Today’s interview is with Phylleri Ball, owner of Steam Valley Fiber Farm in Trout Run, Pa. Read about her journey from crocheter to ranch owner, and the wonderful mohair and mohair blends her farm produces.
Can you tell us a little bit about your farm related to fiber arts? The type of animals and number of animals? Is there anything that makes your farm different from other farms?
Steam Valley Fiber Farm was established in Northern Pennsylvania in 1998 with 5 Colored Angora Goats. Fifteen years later the herd size has grown to 80+ head of Angora Goats, Nubian Goats and Border Leicester Sheep. Owner, Phylleri Ball, has been a Fiber Artist for over 30 years, specializing in spinning, dyeing, & rug weaving. Her Mohair roving and hand-dyed yarns are well known on the Sheep & Wool Festival circuit. As a member of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Steam Valley’s goal is to produce fine fleeced animals raised using sustainable farming practices, with fiber processing by regional mills.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the history of your farm? How did you get interested in creating fibers for knitters? How did you come to fiber arts farming? Readers will love to hear your story – so tell it!
I began crocheting 35 years ago and learned to spin and dye wool from my sister who is a weaver and spinner. The same sister sparked my enthusiasm for raising fiber animals by buying me my first Angora rabbit. Later on, she also taught me to weave. While living in Colorado in the 90’s, I began raising Angora goats and loved their personalities and fiber. We moved 5 Angora goats and a truck full of Angora rabbits to Pennsylvania, where I established my fiber business after my first show as a vendor at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in 1998. My Angora goat herd expanded and Border Leicester sheep were added as their wool is perfect for blending with Mohair. I love to play with color, so dyeing fiber and yarn became the focal point of my fiber production. I enjoy the Natural Colored fleeces as well, which has resulted in my Steam Valley line of Mohair yarn in natural shades as well as dyed colors. A typical day on the farm includes a fleece being washed in the basement fiber processing room, dye pots brewing on my porch which serves as a dye studio, amidst barn cleaning or fencing, and feeding livestock.
For the hand spinners & felters , I create dyed locks and Mohair blend rovings. Border Leicester wool is added to our Mohair roving as it provides elasticity in the spun yarn and makes it an easier to spin roving. In addition to Mohair roving in every color of the rainbow, we have sequential colorways that change color in a repeated pattern. For the knitter, crocheter & weaver, we have three lines of yarn. Our Hand-Dyed yarn is dyed on the farm in stunning variegated colorways. Our Mohair yarn is produced from Steam Valley’s Angora Goats, wool from our Border Leicester sheep and additional wool from other Pennsylvania wool growers. The newest fiber product is natural and dyed Corespun Rug Yarn, also know as Big Stitch Yarn. You can knit, crochet and weave with the Corespun Yarn to create rugs, chair pads, bags and baskets. Our Mohair & Corespun yarn is carded and spun by a regional fiber mill, making our Steam Valley yarn completely produced in Pennsylvania.
Do you sell fiber products directly to consumers? How can someone purchase products from your farm or produced by your farm?
Our fiber products are marketed directly to our customers through on farm sales, the local Farmer’s Market, craft shows and Sheep and Wool Festivals. Products can be ordered through our website at steamvalleyfiber.com
Farm visits are welcome my appointment. We offer free one hour tours to see the livestock. Our shop at the farm is open by appointment or whenever you find us at the farm by ringing the big dinner bell next to the house.
Do you have any specialties that you would like the fiber arts community to know about?
My newest passion is Corespun Rug Yarn. You don’t have to own a loom to make a wonderful, durable rug. A pair of fat knitting needles or a large crochet hook can turn the Corespun Rug Yarn into fabulous rugs or chair pads. The thick Corespun yarn is ideal for weaving on the Peg Loom, which is my favorite way of working with Corespun yarn.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Mohair, the fleece of the Angora Goat, is a versatile fiber. Angoras are shorn twice a year as their fleece grows one inch per month. The first two shearings, or clips, are called Kid Mohair as it is the young goat kids who produce the finest and softest of fleeces. Yearling Mohair, the 3rd & 4th shearings of the Angoras, is still incredibly soft but it has more strength than kid Mohair. Fine adult fleeces, from goats up to 5 or 6 years of age, is still excellent fiber for hand spinning and yarn because Mohair’s luster gives dyed fiber an incredible sheen. Coarser Mohair, from older goats has been used for centuries in rugs and upholstery, due to its durability and strength. Hence rug yarn made from the Mohair of mature animals is supreme for rugs, furnishings and other non-clothing uses. Once you meet the adorable, capricious creatures, you can’t help but fall in love with them too.