I met Ellie at the Nashoba Valley Knitting Guild this past spring. She was kind enough to allow me to interview her...enjoy!
Hi Ellen! Can you tell us a little bit about Ellie's Reclaimed Cashmere? How did you get started?
One day I got it in my head that I wanted to knit a cashmere sweater. Mmmmmm, cashmere. Upon researching it I concluded a hand knit cashmere sweater was not in my price range. Then I read an article about how people in former generation always reused yarn from items that were no longer wearable. I had a couple of cashmere sweaters, that for a variety of reasons I wasn't wearing, and I set about taking them apart. I was immediately addicted and started seeking out sweaters at consignment shops and thrift stores. By the time I had completed my 3rd sweater I had so much yarn it was a little embarrassing (unless you are a knitter, and then I trust you will find it completely rational and understandable).
I feel pretty strongly about using what is already out there so recycling my yarn just seemed a natural fit. The number often repeated is that it takes the fiber from 4 goats to make one sweater. That just seems like a lot of work for all the beings involved! And there is wonderful cashmere already out there just waiting to be "upcycled" from its current condition.
We have friends who own an ecofriendly store and they suggested I might want to try selling my yarn there. That was 4 years ago. Some days I am amazed that a personal quest to knit with cashmere has turned into a full time business, but I love that it has!
Can you tell us a little bit about your process, from sweater to skein of beautiful yarn?
Once I have bought them the first thing that happens is that they get a good bath!! Everything is washed in eco friendly soap before the process starts. I take the sweaters apart and then unravel the individual pieces and wind them into balls.
Once taken apart, each sweater goes into a bag until I get ready to use it. I spend a lot of time knitting up different color combinations until I find a swatch I like.
I usually work with 3 or 4 different colors at a time. I ply the yarns from those 3 or 4 sweaters together. Then I wind them into skeins and wash them again. This insures that the yarn is completely clean and also relaxes the kinks in the strands.
Are you a knitter?
I am. My mother taught me when I was 8. I didn't do much knitting in college (in Louisiana, too hot) but since then it has been a constant in my life. In today's world, with everything so technical, knitting is my connection to what I believe is the human need to create things by hand. It keeps me grounded.
I usually don't leave the house without something to knit with me. You never know when you'll get stuck in traffic, or have to wait somewhere unexpected, or end up at a gathering where others brought their knitting too. I brought my knitting to vote on Tuesday and was a little disappointed that the line wasn't long enough for me to even take it out! What sort of things do you like to knit?
I am a sweater person. I wear them all winter long, and living in New England winter is long. There is something very cool about being able to create an everyday article of clothing from scratch. And scarves. They make great gifts, are always the right size and don't require any sewing up! And swatches! Since I knit up tester color combinations before plying them, I am constantly knitting swatches. One day maybe I'll make a blanket with them. Are you part of any other fiber or knitting related projects?
I am a member of a wonderful knitting guild. It is such a source of inspiriation to see all the different projects and yarns.... different stitches and techniques, ways to create that I never thought of.
I also participate in a few fiber shows a year. I always take a break to walk around and see what everyone else is showing.
And I have a dream of having a fiber studio some day where people can come and create. But that is a long way off and I really love what I am doing right now.