Wool from Nantucket The local wool scene on Nantucket is still a new and growing enterprise, but there are a few choices for knitters to explore. There are two farms on the island that raise sheep and distribute their wool to local shops. The wool comes in brown and white. Far Away Farmsâ€™ wool is available at Ambrosia Chocolate and Spice at 29 Centre Street. The Nantucket Conservation Foundationâ€™s wool is sold exclusively at Flock, 14 Sparks Avenue, and on their website, where three different types can be purchased by the four-ounce skein. The Foundation also designs sheep figurines (individuals from $8$12; a family of mom, ewe and ram for $25) for the annual October Cranberry Festival at Milestone Cranberry Bog that includes a sheep-shearing and herding demonstration.
A few of the sheep from The Nantucket Conservation Foundation flock. Photo courtesy of Lauri Robertson Photography: www.laurierobinsonphotography.com
he location by the roundabout is apt: Flock serves as a hub of activity both for knitters attending her year-round workshops and for visitors looking to choose supplies as souvenirs, including wool from the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s native herd. “People who knit tend to look for yarn to buy when they travel,” says Fee. “Some people walk into the shop specifically asking about wool from Nantucket … I think it’s a way to add to their collection back home!” It’s also appropriate to look out on the circular bustle, because it seems to reflect island life itself. “It’s a small island, and we all move within our own little circles,” says Fee. It is easy to get set into an everyday route – everybody knows each other, and yet face-to-face meetings can be surprisingly rare, if you are on one side of the island instead of the other – and in this sense, the shop helps expand one’s network.
In the center of the room is a zigzagging wood instrument used by knitters everywhere, but an impressive sight nonetheless: a swift. It expands and contracts like an umbrella and is turned round and round by hand, unwinding the challah-bread braids of yarn (skeins) into the ball-spinner, a spinning-top that dances on its axis until all the loose thread is wrapped around it in a finished ball of yarn, ready to go for the next project. Being a small business owner is very challenging, and a knitting shop owner all the more. One does not simply go to a shop like Flock to buy wool and then hurry out again. There is a personal touch, from giving advice about certain materials to deciphering a specific pattern, to that most popular question: “I think I remember how to knit, but it’s been years since I did it … could you show me?” (Fee laughs and says, “It’s kind of like being at the grocery store and saying, ‘I’ve just bought this meat. Can you show me how to cook it?’”) It’s what so many look for when they walk through the doors, and this popular demand inspired her to organize many tutorials and the year-long Sunday afternoon workshops, which have a loyal core group of about eight … and counting.
There are plenty of shops on island sporting a selection of finished wool products, but only Flock has the supplies for knitting. Sheila attributes her success to taking the time to “hand-hold” and give lessons. It’s no surprise that she enjoys teaching the craft of knitting to others and is lauded for her patience. She’s known how to knit since around 8th grade, but what got her back into it full time was when her own kids started to learn to knit at the Lighthouse School. Her daughter Ruby was working on a project, so Sheila dusted off her skills and helped her finish the pattern. From then on, she has never stopped. This has led to many new projects and successes, including the annual baby hat knitting contest to benefit Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s maternity department, a collaborative project started by Sheri Perelman and her late mother, Louise Benoit, who believe that “everybody should go home with a handmade hat.” This year’s theme is yet-to-be-determined, but all knitters are welcome to participate. Usually more than thirty hats are knitted for the event. Every couple of years someone will pop in to the shop to ask about ideas for a new project and ask shyly if Sheila remembers them – and she usually does. That’s the nature of the island. By the window, the table is empty and ready for the next workshop, the chairs wrapped in hand-knit multi-colored covers as the traffic from the mid-island carousel goes round and round in tandem with the spinning and creeking of the knitting swift in the center of the room.