Shop Update - More Colors of Straw's Farm Island Sheep Fingering weight yarns

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

The weather outside is frightful, but I am warm inside playing with yarn. I hope you are all likewise somewhere warm and yarn filled. 

Fresh from the drying rack: two lovely neutral grays, one light (Woodsmoke) and one dark (Slate).  Both colors are actually based on logwood (purple) heavily "saddened" with a mix of tannin and iron which gives them a faint purple undertone in the right light - I can't help but think of the "violet" sheep of the Odyssey  (the dyeing is admitedly a bit of a cheat).


I couldn't help but take photos of some of my favorite color combinations:

With Tiger Lily

With Tiger Lily

With Lichen

With Lichen

With Cress

With Cress

With Zucchini 

With Zucchini 


The view from my desk.  Reginald the kaffir lime tree was not meant to see such weather. 

frightful weather .jpg

Shop Update - New Kits!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

Like many other knitters, I fell in love with Kristin Drysdale's Ingeborg Slippers the moment I first saw them on my Instagram feed.  It turns out they are as fun to knit as they are to pad about in.  So I put together kits. 

For my slippers I used Upton Yarns DK Weight Bluefaced Leicester spun from the wonderful fleece of the flock at Two Sisters Farm.  The pattern calls for size 3 needles, but I found that to get the correct gauge I had to go up to size 6s (I tend to be a tight knitter).  I used light blue Glacier Bay, dark blue Delft, and for a blaze of contrast, bright orange Tiger Lily to finish the edges. 

The kit includes those three colorways, and of course, one of my very happy hand printed project bags. 

Any orders placed between now and Friday will go in the mail the day they are ordered (as long as the order is placed before 3:00 - I still need time to pack them up and get to the Post Office - but I will do my best!). 

And don't forget the Moth Discouraging Sachets!

Happy knitting, and Happy Holidays!

Shop update - many colors of Straw's Farm Island Sheep fingering weight!

by Sarah Lake Upton in , ,

I still have a few more colors in the works, but I wanted to get these up when I had the time. Check out the new colors on the Fingering Weight page.  (Still to come, a hunter green, dark gray, light gray, and maybe a few more blues?). 

For example - check out the Fingering Weight page to see more.

In other news, we bought a house yesterday.  A whole house.  With a very cool barn.  And a work space for Upton Yarns. It doesn't quite feel real yet. 

Dyeing away -

by Sarah Lake Upton in , ,

I have been dyeing away, mainly working with the Straw’s Farm Island Sheep fingering weight (with an eye towards Kanoko socks and more importantly, Kanoko yarn kits, see below for one idea) but a few dye lots of DK weight BFL have snuck through, including one of my favorites, Coe’s Naptime.  I think it would make a great Arboreal sweater. (Now listed for sale over at the DK weight BFL page)

DK Weight BFL spun from fleece from Two Sisters Farm, Warren, Maine

DK Weight BFL spun from fleece from Two Sisters Farm, Warren, Maine

With a skein of Silver Birch. Because reasons. 

With a skein of Silver Birch. Because reasons. 

Stay tuned for Kanoko kits, and a whole lot of Straw’s Farm Island Sheep fingering weight in an array of colors.

Potential Kanoko Kit #1 - Zounds those colors are bright! 

Potential Kanoko Kit #1 - Zounds those colors are bright! 

A new use for sheep, and I'm knitting socks!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

I am usually the last person to hear about things, so I suspect that the entire sheep-interested world has already heard about this, but I just found about it and I am ridiculously excited.

According to this article in the Washington Post (to name one, a quick Google search shows that many other news organizations also ran the story) the topography and lack of roads in the Faroe Islands make it impossible to photograph the islands for Google Street View using the normal cameras mounted on cars.  The folks at Google were just willing to let it go, but the Faroe Island tourism board very much wanted to add their islands to Google Street View, and so they strapped solar powered cameras to sheep. Which is honestly just the coolest solution.   (Although it actually turns out that sheep are generally too focussed on grazing and therefore move across a space too slowly to be much good at photographing an area - so most of the footage of the Faroes that is currently on Google Street View was actually taken by human hikers).

