Way back in January, I had the chance to meet Lindsey Rice from Bartlettyarns at Vogue Knitting Live. The Bartlettyarns booth was stocked with some great wool that was produced in the U.S.A., and I soon learned that they are the oldest operating woolen spun mill in the country.
I also got to talking to Lindsey about crochet and he mentioned that “[C]rocheters are rediscovering us and that this art form seems to be making a great return.” I knew then that I had to interview Lindsey and his wife, Susan, about this awesome bit of American yarn history. You can find Bartlettyarns on their website, Facebook page, and Ravelry yarnie page.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get started in the yarn industry?
Bartlettyarns (BY): Lindsey was enrolled as a 4-H member in New Hampshire and he had a sheep project. Eventually, we met as teenagers in 4-H (long story). Lindsey began a sheep shearing business throughout New England and we got married. Sometimes we got paid for shearing and other times we were given the wool. With several hundred pounds of wool, we ventured to Bartlettyarns to have it processed. We picked out eight colors and started our business attending sheep and wool festivals and farmers markets.
During one trip to Maine, the pulley system that runs the Mule was broken. The owner of the business was explaining the situation to us and Lindsey (a Marine) stated he knew how to splice it back together. Within fifteen or twenty minutes, it was back in operation.
Fast forward many years, many trips to Maine, and a good friendship later, we got a panic call that the Mule was broken again. The owner was in California on vacation and it was broken for two weeks so they were unable to produce yarn. We arrived to the rescue the next day and fixed it once again.
We always had joked with the owner that someday he would retire and what would he do with the business. We received a phone call two weeks after this and we were offered the business. How could we say no??
The Bartlettyarns Mule in action.
UC: Tell us more about the history of Bartlettyarns and the Barlett Mule.
BY: Bartlettyarns was established by Ozias Bartlett in 1821. His great grandson, Harry, took over the business at age 16 and it remained in the Bartlett family until 1947, when it was sold to owners outside the family. It was originally a water-powered mill, as it sits along the Higgins stream in Harmony. It was converted to electricity in the ‘40s. Today, it runs much like it did then.
UC: One of the things that struck me about your booth at Vogue Knitting Live was your displays of the mill. Where do you find your inspiration as a dyer?
BY: An excellent piece on the mill was done by WCSH in Portland. They have a show called 207 and they produced an eight minute segment about us. It originally was supposed to be just two or three minutes long, but turned into a whole show for them.
Our Mule spun yarns are not skein dyed, but rather we stock dye the fiber and then it is blended to make our colors. As for the hand dyed yarns, those are skein dyed and Susan does those. She has an eye for color and she is like a witch with her brew. She tends to dye with colors of the season, prefers to dye on crisp, sunny days for clear, bright colors and on overcast days tend to bring more muted colors.
UC: To what extent is Bartlettyarns a local product?
BY: We are vey proud that we work with local producers to source our wool, and that the scouring and dyeing is also done here in the US. We are definitely a “made in the USA” company and one that has been continuously run for over 190 years.
UC: You have the opportunity to travel to many fiber related events. Tell us about some of your favorite fiber festival experiences.
BY: Well we do Maryland, New York, TNNA, and a few local fairs. Our children are involved in their spare time and try to come to the larger shows to help us. One child is definitely the salesperson, so he handles the booth, and the other enjoys talking with wool producers about their custom processing options. We enjoy the educational process with people and how our mill is different, being spun on the woolen vs, worsted system. People enjoy the history and the videos we show at the booth – the noise of the machinery captures their attention.
Probably the most amusing, is when the wife is dragging the uninterested husband around looking at yarns and has the totally bored look on his face. Oops, he hears machinery clinking and clanking, where is that sound coming from??? He sees machinery and mechanical parts moving, he is hooked. The wife gets time to look around, she purchases yarn and is ready to move on and then she has to wait until he is done watching and asking questions and all of a sudden the role is reversed.
UC: Where can people buy your yarns?
BY: We have three different segments of our business. We have wholesale accounts, which are primarily yarn shops who carry our yarn. Next, we have custom processing which allows fiber producers to turn their raw fibers into roving or yarn. We have options that allow them to get their very own fiber back. Lastly is our retail component where you can come to the mill and purchase directly and get a free mill tour, order from our web site or visit us at one of the shows we attend. Our website lists the shows and dates.
Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Lindsey and Susan!