Kelly Corbett dyes 10-20 times a day. She has to in order to keep up with the demand for her beautiful, Maine-grown, hand-dyed yarns. A shepherdess herself, in the Midcoastal town of Woolwich, Corbett’s love of color is applied to her love of farming. Her flock of 34 sheep and goats boasts an incredible 300 pounds of wool and mohair each year. But it was her determination to keep her fellow Maine shepherd’s annual wool shearing in the state of Maine that prompted her to purchase the 2009 Maine Wool Pool. Employing local spinning mills, and turning the over 4,000 pounds of wool into a 100% Maine-produced product. The Maine Wool Pool is a traditional, cooperative gathering of Maine Sheep Farms which
dates back to the 1940s, and allows individual sellers to “pool” their wool for sale.
According to the Yarn Craft Council of America, over 38 million consumers enjoy the craft of knitting and crocheting. Since she started her yarn business in 2004 Corbett says she has seen an increase in sales each year with 2008 being one of her highest years of growth. The local movement has also played a huge roll in the growth of her business and is another factor that prompted her to purchase the Wool Pool, which for many years, was sold to woolen mills out of the country.
“It lost it’s identity,” says Corbett, who served on the Maine Sheep Breeders Association and managed the Pool for several years before implementing her plan to buy it. “I knew it could stay here in Maine and create jobs using Maine businesses and resources.” “I watched beautiful wools being packed into bags and then shipped away like many of our other local, Maine products.”
Corbett’s knowledge of fiber and how to best combine the 4,000 pounds of wool started with her own diverse flock of sheep. She worked for several years creating blended yarns from her own flock, combining wools with percentages of her mohair and Angora clips, and perfecting the formula. Sorting the 4,000 lbs of wool from the Wool Pool is done by breed and then, like a chef, Corbett combines the ingredients for the yarns she creates. There are down breeds softness, long wool breeds for strength, whites with whites, and browns with grays for various shades of natural color. The wool is washed and spun in Maine and then dyed in Corbett’s kitchen. She even uses Maine-made dyes for her product and uses her own “secret dyeing techniques” to create her unique product.
Yarns are hand-dyed with the use of fuels and the environment in mind. Very little hot water is used during the process and dye bath water is recycled saving, Corbett estimates, 40-50 gallons of hot water a day. This in turn reduces the need for fuel to heat and reheat the water. Only vinegar is used as a mordant, no harsh chemicals or heavy metals. Solar heat and wind dries the yarns which hang in huge hanks, on several drying racks and the railings of her porch. “Winter drying can be a challenge,” says Corbett, but an old greenhouse on her property is quite effective during the cold months.
The yarns from her own flock are sold retail only, but the Wool Pool yarns are available to businesses at a wholesale price. Corbett’s yarns are spreading across the Northeast, available in Yarn Shops from Maine to New York and states in between. Corbett is proud that more and more business owners are supporting other local businesses such as hers.
In 2010 Corbett purchased a portion of the Maine Wool Pool as she continues to work through the wools from the previous year. She was happy to see the remaining amount stay in the state, purchased by a local spinning mill. “My business continues to grow, and I plan to buy from my fellow farms again in the spring.,” says Corbett. “ I am employing a local wash facility, spinning mill and a handful of production knitters. My long term goal is to increase the size of my own yarn shop and hire a part-time employee, preferably a stay-at-home mom like myself.” says the mother of three.