The Sheep View footage is available on the tourism board website, and a lot of it made it onto youtube.

On a more knitting related note, I have been longing to knit Kanoko Socks by Mary Jane Mucklestone, published in Making Magazine No. 3,  ever since I saw her wear them during the Wool Scout Retreat at Bradford Camp this August.   As usual, I got a little sidetracked and my knitting queue got in the way, but when MJ’s Instragram post came across my feed announcing that the pattern was being released for individual sale on Ravelry they immediately jumped to the head of the line.  I started knitting them a few days ago (using my Straw’s Farm Island Sheep fingering weight) and am thoroughly enjoying them.  The four rows of dots are charming in cream, but they would also be charming in different colors.  Yup, I’m plotting kits….

kanoko no 1 in progress.jpg

Bousta Beanie Kit

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

I'm not really a hat knitter normally, but at the good natured prodding of my friend Sarah Hunt (@fibertrek) I finally caved and knit a Bousta Beanie. (For those who, like me, have been living under a rock all summer, Bousta Beanie is a free pattern designed by Gundrun Johnston to promote the 2017 Shetland Wool Week. Apparently everyone is knitting them, and I can see why). As she usually is when it comes to all matters knitting, Sarah is absolutely right and I loved knitting my Bousta Beanie so much that I further caved to Sarah's prodding and put together a kit.

I got so excited about making the kit that I haven't actually finished mine yet - appologies for the lack of blocking, end tucking, or pom pom) .

I got so excited about making the kit that I haven't actually finished mine yet - appologies for the lack of blocking, end tucking, or pom pom) .


The kit contains two, 110 yard skeins of 3-Ply Romney fingering weight, and one, 110 skein each of 3-Ply Straw's Farm Island Sheep fingering weight dyed with natural indigo in a light blue gradient and a more solid dark indigo colorway.





There is, of course, a kit bag.


The product link will go live this evening (Wednesday, September 13) at 5:00 PM.  I'm stuck traveling for my "day job" again next week, though thankfully only for a few days this time.  All orders placed by noon on Friday, September 15 will go out that day.  All order placed after that will have to wait until Friday September 21.

The Stormy Drake: or, my return to the world of yarn will be delayed

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

I was meant to finish up my Antarctic contract and fly home from Punta Arenas, Chile on August 4 but the Southern Ocean has been a bit stormy of late and we are delayed.  Currently we are hiding in Gerlache Straight area near the tip of the Antarctic Penninsula,  in fairly calm seas but high winds.  It is snowing sideways.

All of us are missing something at this point, weddings, birthday parties, planned vacations, but to a person we all looked at the weather forecasts, and the strength of the storms roaring through the Drake and said, "yup, let's stay here".

And so we are. But that doesn't make missing events planned for months in advance any less frustrating.

I still have hopes that I will make to it the Wool Scout retreat hosted by Sarah Hunt of FIberTrek, but it is beginning to look like it might be a stretch.   My best hope at the moment is to fly out from Punta Arenas on the 10th, which has me (if all connections are on time) in Boston the afternoon of the 11th, but that leaves me with the wrong luggage for summer (even in Maine) and no indigo supplies, so a quick dash home to Worcester, and then the drive to MIllinocket to meet the float plane on the 12th.  All doable in theory if I forgo sleep.

We are making the best of our delay, following in the long tradition of mariners waiting out Antarctic weather.  A cribbage tournament was promptly arranged, and a lecture series quickly followed.  Attempts are being made to form a band.  Yesterday morning a nuclear physicist and I worked together to make bean bags (using beans generously donated by the galley) for a game of corn hole, tournament to be organized shortly.  No one has started a newspaper yet, but if our weather window doesn't materialize on the 5th I suspect that might be next.


by Sarah Lake Upton in

After a blessedly uneventful crossing, last night we tied up safely alongside Palmer Station.  Today will be spent unloading the cargo we carried down for them, including a resupply of fresh food stuffs and various scientific supplies.  They were very happy to see us.  (Hopefully we didn't freeze the lettuce).


