Monday, November 22, 2010

First Lines (History of the Mill part 2)

Harlan Brown had a herd of sheep on his hands, thousands of pounds of wool, and a dream of mountains of yarn. Through the grapevine, Harlan heard that a wool mill in South Carolina was selling some of their equipment. The price was right, so in the spring of 1980, Harlan and his wife Janet hopped in the tractor-trailer used by the farm and headed South to retrieve the equipment.

They returned with a pindrafter
and a spinning frame.
The pindrafter and spinning frame pictured above are the ones in use now--yes, the operation has grown!

Harlan spent the first six months of the year learning how to use his new toys. On July 4th, he had the first ball of yarn in his hand. For those of you who are familiar with Brown Sheep Company, you know that we have multiple lines of yarn. This was the first. What Harlan perfected over the first year was the line of yarn that is still known as Top of the Lamb. This product is a single-ply, 100% wool yarn that is still loved today.

Confidant that this was an excellent product, and unique for its time, the Browns packed the trunk of their Ford with as much yarn as it would hold and hit the road. They spent several weeks marketing their new product and establishing their customer base. Many people turned them down, but when they hit Omaha, Nebraska, they found one buyer who cleared out their stash. That emptied their trunk, so they headed back to western Nebraska to make more. Their second outing was to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. More on this trip in a later post!

A note on Top of the Lamb:

This is still a popular seller 30 years later. It comes in 35 colors, and is used for industrial production of things like blankets, rugs, and other sturdy manufactured products. If you need a tough, made in the USA yarn, this one is for you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Before the Wool Mill

We would like to begin a series on the history of the Brown Sheep Company to fill in the holes left by our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Harlan Brown was a farmer in western Nebraska. For 35 years he farmed the family land. During this time, he developed an interest in wool and the sheep that produce it. As he collected larger and larger flocks of sheep, he became facinated with the wool production process. This fascination led to his involvement with the American Sheep Council, and the Midwest Wool Growers Association. This company officially started in 1980 as a family owned and operated business.

Over time, there were sheep and lots of them. Harlan worked to streamline his sheep growing and wool producing operation. By the end of the 1970's, the Brown family had over 1000 head of sheep. EDIT: a zero was left off--there were over 10,000 sheep at the height of the wool production process.

Harlan realized that there was profit to be had in adding value to the wool he was producing, and the idea for a wool mill was born. The Brown Sheep Company took its name from the Brown family and in 1980 the first equipment was purchased for the production of yarn.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Or shall we say Autumn! There is a difference you know. One word we throw around flipantly as we discuss the weather. The other has meaning. When we talk about autumn, we really mean the feeling we get when the wind brings a crispy chill and you can hear the leaves on the ground. For knitters everywhere Autumn means planning out all the projects that need to be completed before December 25.

Of course, having spent time in South Africa, I know that October means something else entirely for the seasons. For those of you who live in the southern hemisphere, we wish you a warm and balmy summer!
And don't forget that December 25th is not a northern hemisphere exclusive date--the deadline approaches. Another reminder--have fun while you knit, and if you are in a place where the leaves are turning colors, enjoy them, they will soon be covered in snow.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shameless Publicity

Check out our yarn giveaway at our friend Olof's blog We are thankful to Olof for displaying our product and we think she did a great job on this toy. Great pattern from the Itty-Bitty Toys book from Susan B Anderson.

Now here's the deal, Olof is giving away four skeins of our yarn, so read her whole post. If you stop at the top, you will miss out on this sweet deal. Read the giveaway details and post your comment on her site. We do not want to confuse you, so get there and read it yourself. Contest is open until Midnight Oct 3, 2010.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Someone is Happy about the Fiber Fair!

Ok, really it was everyone, not just this Alpaca.

We are excited to share some of the memories from the 2010 Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair! The event was held Sept 18-19 at the Mitchell County Fair Grounds in Mitchell, NE. If you weren't able to join us for this fabulous event, here are some of the highlights:

Weaving class was a blast

On Friday, we held eight classes including, beginning, intermediate, advanced weaving, Fair Isle, Entrelac, Beginning and Endings, Color work, embroidery, to name a few. The classes were attended by 64 students and taught by eight knowledgeable and passionate instructors. Here are a few shots of classes in progress.

