Art Klossner walked into his barn in a wool sweater he’d knit himself years ago.
He entered the ewe’s pen, lowering himself to his knees in the hay. They ran to him, wagging their tails, one pawing pleadingly when he stopped scratching her chin.
From the adjacent pen, an alpaca craned his head down, and Klossner returned the curiosity with a quick smooch.
Klossner runs Mobius Meadows, a fiber farm on Colchester’s Middle Road. The small operation started in summer 2014, after Klossner began experimenting with a drop spindle, an age-old tool used to spin yarn.
He purchased three alpaca for his 18-acre farm and learned how to turn their fiber into yarn, all by hand.
“I don’t do anything slowly … or smartly,” Klossner said with a smile. He’s an avid homesteader, on top of working full-time at the University of Vermont.
Klossner has since added 11 sheep to his flock, and last December took a “pickup truck full” of fleece to Mad River Woolery in Waitsfield to be processed.
“I’m hoping that I will be able to help fund the life,” he said. “The ultimate goal will be to retire early from my main job and just live here sustainably, financially as well as environmentally.”
The alpaca are shorn once a year, and the Shetland sheep, with their faster growing wool, are shorn twice annually.
Klossner takes a week off from his job in the spring and fall for the shearing and sometimes invites friends and neighbors over for the event.
He went back to his house and into the basement where the cut wool is placed on a drying rack in front of a woodstove. The rack was covered in black and caramel brown fleece that felt slightly sticky and smelled pleasantly of grass and hay.
The fleece can be fluffed up with a picker to help separate the fibers. Klossner built his own picker, essentially a box with a pattern of nails sticking through it. The fleece is pushed into the nails and pulled over and through them.
Any short fibers are removed because they’ll weaken the yarn and eventually break and ball up, Klossner said, as well as anything else caught in the fleece like sticks, seeds and manure.
He washes the fleece with hot water and soap to clean it and dissolve the lanolin, a wax secreted by the sheep’s glands. Klossner said this step has to be done gently, so as not to tangle or mat the wool, turning it into felt.
Next it is put in the carder, Klossner said, walking over to a small hand-cranked machine consisting of two drums covered in tiny metal bristles. The bristles comb the fleece, arranging the fibers in the same direction so it can be spun.
Once removed, the resulting loose roll of fiber is known as a batt and is separated into narrower pieces called rovings.
Upstairs, Klossner sat in a chair next to his spinning wheel and put on his glasses. He said he learned to spin by watching YouTube videos, where he gets most of his DIY information.
He turned a big red drive wheel by pumping pedals with his feet, and the “U” shaped wooden flier in front of his hands spun around in a blur.
He slowly drew threads out of the roving and fed them into an orifice, the flyer twisting the fleece into a tight yarn as it wrapped around the bobbin.
Once initially spun, the yarn can be re-spun any number of times to create stronger and heavier yarn. Klossner’s latest batch of mill-spun yarn is a more diverse offering, including different weighted yarns, unspun batts, as well as dryer balls made from his scraps.
Currently, he sells his yarn at Ptown Pürl in Provincetown, MA, on his website and directly from his farm.
Klossner said his sheep and alpaca are a part of what he calls “the whole circle” and a “partnership” with the land.
The animals graze the land, their manure is spread on the gardens to help grow the food, the food scraps get composted and the cycle continues.
Asked how he balances working a full time job, Klossner said he keeps going until he falls asleep and then wakes up to do it all again.
“There’s always something to do,” he said. “That’s the good thing. I guess I’m never bored.”