The crossing down was beautiful and much like being on a boat often is, a bit more rolly, and a bit colder than I am used to, but fundamentally not much different from being offshore anywhere else.  And then yesterday morning I woke up and felt like I had wandered into a nature documentary.  Antartica is utterly its own place, unlike any other place I have ever been, and completely unmistakable.


Ship's internet here is actually worse than ship's internet on the Sea Lion, so I can't post any of the photos I've been taking, but I have been managing to get a photo or two out over Instagram (@uptonyarns).  Posting involves being a bit more stubborn than our internet, which means that it sometimes takes me a while to get things to go through.  For some reason the ship's internet will eventually let me post photos, but it has decisively beaten back every attempt I have made to reply to the comments people have left.  So, if you have commented, know that I have seen it and very much appreciated it, and probably spent 20 minutes trying to get the internet to send my reply before heading back to work or otherwise giving up. 


I fly home on August 5, so any and all yarnish stuff will be dispatched sometime shortly thereafter (I may need to catch up on some sleep).

Farm Visits

by Sarah Lake Upton

I am back on the boat cruising north along the coast of British Columbia.  Tonight we will cross Hecate Straight to Haida Gwaii (also known by their English name, the Queen Charlotte Islands). 


Before I get sidetracked posting about what I am doing now, I wanted to share photos of the farm visits I got to make the weekend before I returned to the boat. 

We spent a cold, raw early spring Saturday at Two Sisters Farm in Warren.

An important note:  I always forget what town Two Sisters Farm is actually in - at various points I have said "Waldoboro" and "Woolwich" but I don't think that I've actually ever gotten it right.  At this point people may be wondering if I'm making the farm up entirely, when in truth I always just forget that the town of Warren exists, and anyway I think the farm is pretty close to the Waldoboro town line.  (Or that is my excuse - Willy, if you read this please correct me).


Skeins of DK weight BFL return to the farm where they grew



Willy keeps a mixed flock of Scottish Blackface, Bluefaced Leicester, and Northern Cheviots.  I snag as much of her Bluefaced Leicester fleece as I can, and every year despite my best promises to myself to keep my buying to fibers that other knitters might reasonably buy once they are yarn, also snag a couple of Scottish Blackface fleeces (because I love the yarn even if I may be the only one).


Sunday was a perfect bright warm April day.  Sarah and I again made our way up the coast, this time to Wiscasset and the lovely forest sheep of Buckwheat Blossom farm.  The flock is mostly Coopworth, but Jeff and Amy have been slowly turning their land back into pasture, in part by grazing their sheep in amongst the thinned trees, which led us to joking about a new breed of sheep, something along the lines of "Penobscot Bay Forest Sheep" or more correctly, "Sheepscot River Forest Sheep".

My sailor-lay bias is probably showing in the need to name the sheep by the body of water they are closest to, despite the fact that that whole point is that they live in the woods.




We spent a lovely afternoon catching up with Amy while sorting and skirting fleece, guarded by the newest member of their family.  


Fibertrek wool scout retreat

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


In addition to hosting a podcast (FiberTrek, available on iTunes) and facilitating the introduction of designers, crafters, and yarn producers to each other and to knitters at large, my good friend Sarah Hunt puts on lovely, cozy, educational, yarn/knitting retreats in Maine.  In her podcasts and personal knitting she is interested in the relationship of wool, yarn, and knitting to landscape and a sense of place. For the last couple of years she has been bringing these ideas into focus during her Tidal Tours knitting retreats in collaboration with Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts, but even more exciting, this year she is also drawing on her background as a Maine Guide to bring interested knitters into the wilds of Maine.


