Each variety of yarn should serve a specific purpose.
Lisa Check, owner of Flying Goat Farm in Frederick County, thinks about “purpose” each time she sources, blends and dyes the yarn varieties available at her home store. Her thoughtfulness has paid off with record sales last year, which she hopes to continue in 2018.
At the heart of her enterprise are 15 floppy-eared, curly-haired Angora goats.
“I just liked the way they looked, and I knew I wanted something to spin,” said Check from her yarn shop on Friday where skeins in every color and texture line the wall.
Check got her start in fiber back in the early 1990s while living in California. She saw a blanket in the American Craft Council magazine, and without knowing how to weave, she thought, “I can make that,” she said. She pulled out the Yellow Pages and ended up at the Southwest Museum of the American Indian learning Navajo tapestry weaving and purchasing a loom.
Then, when she didn’t like the yarn colors that were available, she learned to dye.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Check said.
When she and her husband, Bill, relocated to Maryland, she knew she wanted to purchase a few goats to produce fiber that she could spin on her own. They started with two goats, and over time the herd grew to include Bluefaced Leicesters, Cormo and sheep crossbreds as well.
Check’s specialty is in dying and working with fine wools, which are soft to the skin. Angora fiber is known as mohair, which can be prickly on the skin, so she blends in wool and other fibers to make yarns that serve a range of purposes from socks to tapestries.
Some of the wool blend comes from their sheep, while other fibers are sourced from outside the country, including alpaca fiber from Peru, cashmere and silk that go into her Zephyrette yarn.
“I try to match the fleeces with the type of yarn we’re making with it,” Check said.
For example, wool and adult mohair is strong and long-lasting, so together they make a good sock yarn. Mohair from an old goat, however, can be very rough, so it makes a good tapestry yarn, Check said.
About one-third of the yarns Flying Goat Farm sells are sourced from Check’s animals. As the number of animals on the farm and Check’s clientele has grown, she has moved into commercial processing and spinning of all the farm’s yarn.
Check saves a few fleeces to home spin, but “you can’t do that on a large scale. You can only do that as a hobby,” Check said.
Each of the goats produce approximately 6 pounds of fiber, which is split between two sheering seasons a year. The goats are scheduled to be shorn next on March 18, and several had long curls covering their eyes during a visit to the farm last week, but that didn’t stop them from sniffing out the graham crackers hidden in Check’s pocket.
“They’re very curious,” Check said. “They’re like dogs. If you go for a walk, they want to come with you, especially if you have treats.”
The goats lined up to eat the treats straight from her hand as she pulled winter leaves and grass from their fiber that would soon be in her store.
To help her customers better understand the fiber industry, the Checks began welcoming people to the farm last year for a Fiber Art Studio Tour in June. There, people can see the sheep, goats and guineafowl that call Flying Goat Farm home.
Check sold more than 5,000 skeins of yarn in 2017 and expects to move a similar amount in 2018. She also launched a Yarn of the Month club.
What has been the most exciting to see is a resurgence of interest in fiber crafts, Check said. Approximately 40 percent of her clients are younger than 35 or are young mothers.
Not only are they knitting, but they’re “knitting outside the box,” she said.