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Special Yarn Preview:
Sheep Shop Yarn Company
A cornucopia of Sheep Shop yarns

Note: As of November 2009, Sheep Shop Yarn Company is no longer in business. We'd like to keep the story of this great little yarn company alive in history, which is why this 2006 profile remains on our site—but please note that the company is no longer selling yarn.

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Fonnie Soderstrom has always loved yarn. An avid knitter since the age of eight, Fonnie cut her chops working part-time at a yarn store in Providence, Rhode Island, while her children were young. Two years ago, after her children became teenagers, Fonnie left retail to become a yarn sales rep for a yarn company.

Fonnie Finds Her Sheep
But she had bigger plans. "I always was very up-front with the companies that I worked for," she explained to me, "and told them that someday I, too, would have a yarn line."

One day a friend told her about an unusual yarn supplier based in Uruguay. She called, saw samples, and the connection was immediately forged. Soon Fonnie's own yarn line took shape as Sheep Shop Yarn Company. In June 2006, she unveiled her yarns at TNNA, and the Sheep Shop Yarn Company Web site officially launched two days before this review is publishing.

the multicolor Sheep 1 yarn the solid color Sheep 1 yarn

Sheep 1
The company currently offers two yarns, both wool, simply titled Sheep 1 and Sheep 2.

Sheep 1 (shown at right) is a single-ply worsted-weight yarn that knits up at 4 to 4.5 stitches per inch on US 8-9 needles and retails for $12 per 130-yard/100g skein. It is currently available in 9 multicolors (the near-right skein shown is G123) and 17 solids (the far-right skein shown is F110).

I did some quick reconnaissance swatching and can report that knitting is fast and easy, and the stitches appear consistent. The yarn's thickness didn't waver, and I only encountered one little fleck of vegetable matter. The yarn has the strength and ruggedness of Lopi, but with a little more softness and brilliance to it.

the multicolor Sheep 2 yarn the solid color Sheep 2 yarn

Sheep 2
Here's where things get fun. Sheep 2 is a two-ply bulky-weight yarn that knits up at 3 to 3.5 stitches per inch on US 10.5-11 needles. It ships in 90-yard skeins that retail for $13 apiece. It is also available in 9 multicolors (the near-right skein is G128) and 17 solids (the far-right skein is F59).

Lest you think Sheep 2 is just a two-ply version of Sheep 1, think again. For this yarn, Fonnie chose a much softer wool (its fiber diameter averages 24 microns, which approaches the realm of merino). It has more bounce than Sheep 1, with a matte surface that reflects colors in a more subdued way.

This would be a perfect yarn for anyone wanting fast progress and cozy results. While Sheep 1 was uniformly smooth, Sheep 2 had some distinct variations in thickness—but the yarn's loft and elasticity filled in all the gaps and absorbed the thick spots to produce a beautifully comfortable fabric. I see Sheep 2 as a perfect yarn for that oversized Sunday morning sweater you pull over your pajamas before venturing outside to get the morning paper.

the multicolor Sheep 1 yarn knit up the solid-color Sheep 2 yarn knit up

Crystal-Clear Colors
The first thing you'll notice about Sheep Shop Yarns is the colors—they are bright, clear, warm, fresh, intense, and completely engaging. There is nothing murky, muddy, or confused about these yarns. The skeins do have a fresh-from-the-dyepot vinegar smell that rinses out in the first wash.

Fonnie offers two color options: solid and multicolor. The solids are kettle-dyed to give gentle shifts of hue that lend a lovely weathered patina to the knitted fabric. The multicolors have color shifts in rapid short bursts, which produces a truly variegated, almost cobblestoned effect that bypasses the whole issue of awkward pooling or stripes.

Withstanding Saturation?
We have a few other kettle-dyed yarns from Uruguay on the market right now—most notably Manos del Uruguay and Malabrigo, both of which are only available in single-ply form. So the first differentiator between Sheep Shop and those companies is that it offers a two-ply. Shops loyal to Malabrigo or Manos can still carry Sheep Shop with good conscience if they simply focus on the two-ply.

Within the realm of single-ply yarns, most people would agree that Malabrigo is by far the softest, with Manos and Sheep 1 coming in a close second. But Sheep 1 has the smoothest, most consistent spin.

Generally speaking, the multicolor dyeing in Sheep Shop is most reminiscent of Manos, which also has those short bursts of different colors to produce a speckled, non-striping effect. But the solid colors, which gently shift back and forth between deep and shallow saturation, remind me more of Malabrigo.

Fonnie explained that "I would like Sheep Shop Yarns to be one unto itself because of the quality of the wool, the beautiful dying of the yarns, and the color story which they tell. It is a New England yarn story with a contemporary feel and lots of pattern support."

For now the pattern support consists of eight patterns, four for each type of yarn. I trust more patterns are on the way. If none of the current patterns suits your fancy, the yarn weights are so common that you'll have no problems finding other knitting patterns to try. So if you see a basket of her yarns in your LYS (which you should soon), do give them a try.

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