricity to the local schoolhouse. Today, the creek is used to fuel a different industry: wool production.
“We shear the sheep in the spring before the lambs arrive,” Katie explained. The wool is bagged and labeled with the name of the donor sheep. The sheared wool is then taken to Katie’s workshop, where it is stored until winter when she has time to wash and dye each small batch of fleece.
Each bag of skirted fleece is first soaked in water to loosen the dirt, and then placed in a centrifuge to spin out excess water and dirt. Katie then refills the washing sink with hot water and detergent to extract the lanolin. After taking another spin in the centrifuge, the wool receives a second soapy bath followed by yet another spin, a clean rinse, and one more spin.
Piles of wool on a drying rack resemble the colors of a sunset: fuchsia from the cochineal insect that feeds on prickly pear cactus, orange madder root, indigo blue, and a bright green made from the mixture of yellow and blue floral dyes — all drying before being sent to a spinning mill in Utah. Each small batch is handled separately, identified by the individual sheep that produced the wool.
Upon return from the spinning mill, cards are tied to each skein displaying the www.TheLambRanch.com logo and the sheep’s name. A bag of finished skeins contains tags with “Chip,” “Miriam” and “Annabelle.”
Initially, Katie sold the skeins in natural shades of black, gray, brown and cream. After taking a class from Sarah Ashford, Katie began experimenting with natural dyes.
In the kitchen, she stirs a giant pot of simmering madder root. “It is a constant experiment. You never know precisely what you are going to get with each plant,” she said.
Katie gets some of her dye plants and insects from earthues.com, and others she grows in her garden. This summer at TwispWorks, Katie is looking forward to the demonstration dye garden that Sara Ashford will present at Culler Studios.
Katie’s yarn can be found at the Mazama Store, the Confluence Gallery gift shop, the new Twisted Knitters shop at TwispWorks, and, starting March 1, at Cashmere Cottage Yarns in Cashmere.
Katie is currently working with a group of fiber producers to present the first ever Fiber Festival on May 17 at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, where fiber producers and end users can get together. Planned for the event are knitting workshops, children’s activities, spinning, weaving, felting, fiber sales and trades, live music, food, and opportunities for fiber producers to network. Sponsors and vendors are needed. Visit www.OKFiberfest.org for more information.