You have to spin it before you can knit it right?

Local fiber artists demonstrated their skills and inspired us to try new things. Some of the demonstrations included knitting, crochet, knitting spool, spinning, weaving, etc.

There were samples of people's finest work on display and for sale.

At the Fiber Fair, vendors from around the region displayed their yarn, products and garments. We had special guest appearances by the wonderful animals which grow the fibers we adore: sheep, alpaca, goats, and angora rabbits. It was truly a day to indulge the senses!

Machines doing what we learned to do by hand!

Saturday was packed full of fun events! We hosted tours of the mill throughout the day. Visitors were able to get a peek into the inner workings of Brown Sheep Co, browse through the store and get hands-on with our product.

Recap: Be here next year, it is a very fun event. And...get the newest generation of fiber arts specialists in on the action!

Knitting spools in use, wish I had taken that class!

If you attended this event and would like to send us a photo of something you made or leave a comment please do so here or visit our Facebook page

We would love to see what you do with Brown Sheep Co!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Second Annual Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Fair!

Check out our booth at the Fiber Fair! Well, this picture is the closest you will get now because we are DONE with this years exciting event. It was pretty awesome, and if you were not there, we sure hope you can be there next year for the third annual fair. We'll update the blog with more pictures as we get them in.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Phoebe's Sweater

Brown Sheep Company is a proud friend of Joanna of Slate Falls Press. Her book, Phoebe's Sweater is amazing, and the actual knitting part of the project is so fun! We have knit up Phoebe the mouse, her dress, sweater, and the little sweater for a real live girl. These will be on display soon in our store at the mill if you can stop by for a visit. If you would like a copy of this gorgeous book (yes, you would like a copy), let your local yarn shop know and they can order it straight from Brown Sheep Company.

Let us know what you think!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Made in the USA. Part 1.

OK, reach over to your basket or shelf or pail and grab that skein of Brown Sheep yarn. Got it? Nice. Know where it came from? Mitchell Nebraska right? Sort of...

On a mountain slope in Colorado live several herds of 80,000 sheep. They spend their days growing soft wooly coats. When the ranchers shear them, we have an order in to buy the dirty greasy wool. It is shipped in giant bales to our factory.

Upon reciept of the raw wool, we send it down to South Carolina to be washed, carded (lining up all the fibers in the same direction), and combed (removing the short fibers).  The freshly washed, carded, and combed wool--weighing half of what it did when it arrived in South  Carolina--is shipped back to our mill in western Nebraska for processing into beautiful high-quality yarn.

We turn it into roving--great for purchase by those of you who like to spin and dye your own wool products. It comes in 25-pound "bumps."

At this point we spin the wool into yarn. It is all white since the dye-master has not gotten his hands on it yet.

Once we have the yarn all ready to go and put up into fiber-content batches, the dye-master checks the orders from the warehouse and prepares his dye vats. With secret Brown Sheep dye recipes, the yarn is turned from creamy white to verdant greens, vibrant blues, rich reds and a host of oranges, yellows, purples and yes, black and white--a feast for the eyes.

From here the freshly dyed yarn is passed through state-of-the-art drying machines. Now it is just a matter of measuring out a consistant yardage and putting up the yarn in hanks, skeins and balls.
A load of freshly dyed Lamb's Pride headed into the dryer.
A brand new skein that just got a label slapped on it.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Intro to the Mitchell area: it is not all corn fields. The northwestern quarter of Nebraska is beautiful, with rolling hills and right behind the wool mill, sandbluffs. You can see the line of bluffs in the background here. I chose a winter shot because right now it is about 100 degrees and we need some hope of cooler weather.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Well, this will be an experience. We would love to open up a place where people can come to get to know the company a little better. Welcome to Brown Sheep Company's newest endeavor--a blog.

Ever wonder what it takes to churn out high quality, fun yarns in thousands of colors and fiber blends? (OK, yes, you read about it on someone else's blog, I know) But, now we hope you will visit us to get closer to your favorite yarn manufacturer--Brown Sheep Company!

Join us for the inside scoop on what we are doing as a company, what we see coming down the road, and the pure joy of making a high-quality product here in the United States.