From August 13-17 Sarah will be hosting the Wool Scout Knitting Retreat at Bradford Camps on Munsungan Lake, in Township 8-Range 10.  The camps may be reached by logging road, but a float plane is the recommended mode of transport.   Mary Jane Mucklestone will be holding classes in Fair Isle knitting (!!!!!!!)  Sarah will be teaching classes in starting fires with flint and steel, and also in working with rare and primitive breed wools,  Jani Estell of Star Croft Fibers will be leading a class in making Viking Chatelaines (an organizer for small tools)  and Igor Sikorsky will be teaching fly fishing and map and compass skills.  And, boat schedule willing, I will be there as well with my indigo pots, introducing interested folks to the magic of dyeing with natural indigo.  I am giddy to be included in such company, and also just really looking forward to getting to be part of the retreat.


For more information, and to register, go to

Thank you to all pink yarn buyers

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


I am writing this from the departures gate of Logan Airport, bound for Costa Rica and the start of my six weeks on the boat. Yesterday was full of last minute errands and packing, interspersed with moments of feeling worried about what the country might look like when I return in mid-March.  So it felt very very good to be able to send a donation to the ACLU in the name of all the folks who purchased pink yarn last week (in addition to my normal monthly donation).  Thank you thank you for making the additional donation possible.


And on a semi related note, I am technologically in a bit of a bubble and the cool kids probably all know about the Countable App, but I just learned about it yesterday, downloaded it to my phone, and can tentatively add my own recommendation for doing the same.  It tracks upcoming bills in much greater detail and timeliness than most media outlets and makes it easy to find out how your reps voted so you can call to thank them/hold them accountable.  And best of all former NPR people with names I recognize are running the thing, which goes a long way towards establishing its reputation (for me anyway).


Another political action site that I can now heartily recommend is, a website that makes it easy to pick an issue and make phone call to the correct person (no more trying to figure out if the bill or person you are for/against is in the House or Senate).  It even provides you with a script to use, whichever position on the issue you take, which is really helpful if you are like me a bit uncomfortable talking about these issues in quick sound bites .


All these phone calls and protests may seem like yelling into the wind, but a bill proposing to sell public lands was just withdrawn from consideration after the bill's sponsor received an overwhelming negative response to the idea, and two republican senators have changed their votes on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education due to phone calls from their constituents.  Calling gets easier with practice.  We can do this.


New Colors, and a very silly sachet

by Sarah Lake Upton in

New colors of the Bluefaced Leicester - DK weight spun from the luminous fleeces of Two Sisters Farm are now available over on the sale page.  (I may have gotten a bit carried away....).  All profits from the sale of the pink colorways will be donated to the ACLU.

And speaking of getting carried away, a bit of crankyness over having to spend an exorbitant amount of money for a tiny little bottle of bay leaves from the grocery store, rather than the sensible price when buying in bulk from our old co-op in Midcoast Maine, ultimately led to the creation of lovely little sachets full of things that the internet assures me moths dislike.   (Because it turns out that a pound of bay leaves isn't actually that expensive, but what home cook needs a pound of bay leaves? And then the next thing I knew Sam had a design in mind for the stamp, and once one has a stamp in mind, one must make the thing).



Slater Mill Knitting Weekend!!!!

by Sarah Lake Upton

Upton Yarns has been invited to vend at the Slater Mill Knitting Weekend January 20 and 21 at the historic Slater Mill complex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  I am so very flattered to be invited, and very much looking forward to it!  (Check out the vendor list!).  Even better, Sarah of FiberTrek podcast will be with me to help out/lend moral support/maybe talk about some of her own very interesting projects. (And speaking of FiberTrek, in her most recent podcast she included a bit of the interview we filmed when I visited her lovely cabin on the pond this summer - you should be able to find it on iTunes).


I will be bringing DK weight BFL, Straw's Farm Island Sheep Gansey Yarn, and maybe a surprise or two!  (I get home on Christmas Day - it will be a very busy early January in preparation).

