NASH ISLAND WOOL
In 1916, Jenny Cirone’s father became lighthouse keeper on Nash Island off the coast of Downeast Maine. Young Jenny started a flock of sheep, and lived on Little Nash Island with her family and flock for 19 years. After the lighthouse was decommissioned, Jenny purchased most of Nash Island, as well as neighboring Big Nash Island and continued to raise sheep on both islands. Moving to the mainland, in sight of her beloved islands, Jenny tended her island flock until she passed away at the age of 92. She entrusted her flock and the islands to her next-door neighbors and close friends, the Wakemans, who continue to tend Jenny’s flock and take care of the islands just the way Jenny always did.
Jenny’s flock of 150 or so sheep are an Island Descendent/Coopworth/Romney mix, a hardy breed well adapted to island life. They graze out in the open, thriving on green island grasses and mineral-rich seaweeds. This island life style produces beautiful soft, clean, ‘fog-washed’ fleeces.
Wild as they are, the sheep prefer the island to themselves, barely tolerating seasonal visits from their shepherds. In May the Wakeman family daily check on the ewes as they lamb. In June with the help of family and friends, the sheep are rounded up, the new lambs are checked, the ewes are sheared, and the rams removed to their own island for the summer. In November the sheep are rounded up once again, and the ram lambs come off the island, bound for market. In early December the rams go back with the ewes for breeding, starting the cycle anew.
STARCROFT FIBER MILL
Located in the woods of Downeast Maine just a few miles inland from Nash Island, Starcroft Fiber Mill is our small family owned and operated spinning mill where we process the wool from Nash Island into handcrafted yarns and felting fibers.
We work with our good friends the Wakeman’s tending the sheep throughout the year. In early summer, we join them to help shear the sheep. If the weather cooperates, and the sheep are dry, we gather as day breaks for a boat ride to the island, where we round up the flock, and our three local women shearers get to work. While they shear the flock, we skirt through the fleeces removing bits of brambles and seaweed, sort them into grades, and bundle them into large burlap sacks. All of the lambs fleeces are used exclusively in our Nash Island FOG yarn, while the soft ewe fleeces go into our Nash Island LIGHT, MUCKLEMARL, and TIDE yarns. The longest, softest fleeces are wrapped in sheets and reserved for hand spinners. And any wool that does not make the yarn grade goes into our felting wool batts, ensuring that every bit of Nash Island wool is utilized. After a hard day’s work filled with laughter and good food, the sacks of newly shorn fleeces are hauled in lobster boats to the mainland.
At the mill we skirt the fleeces one more time before we gently wash the wool by hand in bio-degradable soaps. The cleaned fibers are then hand-fed into a picker (first round of carding) to blend the flock's fleeces toghether. The prepared wool is then sent to mills in Aroostook County or Vermont to be spun before returning to Starcroft for hand-dying, skeining and labeling.
With colors inspired by Downeast Maine’s natural coastal beauty, the finished yarns are hand-dyed in small batches. Our special lobster pot kettle dyeing technique creates subtle variations of color in each skein, where light and dark highlights of a single hue create beautiful shading in even the simplest knitting.
Every lock passes through our hands -- staring with shearing and finishing with skeins of yarn. With each step we strive to produce quality handcrafted yarns and felting fibers that honor and preserve Jenny’s legacy and bring our unique local Maine fiber traditions to you.
Maine has a centuries old tradition of raising sheep on its uninhabited costal islands. One such island off the coast of Downeast Maine is where the story of Nash Island Wool began over 100 years ago...