Business looks to knit together fiber farms, community

Dec 2 2013

The Recorder, December 2, 2013. By Kathleen McKiernan.

South Deerfield — Throughout the Pioneer Valley, consumers can buy local food from corn to apples. One South Deerfield woman, however, is adding one more item to the increasingly popular list of local goods — fiber.
To promote yarns produced by local and regional fiber farmers, Liz Sorenson has opened Sheep & Shawl, one of the few places in the area that focuses on local and regional fiber. The shop is located at 265 Greenfield Road off Routes 5 and 10 in the Tibetan Plaza. The goal of Sheep & Shawl is to support fair trade and sustainable ecological farming and processing.Inside the shop, knitters and weavers can find nearly 20 local fiber producers, dyers, artists and craftspeople. Sheep & Shawl features hand-dyed yarns from Kangaroo Dyer of Greenfield and the Soapy Sheep of Turners Falls, hand-spun Angora yarns and knitwear from Twisted Mysteries of Amherst, roving and rugs from Palmer Family Farm of Tolland, Conn., hand-dyed fleece from Sustainable Spindle of Shutesbury and Whispering Pines Fiber Farm in Colrain and much more.For almost 40 years, Sorenson has knitted. In the eastern part of the state, Sorenson taught knitting classes for a friend’s yarn shop until she moved to South Deerfield five years ago. Two years ago, Sorenson retired from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and began thinking of what to do next.

In most cases, people buy fiber from local fairs. But throughout the year, the knitting community lacked a place where it could go to buy wool, yarn and fiber.

“I loved the idea of buying local fiber like local food,” Sorenson said. “I thought it’d be great if you could buy it year-round than just at a fair. I decided to open a store that would support local yarns, fibers and teaching.”

As she began searching for a home, Sorenson learned Himalayan Views was re-locating to Route 2 from South Deerfield. In April, Sorenson secured a lease and by August opened up shop.

The shop is also about community. One of the first things Sorenson noticed of the Pioneer Valley is its strong community, especially in the knitting world. Sorenson hopes to offer the community a place to meet and knit.

Aside from the abundant amount of fibers available, Sheep & Shawl also offers classes. The shop features knitting, drop-spindle spinning and needle felting classes. And on Wednesdays, knitters can stop by for help on a project or to simply meet other knitters.

So far, the shop is doing well and growing, Sorenson said.

“You start with low expectations as a brand new business,” Sorenson said. “But we’re right on target. Every month is a little more.”

Sorenson hopes to get more involved with agriculture-promoting Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

Sorenson is working on her Weaver’s Certificate at the Hill Institute in Florence, is a member of the Pioneer Valley Weavers Guild, Weavers of Western Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Fibershed. For more information, visit www.sheepandshawl.com.

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