From Sheep to Shop

Photos by Paige Green

sheep farm in Vacaville, CA

Jackie Post is living the fiber lover’s dream at her farm in Vacaville, California, where she settled around four years ago with her husband Leonard, who works as a scientist, but grew up on a farm in Michigan and raised sheep in 4H.

The flock consists of 18 sheep of varying breeds (Shetland, Jacob, Navajo-Churro, Karakul, Herdwick and a BFL-Jacob cross). There’s also a guard llama on the farm, and there have been no losses to predators thanks to the llama and the fact that the sheep are put into a barn at night. The sheep range in age from 6 months to 12 years.

The opportunity to purchase an additional adjoining property and expand to 12 acres came about earlier this year, so now Jackie has plenty of room for her growing fiber arts business, aptly named Sheep to Shop.

Jackie Post with her stash of fleece

In addition to her own fleece, Jackie buys fleece from shearer Johnnie Sanchez, as well as from other sheep ranchers, like fellow Fibershed Producer member, Marcia Barinaga. All of the fleeces are carefully organized and inventoried until Jackie is ready to wash and card the wool and then spin, knit or felt it to make a variety of products, including placemats, hot pads, dryer balls, catnip balls and rugs.

Since she can’t process all of it herself, Jackie sends some of the fleece to mills, such as Valley Ford Wool Mill or Mill Creek Fiber Works for washing and/or carding and, occasionally, spinning. And she is also experimenting with blending, using alpaca fiber that she gets from West Valley Alpacas in Esparto.

Jackie Post using her picker, and using her electric spinner

Jackie opens the fibers with one of her pickers (above left), and uses her electric spinner to make yarn (above right).

In college Jackie took up knitting, and after moving to California in 2001, she was introduced to an alpaca breeder who taught her to spin, sold Jackie her first spinning wheel, and introduced her to Robin Lynde of Meridian Jacobs. “I joined Robin’s Farm Club to purchase fleece, so I wouldn’t need to have sheep or buy a farm. You can see how well that worked out!” she says with a smile.

Jackie bought her first two sheep from Robin, and boarded the sheep with a friend in Lafayette. Then she moved the sheep to another friend’s property in Vacaville and added a llama and a few more sheep, eventually buying the farm in Vacaville and moving all the animals there. Gradually she decided it would be interesting to have a variety of breeds, which led to the 18 sheep she raises today.

When asked how she learned to raise sheep, Jackie says that she followed the advice she found in a book: the breed you choose isn’t as important as having someone who can give you advice and support about raising those sheep.

“I learned a lot from Robin and have kept learning just by doing it. I also have a very good vet and have gained other sheep-experienced friends like Colleen and Dona.” Jackie enjoys her circle of fiber-loving friends in Vacaville that share resources, equipment and skills with one another. They are a great model of collaboration.

hand spun yarn and felted hot pads

Some of Jackie’s handspun yarn (above left) and her knit-felt hot pads (above right). 

Jackie has a background in education—she has a Masters degree in early childhood education, was an adjunct professor at both University of Michigan and St. Mary’s College in Moraga, and worked in preschools and at Headstart. Although she is retired, she continues to enjoy educating people—only now the subjects are sheep breeds and other fiber-related topics. With every product she sells, there’s a card that describes the process, as well as a card that describes the breed or breeds of sheep that provided the wool. One of her goals for 2015 is to create a display of felt panels made from each breed of wool she uses, along with information about that breed and a photo of the sheep.

information sheet, felted placemats, felting machine

One of Jackie’s product cards (above left), some of her felt placements (above center), and the needle loom that she uses for felting products like the placemats (above right). Friends of hers use the felt loom as well, and return the favor by dyeing some of her yarns or teaching her other skills, such as setting up a peg loom.

In another collaborative effort, Jackie and her Vacaville fiber friends—Robin, Colleen and Dona—recently purchased and processed 200 pounds of wool from a neighboring ranch, with Robin using the majority of the wool for her hand woven blankets. Jackie is making some placemats from that wool for the sheep owner. She enjoys helping farmers realize that their wool has value if they shear it properly.

You can find Jackie selling her products at the Napa Farmers Market on a regular basis, and also at single events like Lambtown. She has also participated in events at the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club and the Napa Women’s Club. And Jackie’s products are also available at the Fibershed Marketplace farmer’s market booths in Larkspur, Sebastopol and Oakland (see the calendar on fibershed.com).

Jackie loves the conversations that she has with people at the markets and events since it gives her more opportunities to educate about the animals, the fibers and the processes used to create goods. Recently she met a woman from Turkey who was interested in learning about the electric spinner, since it has the potential to increase productivity in her village where drop spindles are currently used for making yarn. Another conversation gave her the opportunity to tell a vineyard owner from France about the Ouessant breed of sheep that work well for grazing in vineyards.

In addition to the markets and events, Jackie’s products can also be found at the Grand Hand Gallery in Napa, and SHED in Healdsburg. In 2015, Baranaga Ranch in Marshall will be selling products that Jackie makes from their wool, as she has committed to buying the wool from their entire spring shearing.

It’s heartening to spend time with someone who so clearly loves what she is doing, builds collaborative local partnerships and shares her knowledge with others so freely.

Jackie Post holds a felted rug that she made

3 thoughts on “From Sheep to Shop

  1. Jackie, I saw your exquisite, natural colored, thick, felt placemats at the Coffee Mill in San Francisco, yesterday! I am a retired home ec teacher, now making art jewelry. I am working on felt necklaces right now. I would love to make a felt necklace using your felt placemat, but it seems almost sacrilegious to cut into such a beautiful fabric! My necklaces are made from thick (1/4″-3/8″) felt pieces 1/2 inch or 5/8 inch square. Do you sell your natural colored, thick felt in any other form that might work for me, such as scraps?

    I enjoyed reading your story! I live in Cupertino.

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