By Terry Murphy
As winter closes in, Bainbridge Islanders love to cocoon. It’s the season for crackling fires, hearty stews and handmade crafts, like knitting. Right up there when it comes to nesting activities, knitting is something you can do even when the power goes out. (Of course, that hardly ever happens here.)
When Carrie DeFoe’s husband, Brian, took up knitting four years ago, she wasn’t sure how to react. “I thought it was a bit odd,” Carrie recalled, shaking her head. But Brian proved to be quite nimble with his needles. Inspired by her husband’s gorgeous creations, Carrie decided to create her own line of yarn with a different spin. Her company, Insouciant Hair, makes breed-specific yarn out of Angora rabbit hair and fleece collected from Pacific Northwest farms. “It feels different than a lot of commercial yarns,” Carrie said. According to Carrie, there are only two other companies that produce breed-specific artisan yarns, one in Virginia and the other in Australia.
Carrie’s philosophy about her product mirrors how many Bainbridge Islanders feel about their food. They want to know where it comes from and they want to buy local. Carrie gathers wool from 20 farms (two of them are on the island) and she is constantly scouring Bainbridge for new sources close to home.
“I thought it would be so neat for knitters to know what farm and which sheep are involved, and how the yarn impacts the environment and the community,” Carrie said. In fact, the labels on her artisan yarn identify the breed of sheep that produced it. You can even “Meet Your Sheep” on her website. There you can find your sheep’s name, see their picture and read their life story. Talk about getting personal with your hand-knit sweater!
In addition to locally sourced sheep’s wool, Angora rabbit hair makes up 20 percent of the blended yarn. The rabbits are hyper-local; they actually live in the DeFoes’ backyard. Nick, Buster and Natasha are just a few “staff members” of Carrie’s hare raising business. The herd is comprised of five French Angora and two German Angora rabbits. This group of Europeans is treated like royalty.
“These are some pampered rabbits!” Carrie said when she introduced the fluffy little family she and her husband care for like beloved pets. Insouciant means carefree and that’s a requirement for all her furry “employees.” She insists any animal that supplies fiber to Insouciant Hair be raised in a humane environment.
According to Carrie, harvesting rabbit hair is painless but time-consuming. “When they start losing their coat, the Germans are sheared and the French are plucked or combed every 90 days.” Once the hair is collected, Carrie sends it, along with hundreds of pounds of sheep fleece, to a Michigan mill. It leaves Carrie’s house an amorphous blob and returns transformed into luxurious, all natural undyed yarn. The DeFoes roll it into skeins and label each one by hand.
Currently, Insouciant Hair is only available online at Etsy, but word is getting out around the island. John Koval, owner of Churchmouse Yarns & Teas, is thrilled with Carrie’s concept. “She’s developed great relationships with shepherds and chosen the right mill,” Koval said, adding that he hopes to carry the line in his store soon.
For Carrie, every strand of her yarn carries meaning. “I want people to hold the yarn in their hands and just feel connected.”