Local Hero Profile: Bloom Woolen Yarns
Local Hero Profile by Julia Mazzuchi, Local Hero Program Assistant
The buy local movement in the Valley not only encompasses eating local, but also wearing local. If you’re a knitter or a crocheter like me, you may not have asked yourself, “Who grew my yarn?” However, this is the question that inspired Lisa Fortin to establish Bloom Woolen Yarns, a business dedicated to growing, dying, and selling yarn and other products right here in the Valley. Fortin is a slow fashion enthusiast, and she created Bloom Woolen Yarns to bring high-quality, hand–dyed yarn to our local economy while keeping a small environmental footprint. I spoke with Fortin to learn more about how Western Massachusetts fiber products are an integral part of the greater buy local movement.
Bloom Woolen Yarns created their first product less than three years ago, in January of 2021. This first yarn, a worsted weight called Yearling, is now just one product among many that Fortin sells online, at regional festivals, and at various retail locations like Northampton Wools and Atlas Farm. Her products include yarn of all different colors, sizes, and textures, as well as wool sponges, knitting patterns, and even a yarn CSA. Fortin’s yarns attain rich, earthy colors from organic and natural dyes, which lend them more character than your average store bought yarn. She often sources natural dyes from her own garden.
Fortin’s favorite part about her job: “Being able to work with beautiful natural fibers, with my hands, and growing plants.” She also loves working outdoors on her homestead, visiting farms, and meeting people. As for her passions beyond her business, Fortin notes, “Free range kids, homeschooling, natural parenting, lactation work, local food, organic vegetables, natural medicines, and handcraft in general.” She credits her four kids, Clara, Lily, Willow, and Zinnia, for playing a big role in her homesteading and business.
When I spoke with her at her studio in Ashfield, we were surrounded by gorgeous hanging fiber arts, newly dyed, vibrant yarns – and even a funky chainmail costume piece. When I complimented this piece, she smiled and said, “That’s my past life.” She explained that her work used to focus on costuming and jewelry making. Since then, Fortin has become an avid knitter. She cultivated her passion for natural fibers once she got her own flock of Shetland sheep, and began sending their wool to a local mill. This produced farm yarn, which Fortin used for her personal knitting projects. Fortin noted that she really got into her fiber endeavor once the pandemic struck in 2020. Not only did she think to herself, “I should just make more yarn”, she also asked herself, “As a knitter, what would I like to knit with?” From there, she was driven to create her own comprehensive line of yarns – sock yarn, DK (double-knit), worsted weight, and aran – so that whether you want to knit a sweater, or socks, or baby clothes, or outerwear, you could source that yarn locally.
As the pandemic continued, Fortin spoke with local farmers and learned that a lot of wool was not being used in its usual ways: it was quite literally piling up. She saw her opportunity, took backstock wool off their hands, and started up her business. Her first yarn came from of sheep and alpaca wools. When thinking back on this moment, Fortin said, “I was thrilled.”
Today, Fortin still sources wool from her own flock, and supplements with wool from Leyden Glen Farm in Leyden, Four Blessings Farm in Leverett, and various farms in the area that have extra wool. She explained that different wools lend to different kinds of yarn: when she can collect soft fleeces, she makes her DK weight yarn called Babe, and when she collects rougher fleeces that are too coarse for wool, she makes sponges and dish clothes. These rougher fleeces are called waste wool, because it’s wool that farmers often dump. However, Fortin enjoys giving purpose to wool that may not necessarily be right for clothes.
This ties back to her general philosophy around the business: to have a small environmental footprint. Fortin emphasized that she was driven to create her business in order to work against the fast fashion industry, which produces enormous amounts of waste and is increasingly destructive to both the environment and the local clothing economy. She remarked, “We can literally grow some of our own clothing here. We can’t grow cotton here, we can’t exactly do linen yet or hemp on a large scale, but we do have wool. So, every time we knit a sweater — and a knitted sweater you can wear over and over and often for many years — it’s one less thing that we have to buy at a big store. That is really underneath everything that I do.”
In addition to handmade clothing, Fortin promotes thrifting and buying second hand. She added, “I do recognize that not everybody has the time or inclination or knowledge to make all of their things, but they can support people that are doing that work.”
When you buy local yarn, you are often receiving a higher-quality, longer lasting product than your average store bought fibers. Just like when you buy local food, buying local fiber products helps to steward environmental health while supporting the local economy. You can find Bloom Woolen Yarn Products at Northampton Wools, Atlas Farm, regional festivals in season, and online at https://www.bloomwoolenyarns.com/ .