This is Wool.


Today I bring you a surprise guest of sorts, a kind gal named Mary Jo of Five Green Acres whom I've know (in that no-physical but online soul-sister sense) for several years.

Mary Jo has begun an adventure that is near and dear to my own heart and I wanted to share here inspiring story with you. What she's doing is certainly on my short list of dreams. Sheep! Dyes! Yarn!

To sweeten the deal I'm also giving away a skein of her handspun wool, so read on to learn more.

(All photos in this post are courtesy of This is Wool and Five Green Acres.)

This is wool. First Harvest: Backyard from Mary Jo, FiveGreenAcres on Vimeo.

Mary Jo has just embarked on several journeys ~ that of keeping sheep, experimenting with fiber dyes, and spinning wool. I interviewed her earlier this week about her new adventure in self-employment and artistic expression, This is Wool.

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RJW: I'd love to hear about making the leap from town-living to farm girl. What was that transition like?

was a slow and easy transition, because we're not too far from the city
(Madison) but still have a small town to call home, so it's really the
best of both worlds.  

I didn't give too much thought about the community
we were moving into – it was the property that we fell in love with –
and therefore didn't really have any expectations about finding other
like-minded folks in town; I was satisfied with the ability to maintain
my connections in Madison.  

I happened upon the newly-formed knitting
group that met at our local library and through that gathering met many
of the folks that are now among our dearest friends.  The library was
our gateway to this community.


RJW: We (okay, I) tend to romanticize farming or keeping animals. Talk to me about the time you give to your animals each day.

MJB: That
varies, of course, depending on the time of year.  In the spring, we
get chicks and foster their growth through the beginning of summer, then
process the meat – that's the most labor-intensive component of our
farming operation.

The sheep simply require fresh water and pasture
every couple of days during the season of grass, a task which involves
moving the portable electric net fence and takes under 30 minutes.
 Shearing, which we've just begun doing ourselves, is very labor
intensive, like you wouldn't believe! But it's one or two days of the
year, and most normal people bring in a shearer to do that.  

The laying
hens are, like the sheep,  easier to care for than dogs – food and water
each day, as well as opening and closing their coop to let them range.

In the winter months, the sheep are pastured right behind the chickens
in a communal space, making it easy to care for both flocks in a short
amount of time.  As for the weekends, it's still relatively easy to pile
up enough food for a few days and head out.   


RJW: Plant dyes are fascinating! Any new experiments on the horizon?

the end of the season last year, I put in quite a few new dye plants,
with grand visions for this year's dyeing season.  

Then came The

It became clear to me as the summer progressed without any
additional rain, that this year's harvest of wool would need to be dyed
from traditional acid dyes.  I feel good about that decision, leaving
the scant goldenrod for the bees, the sumac for the birds to sustain
them through the winter.  

Acid dyes will introduce a very different
range of colors to this vintage of wool, giving Second Harvest its own
identity.  I hope to return to plant dyeing next year, nature willing,
because nothing is more satisfying to me than growing the dyes which
color my wool. 


RJW: I know that wool from different types of sheep has different qualities. How did you pick a sheep breed?
MJB: I came to knitting thrrhough the impending birth of my first child, my
daughter Isadora.  I was researching cloth diapers, and came upon knit
patterns for wool soakers – this is also where I began my love affair
with wool as a fiber!
I read about wool's remarkable absorption properties, its natural
antibacterial components, and set off for the fiber shop to get some
wool to (learn how to) knit into wool soakers.  I sought out the softest
wool I could find, something that I would want to swaddle my
as-yet-unborn baby's butt, and started learning about the different
grades of wool.  Who knew there was such a range beyond the "Wool is too
itchy for me" cliche?
Again, when it was time to select a breed of sheep to raise, softness was the
overarching decision-maker, as well as availability.  As my flock grows,
I've begun selecting for softness and a very fine wool – it must be
luxuriously soft, to be worn next to the skin.
Want in on some of the goodness? Leave a comment below and I'll choose one of you to receive a gorgeous skein of Mary Jo's This is Wool Honey Bee.

Comments are now closed. The winner, chosen by is Meena (The very last commenter. That's never happended before!) who said:
Wow, that is really gorgeous yarn, I wish I could touch it right now! It lt looks so soft!

