An All-American Wool Tradition

Last summer while spending some time in Maine, a video caught my eye on the local PBS channel. It was this feature of Bartlett Yarns in Harmony, Maine. It was a bit too far for me to make the trip to their open house last year, but this summer I made an effort to find time to visit. You can hear my interview with the owner of Bartlett Yarns, Lindsey Rice, on Episode 64 of the VeryPink Knits Podcast. 

In some ways, Maine is like two states - the coastal sea towns and inland farm country with mountainous lakes. We spend most of our time on the coast, but send the kids to camp on a lake, so we are able to experience and enjoy both. It's funny, but along the coast you may meet people who never explored the lakes and vice versa. The state is dotted with tiny towns, some with defunct paper mills and clothing mills, others making new factories out of the old. 

Harmony is a small town in Somerset County with just less than 1,000 people living in the town. A river runs through the middle of the town and the surrounding landscape is hilly and lush green. As I drove to the mill, I missed the turn at the bridge. Without my destination in mind, I would have never expected to find a wool mill at the end of this country road.

The mill sits on the water side of the street and the offices, shop, and wool collection is in a building across the street. Lindsey Rice, owner of the mill, welcomed me with a thorough tour around the two buildings. 

I enjoyed seeing the yarn in all phases of the process - from collection, to sorting, carding, and spinning. (Cleaning takes place out-of-state because of environmental regulations.) Some of the equipment they continue to use daily is from the 1930s, including the sorter and carder, bringing home the sense of history in the mill. 

The slideshow below shows all the phases of the process: wool is collected and packaged to ship off to clean, dyed in a few base colors which gets mixed with other colors to make different shades, carded and combed, spun, and packed ready to go. 

The mule spinning a natural brown wool.

The mule spinning a natural brown wool.

Watching the mule spin is both meditative and exciting. The track pulls out to the center of the room, pauses, and makes it way back, spinning as it goes. 

Finished yarn, ready to be shipped to retailers or stocked in the store.

Finished yarn, ready to be shipped to retailers or stocked in the store.

As Lindsey mentioned, these are your classic wool workhorse yarns. It's best for colorwork sweaters and hats, stockings, and heavier layers for the coldest days. But, they do have a small selection of alpaca-wool blends, as well. They offer a wide catalog of colors (including a bright hunter's orange I'm determined to find a use for) and weights from sport to bulky. They also offer roving for felting projects and wool dryer balls. I even picked up some metal buttons made by artists who make Civil War reenactment uniforms. 


If you're in the area, stop by for a tour in August or visit them at upcoming shows listed on their homepage.