Friday, June 24, 2011

Swans Island Stop on the Way Home: Like a Cherry on Top!

After we finish our week of totally relaxing, knitting non-stop, eating gourmet goodies, stretching and hiking and sleeping like little babies at night to the sound of the sea lapping at the shore... yes, after all that, after you think it can't get any better... well guess what?

Lisa has exciting news for you. On the drive back we're going to take a little detour and go to Swans Island. And just why are we doing that you ask? Because in a wool-centric world, Swans Island is the real-life equivalent of Fantasy Island.

The story of Swans Island is very cool and a little tricky. You can read lots of details at their website, but let me give you a little overview. A long time ago, a bunch of sheep were rowed out to Nash Island off the coast of Maine. With no brush or trees to offer the sheep shelter, they took to huddling together like big fluffy football players. Being out in the elements caused their fleeces to grow in super thick, super luxurious and super-rich in lanolin, all factors that make for exceptional wool.

John and Carolyn Grace, moved to another island, Swans Island, back in the 1990s to live off the land, so to speak. They started a weaving studio using local wool. They moved back to the mainland in 2003, but the company itself and the blankets they're famous for are still known as Swans Island.

Some of the wool comes from the Nash Island sheep. Once a year, in mid-June, shearers from Swans Island head over to shear these amazing Corriedales (that's a 19th century breed). This outrageously fabulous wool is then spun into organic merino. The naturally brown and black wool remains undyed. The white wool is dyed using natural plant dyes like Indigo and madder. The spun fiber is then used to make handwoven blankets which have been recognized internationally and awarded a Smithsonian Blue Ribbon for Craft.

The Graces and some partners who joined them, now work out of a farmhouse built in 1780. In addition to the famous blankets, they also sell yarn. So be sure to bring an empty suitcase (or two) on the Monhegan retreat, because our post-Monhegan trip to Swans Island is a major score-- the company's yarn is available at fewer than two dozen retailers around the country. And just imagine-- you can get it from the source.

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