It started as a way to pass some time. As a young mother back in the 1990s, Frances Kansteiner logged many an afternoon hour outside her little girl’s gymnastics studio. Noticing another mother knitting while they waited for the classes to end, Kansteiner asked the woman for some lessons. She never imagined that the socks she would soon start knitting would inspire her to create a company that now raises three hundred sheep and turns their wool into knitted and woven items sold online and in elegant venues.
When she started knitting, Kansteiner and her family were already living on Gum Tree Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, growing their own vegetables and raising their own beef. When knitting turned from a time-passer into a passion, she bought a trio of sheep from a breeder down the road, and learned from friends and at demonstrations how to shear and spin the animals’ wool. The accessories she knitted for her family attracted their neighbors’ admiration, and soon Kansteiner was selling mittens and socks from her dining room. “I kept the door to the house open and laid the items out on the table,” she recalls, “and just put an honesty box out so that people could leave a check when they took something.”
Eventually, the business outgrew Kansteiner’s dining room, and the interest in her products outpaced the amount of wool that the first trio of sheep could produce, so the family allowed the flock to grow naturally to its current size to keep up with the demand. Each of the three hundred animals produces about ten pounds of fleece (enough for four or five baby sweaters) per annual shearing, a process that helps the animals to stay cooler and cleaner and enables their baby lambs’ nursing.
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY MISSY JANES, MEGAN WHITT, AND CADE MARTIN
WRITTEN BY SUSAN KLEINMAN
This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of MILIEU.