Oh, such fun. And now, of course I want sheep (even more than I did before)! If that was even possible…

92 thoughts on “This is Wool.

  1. Marissa says:

    Honey Bee is so beautiful I need to pin it. Thanks for the opportunity to win, and have a beautiful Autumn day!

  2. Pixie Trish says:

    Amazing how many of us come to some sort of fibre art while expecting our first babe! It’s in our DNA methinks.
    Thanks for a chance to knit such gorgeous fibre.

  3. Casey says:

    Oh my sweet goodness. A scarf of that Honey Bee would be divine. Thanks for sharing about an awesome (fairly) local to me source of beautiful wool!

  4. Ms. Smoochy says:

    Ahhh. Much needed eye candy this morning. The wind is blowing strong and the sky is gray and rainy in Nebraska. I’ll be found knitting and watercolor paining with my kids today. Maybe I’ll get through my current project just in time to be the winner of that lovely skein of homegrown, homespun, hand-dyed heaven. Fingers crossed. Thank you Racheal for introducing us to such a cool homesteading artist.

  5. Beth Schultz says:

    What a nice interview. My family had sheep growing up. You’ll love having them Rachel. The yarn sounds amazing.

  6. Jill says:

    I didn’t learn to knit until after my son was born, but with second child on the way, wool soakers are actually the next on the list of handknits for the new little one. That yarn looks delicious. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Paula McGuire says:

    Totally in love with this wool–I just ordered 2 skeins of tomatoe, but I would love a skein of honey bee!

  8. Veronica Dragon says:

    I have been following Mary Jo’s blog for a while now and just love the old-time down-to-earth living style she is writing about. It brings back memories of going to my grandparen’ts house when I was small. It is not easy work, but the reward of such beautiful yarn and accomplishment is worth it in the end.

  9. Jess says:

    We are actually looking to get some farmland and I’d love to have my own sheep so I can do this very thing! How wonderful 🙂

  10. Tanya Hulbert says:

    To live like this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. Currently I purchase from a local lady who lives similarly to Mary Jo. Her name is Alice out of Eatonville, WA. I would love to try Mary Jo’s fiber. Thanks for the chance.

  11. Amy says:

    The wool looks amazing! I want sheep now too. YAY for having another place to buy fiber from. I love buying fibers.

  12. goodkarma says:

    I’ll admit to thinking (more than once), “I bet we could hide a couple sheep in our backyard in town and nobody would notice…”

    Oh, that video! How beautiful. She’s living the life. Thank you for putting Mary Jo, her sheep, and her yarn on my radar.

  13. says:

    This is just the inspiration I need to actually use the lovely knitting needles I purchased at a garage sale three years ago! Thanks so much for the give-away, Rachel.


  14. karen says:

    Lovely and inspiring! You both will want to check out It began as a project of Rebecca’s where she committed to a year of wearing only clothes made in her fibershed. That was about 150 mile radius. The clothes had to be made here, fibers grown here, dyes grown here. She did it! With the help of lots of others. The project is on the website and has expanded to include workshops and events and a marketplace so these local producers have a place to sell their local fibers. Clothing is an area that is often neglected by the ecology movement and I’m glad to see awareness brought back in! Rebecca also wrote a book about dye plants and how to use them called “Harvesting Color” it’s a beautiful book. I’ve been growing indigo and coriopsis and they are both very easy to grow! It would be fun to see fibersheds pop up everywhere, with different colors and fibers.

  15. Tara says:

    I have just been teaching myself to knit and with winter upon us, I’d love to settle down with a skein of this yarn by our woodstove. I’m loving your blog these days. Thanks for all of the inspiration.

  16. Angie says:

    That Honey Bee yarn is absolutely beautiful. The video was inspirational. Oh the ideas and where, and how, and the time to get it all started.

  17. Mikaela says:

    So wonderful to hear from people who are living their dreams fully, and making beautiful things for everyone else in the process!

  18. Karla says:

    How lovely! It’s funny how she began her love affair with wool… I, too, have been looking into wool diapering for baby #3. I bought a few covers and made some of my own upcycled soakers. I got out the knitting needles again and made a couple hats… and I definitely wouldn’t mind some of that yarn!

