Hello! My name is Susan Kroll and my husband and I operate Thistlehill Farm. I was born and raised in suburbia land of Los Angeles. I feel like I came naturally to this space of just five acres here in wet Western Washington. My inspiration on Thistlehill Farm is courtesy of my paternal Grandfather. He retired to a small farm, ran goats, gardened an acre or so and sold extra produce in town. I was his shadow when we came up to visit. When he was 93 and felt he needed someone else in the house to help him, my hand flew into the air to volunteer. I learned a lot from him: gardening, animal husbandry, life, until he passed away at age 99. A wonderful legacy for my children and me.
So now here I am with one big beautiful barn, maybe 3-1/2 acres of pasture, an orchard, a large garden, raised beds, an herb garden, a greenhouse, and of late some dye plants have crept into the mix. Plenty of exercise, plenty of delicious, nutritious food, and color. Life couldn’t be finer!
In my barn I manage goats (Ode to Grandad) and sheep, kids and lambs. The sheep were a natural addition since we had pasture to share and I loved wool. I learned to knit as a child, and as soon as the kids went off to school, took up the crafts of spinning and weaving. I researched breeds and decided on Shetland sheep: they are a primitive breed (which is to say: hardy, good moms, get along well by themselves), small in size (me, too!), have a nice fine wool coat that comes in many colors, and the meat is more delicious than what I could ever get in a store. It was a wonderful choice for me.
Shetland sheep in the US, came to us from the Shetland Islands, a faraway, isolated group of islands to the northeast of Great Britain which are part of Scotland. They have long had famous knitting traditions with the fine, long staple wool of this breed. I often choose to follow their lead in my work with the wool. I like to make outerwear with my wool: hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, capes. They will be warm, durable, and weather resistant (it works to protect those fishermen out there in the North Sea; it is wonderful for a walk on the beach on a blustery day along our coastline.) In my work, I often incorporate knitting techniques such as Fair Isle, cabling, brioche, and double knitting. These can add color, texture, interest, and best of all, lots of ability to trap air that will keep us warm.
I am also guided by the amazing versatility of Shetland wool. Because it is a fine, long staple it can be as successfully used for soft lace weight as for a more tightly twisted worsted weight yarn. I can use this worsted weight yarn to show off the cables of my Aran (British Isles) style barn sweater. I can use a softer, finer yarn to make a warm, cozy but much less bulky hat in the Fair Isle style.
I also love knitting lace. I first learned about lace knitting in the Orenburg tradition with some lovely Russian ladies. But I quickly expanded into the broader techniques included in the Shetland tradition. I love lace knitting for delicate, dressier scarves and shawls. But, lace knitting also is versatile enough to be done in worsted weight yarns, not just the more popular use of lace weight yarns. So, I can incorporate lace into borders on sweaters, socks, and tops.
And then there is felting. Shetland wool is not near as worrisome for inadvertent felting as a Merino wool, but will certainly felt when you want it to. I have felted pot holders…a nice small project for a trial, (remember that quality of wool that it is flame resistant? this is quite helpful here!) I have made a couple of computer carrying cases and larger shopping bags for my children. Worried about washing the products? hey, it’s already BEEN felted. just throw it in with the rest of the laundry. However, I recommend laying it flat to dry.
And one last terrific use for Shetland wool: It is great to blend with other fibers to add extra strength and wool’s highly desirable memory and elasticity. I have blended it with Angora rabbit: extra soft and cuddly. I have blended it with camelid (llama and alpaca) fiber: a soft, warm, durable hand with extra drape. I have blended it with silk and fiber from my Great Pyrenees guard dog: just because I could and because he kept my flock so well protected.