What lead you to becoming a yarn producer?
Ranching has been a lifelong dream of mine (Wendy K. Tyler, the owner). I love all animals and have a fiber menagerie of Alpacas, Bluefaced Leicester and Shetland sheep, and Cashmere goats. My aunt taught me how to knit, and I dove head first into learning everything . . . knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, and felting. As I explored each discipline, I fell in love with the fiber and where it came from. The next thing I knew I had over 300 different fiber producers on our ranch! I craved knowledge. I wanted to know what makes great yarn, and a lot goes into it, genetics, environment, health of the animals, processing, consistency and much more. As a result, we produce high quality fiber and cater to customers looking for unique blends and superior quality not available elsewhere.
Where do you create? Who is your team?
We have our studio here on the ranch [in Wyoming], everything but the milling of the yarn is done there. I could not do this by myself - Amanda, my office manager, helps with sorting the fleece, caring for the animals, helping determine yarn needs, color work, dyeing, you name it . . . . She does it! We also work with small ranches in and around Glacier National Mark where I buy my Merino fleece and Broadus, Montana where I buy my Cormo fleeces. All are women-owned ranches, and all have the same passion for the animals that I do!
What inspires you?
Black Wolf Ranch is located on 140 acres in St. Ignatius, Montana at the foot of the Mission Mountains. A majestic setting. All I have to do is look around for inspiration - the views, the animals, the wild life, and the weather . . . all amazing! The animals, their faces, their health inspires me to make the most of my product. I learn all I can regarding what they produce, how they produce, and whether it is better than their parents' production. I want to bring the beauty of what they produce to the fiber artist - my second source of inspiration. I love meeting people, making and selling the yarn, and watching fiber artists' faces when they see our yarns. Truly Ranch to needle!
Can you walk us through the creation of one of your yarns?
We start with Shearing Day - the day we all love! Our sheep are shorn in March and our alpacas in June. The fleeces are collected and stored in our sorting room where Amanda goes through each one by hand and grades the fleece by fineness into 3 categories - Grades 1 (the softest), 2 and 3. Once every fleece is graded, I go through and design the yarn based on our annual "clip" - which is the fiber they produce. Each year's clip is different and depends on the animals' health, such as whether they had a baby, etc. The fleeces are then cleaned and packed and sent to several mills across the U.S. Once we receive the yarn back, we take the yarn from the cones and put them into skeins. Then we wash the yarn. At the same time, we set aside the yarns to dye. All our dyes are unique, inspired by the season and hand-dyed here on the ranch.