  19. Sarah Lee says:

    I have just begun my adventures in plant dyeing in my position as Handwork teacher at Alabama Waldorf School. You can purchase dried plant matter online instead of the acid dyes if you want to stick to plant color for Second Harvest, but it may be too cost prohibitive.
    Beautiful work, inspiring!

  20. Keri says:

    I went to high school with MJ and her hubby! She was a senior while I a freshman. How wonderful to hear of her farm! Also, I heart knitting.

  21. amelia says:

    I have been following her blog for a while now, and have big dreams of keeping sheep and spinning fiber some day 🙂

    Honey Bee is so beautiful; not my usual color choices, and yet, very alluring!

  22. arianne says:

    I love the video. So inspiring. I like that sweater vest she’s wearing. I’d love to make something like that. I can just imagine all the lovely things I’d make with this. Crossing my fingers!

  23. Marian says:

    So interesting to read people’s different journeys to where they are today! That yarn looks delicious! …and yes, makes me want some sheep too :-). Thank you for the opportunity and for sharing!

  24. Amylynn says:

    Mary Jo you should pat yourself on your back your skeins are beautiful, the color ways are amazing and I loved that you naturally dyed them yourself. I got into natural dyeing this summer cotton and silk for possible fabric clothing and quilt options. So much fun. Have you seen India Flint’s dye book? If not check if the library has it, it will inspire you even more! COngrats! Love the video I play it on many mornings for a peaceful meditaion time. I dream of sheep someday!

  25. Bianca says:

    I was wondering if her sheep wear jackets. I’ve heard that sheep kept for wool usually wear jackets to prevent excess dirt/plant material from sticking in the wool. I bet it’s cute. Thanks for hosting a fiber giveaway.

  26. Beth says:

    Yum, Yum, Yummy wool. When I saw the unspun wool reaching out over the edge of the shelf in the first picture, I could tell it came from a luscious next-to-your-skin breed of sheep. What fun to experience the whole process of raising wool, sheering, dyeing, spinning, and growing dye plants.

    We’ve considered raising sheep but have only got as far as having honey bees.

    Thanks for hosting this giveaway.

  27. Laura Becher says:

    how lovely! and this coming from a girl who starts itching just thinking of my bad wool skirts as a child…would love to try knitting with it!

  28. Julie says:

    I would to try knitting with this wool!! I am just getting into wearing wool as previously it made me itchy!! But, no more!!!

  29. Katie says:

    Oh wow! That yarn is lovely and named so appropriately. It would make some great mittens to keep hands warm. . . I’m thinking thrummed mittens perhaps? Thank you for offering a chance to win this wholesome yarn. Take care, Kate

  30. Tracey says:

    What a dream come true! I so wish I could own sheep, but living here in the deep south it just doesn’t seem fair to the sheep. Thanks for a lovely giveaway.

  31. Sarah says:

    LOVED this post, as moving to some land, having some animals and living the country life is my pipe dream! Thanks for the chance to win some delicious yarn!

  32. Em says:

    Owning sheep and chickens (and a goat) is on my bucket list. Until then I’m living vicariously through women like you while I reside in Brooklyn, practicing urban homesteading 🙂

  33. Brittany says:

    The yarn looks beautiful and cozy. I love their website but especially the story ‘this is why we got sheep’. :))

  34. Kim says:

    I’m pining away after some chickens right now. We’d have to movefor sheep. I’m knitting for baby #4 on the way this spring. I’d love some of this beautiful wool. Thanks for the interview Rachel.

  35. Jen says:

    How beautiful! I am making a Waldorf Doll for my daughter and this wool would make the most exquisite hair! <3

  36. Alex Hopkins says:

    Oh how gorgeous!! I too have an online soul-sister. What a great journey she has set out on with keeping sheep. I wish her the best of luck! Xoxo 🙂

  37. ashley says:

    Ooooo…I need some nice wool to work with! I’ve only recently learned to knit and have been using cheaper yarns until I make something great! It’s time for great-ness!

  38. Kristina says:

    She’s inspiring me to want sheep, too. I’ve been wanting cows for a while, now. We had chickens and will again. I think I definitely need some fiber producing animals, though.

  39. Nancy says:

    That Honey Bee colour is amazing, I would love to try that out on a cowl. A lot of hard work goes in to producing that beautiful skein of wool, AMAZING! Thanks for the chance to win.

Comments are closed.