A Sad Closing

by Sarah Lake Upton

On the note of "community" and change, one of my favorite places in Portland Maine is closing it's doors.  I was lucky enough to base Upton Yarns out of the wonderful shared maker space A Gathering of Stitches for a year when I lived in Portland and I owe a lot to Samantha's encouragement, validation, advice, and business sense (also, her willingness to help me name colors).  Samantha is changing her focus from running a shared maker space to further developing her fabulous retreats, and this Saturday (December 10) from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM she will be hosting a book and fabric sale as she closes the doors on her shared maker space.   When I worked out of A Gathering of Stitches I may or may not have lost hours to perusing the book shelf (I wasn't getting sidetracked in books, it's all about developing my creative side...) Her book collection is incredible, and it drives me a little batty that I am on the boat and won't be able to snap up the entire collection.  So, if you are within any kind of reasonable travel distance from Portland Maine this weekend, I highly recommend a trip to A Gathering of Stitches. 


I also highly recommend her summer retreats. And all her classes in general.  When I was in Portland I took her Boro class which totally changed my views on mending from "chore" to "art form", and which I have continued to benefit from.


It makes me incredibly sad that the shared maker space is ending, but I am looking forward to one day being able to attend one of her retreats.

Community and Collaboration

by Sarah Lake Upton

Though it wanders a bit thanks to my day job, this blog is really meant to be about yarn, dyeing, and related subjects.  I am reluctant to bring politics into it, because it just seems like bad manners to do so, but I have also found comfort in the blogs of other small business people who are likewise trying to work through their feeling of anger, grief, and fear at the results of this election.  I am on the boat right now, and our limited internet makes it difficult for me to keep up with what others are doing to process and move forward, but when I get home I will be joining in some of those efforts, as well as in local efforts to mitigate whatever is about to come. Suggestions welcome.


The rancor during the election, combined with the outpouring of grief after the election, has led me to think more about the communities I belong to, and what that actually means.  I started Upton Yarns in part because I wanted to provide an additional revenue stream to small farmers (and in part because at the time I was having a hard time finding yarn spun from local wool in the styles that I wanted to knit with).  I am not a large wool buyer, but when you are a small farmer ever bit helps, and my hope is that Upton Yarns can grow, and as it grows the money that fleece brings in can help a sheep enthusiast justify keeping a few backyard sheep or help keep a larger flock-owner in business.


And then there are the small spinning mills, and the people who grow the natural dyes sold by Kathy at Botanical Colors: to produce a single batch of yarn requires (for me) working directly with three different small business, though depending on what dyes I use (sourced through Botanical Colors) there could actually be quite a few more businesses ultimately involved.


This community is important to me, and it often gets overlooked by knitters, though there is a growing awareness and interest in what actually goes into producing the yarn we knit with. 


As important as this community is, until recently I treated it all with a very traditional, capitalist oriented mind-set.  I buy fleece, I pay the spinning bill and the dye bill; I am part of a community but every piece of what each of us does is separate from the other, and then I sell the yarn on to knitters, who make the final product. 


Recently I had a conversation over email with someone who commissioned yarn from me (which makes her a "customer", except that I really don't like that word - we exchanged too many emails and wrote of too many different things for that word to apply anymore, she is someone I would have over for tea - maybe "patron" is better? "Fellow yarn enthusiast who bought yarn from me" is unwieldy but more accurate) that changed my thinking.  Throughout our email discussion of the color she was hoping I could dye her yarn she referred to our "collaboration" in creating her future gansey.  I will admit that at first I found that word a bit odd.  "We" were not collaborating on her gansey, she will knit her own gansey, I was just planning to dye the yarn for which she would pay me.  But the more we discussed her gansey, and the more she referred to me as her "collaborator", the more I thought about my own discomfort with the word "customer" and my further discomfort when forced to refer to Upton Yarns yarn as "my yarn".   Deb at Stonehenge Fiber Mill creates the yarn. (I send her an idea of what I hope the yarn will be, and then she bridges the gap between my hopes and what the fleece I sent her is capable of becoming).  I choose the flocks I work with, and the fleeces that will go into the yarn, but small farmers raise and tend the flocks, and shearers put in the back breaking effort required to shear the sheep. 


The question of who then, given all the different stages of production, can rightfully call the finished yarn "theirs" it tricky, and I would say all of us, and at the same time none of us.


Thinking about all of this, I took a further step back and realized that the exchange of money in no way makes any of this less of a collaboration.  Every step along the way one of us is creating something or adding something to the finished product, and the money that changes hands is less about changing "ownership" of an item than about thanking the person for their efforts and providing the means for them to continue practicing their art. And this includes the knitters, and the wearers, and the eventual menders of the finished garment.  We are all collaborating in the creation of a garment that will hopefully make the eventual wearer feel cared for, even if they are never quite aware of all the people involved in bringing it into existence.


Thank you KC for helping me to consider more fully what we are actually all doing, and for helping me to come to a better way of thinking about it!


(On a related note, Karen Templar at Fringe Association mentioned in a blog post here that she thinks of herself as a "caretaker of people's money", because by buying from Fringe Association people are essentially voting with their money for the success of a small sustainable business selling responsibly sourced items, made by people who are in turn treated well and paid a reasonable wage, and part of her responsibility as the owner of that business is to make a similar "vote" with the money and to make sure that all of those things are true.   She managed to put into words something that I have felt since the beginning of Upton Yarns, but have been unable to fully articulate. Karen also donates a percentage of her profits to groups like Heifer International - I hope to one day be able to do the same, but for now any profits are going directly back to buying more fleece, dyestuffs, paying the spinning bills, and the general flotsam of business expenses.)

October Highlights

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

So the election happened.  

This morning I find that I need to concentrate on all the positive things that happened in my creative world while I was home.  (On Monday I met the boat in Alameda, California, for our annual shipyard period; currently she is in dry dock).

As I mentioned in a previous post, the gansey yarn spun from the 2016 Coopworth fleeces from Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Wiscasset, Maine was there to great me when I arrived home, and the yarn is lovely.

Many people on the 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn wait list were entranced by the yarn in its two undyed colors, but I did get to do some very satisfying dyeing:

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

I am still working through the wait list, but I ran out of time at home.  If you are still on the wait list and you haven't heard from me to talk about your yarn needs, fear not, I still have 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn, I am just out of time at home.  I will be back in my yarn room in early January, and will be in touch to discuss individual orders. 


One of the highlights of my time home was getting to vend at the Highlands on the Fly knitting retreat at the New England Outdoor Center near Millinocket, Maine.  I had a lovely time catching up with knitters I met there in years past (I missed last year because of my boat schedule) and meeting new knitters. 

 This year the great Mary Jane Mucklestone spoke about her travels and interest in the Shetland Islands, Ellen Mason of Doc Mason Yarn gave a class in Mason Jar dyeing, and I finally got to meet Michelle Bye of ByeBrook Farm (we've been Instagram acquaintances for a while - she has lovely sheep).  Other venders included Jani Estelle of Starcroft Fiber Mill, Casey ff Port Fiber, and Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts.  Mary Jane brought her knit swatches from her recent books:  150 Scandinavian Motifs and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (link takes you to a page about Mary Jane's books on her website, scroll down a bit for the titles). I have spent many an hour pouring over the photos in those books, so it was actually a bit surreal to see them in person.  The photos do manage to capture the spirit of the swatches, but seeing the swatches in person I found that some motifs and color combinations possessed an extra dimension of energy that just didn't quite come across in the photos, while other samples that were stunning in the book, though still lovely in person, didn't quite draw my eye the same way they had in two dimensions.  It was an interesting reminder that knitting is not a static medium, and that different light, different pairings of swatches, and just getting a change to pick up a piece, can completely change how one feels about the same piece of knitting.  (I was too sidetracked by getting to actually look at them to remember to photograph them for a later blog post - for which I appologize).

(I also felt immense admiration for the photographer - yarn is maddeningly difficult to photograph accurately, or even consistently).


Time was my biggest challenge when I was home.  I lost two of my six weeks of time home to classes necessary to maintain my boat life, and while both were worthwhile, and the fire fighting class was downright fun at times, I resented the intrusion of my boat life into my yarn life.


But I have now officially fought fire (under controlled conditions) wearing my At Sea Gansey (pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel).  The increased range of motion and ease of wear that make ganseys so lovey to wear when working on a tall ship are equally lovely while moving a fire hose.