SHEMP Yarn – An Interview With The Founder

By Jodie Morgan | Updated: | Published:

I love learning about clever people who make renewable yarn.

I had the opportunity to find out more about one such yarn company.

I was intrigued by the name SHEMP and was fascinated to learn that this yarn is a combination of Wool and Hemp!

SHEMP yarn in natural colors with their knitted sheep mascot

Susan Barnhardt recently got in touch with me about the new yarn, her woman led team are launching in October.

I knew that like me, you’d be interested learning more about the combination of these animal and plant fibers. So I asked Susan if she’d be interested in an interview? Fortunately she said Yes!

So here it is…

EXCITING UPDATE: Susan and her team are super excited with their release of Shemp Yarns! In 2 different yarn weights – Fingering weight for Sally’s Sock Yarn and DK Weight for Coastal Grandmother. Now available in their shop.

Shemp Yarns Coastal Grandmother and Sally Sock Yarn

Let’s start with what was your motivation to create Shemp Yarn?

The SHEMP yarn knitted sheep mascot with South Bend Industrial Hemp that has been dried

That’s the interesting thing about SHEMP. I had no idea I would launch a yarn brand. For most of my career, I have been a Go-To-Market consultant for consumer brands and looking at what’s next.

In 2018, the US Farm Bill legalized hemp growing. I was curious to understand what this might mean for consumer goods.

To find out, I joined the National Hemp Association and took a Director position. That lead me to a consulting role with the American Sheep Industry.

The group wanted to find new uses for wool and determined that blending it with the newly authorized fiber, hemp, would be an innovative idea. Unfortunately, the idea did not move forward.

But we had planted the seed. Because of the previous research, I became aware of the textile industry’s environmental impacts, which needed to get addressed.

I recognized the real-world benefits and sustainability of a textile product made from wool and hemp. That’s why we brought to life a yarn that would satisfy the consumer’s desire to purchase products that are ‘healthy for me and healthy for the environment.’

Through investigating yarn processing, we could ensure SHEMP was not only natural but sustainably, ethically, and domestically produced in the USA.

Once I determined I could execute with intention, I knew that SHEMP, a natural fiber yarn, would deliver against that need. 

Lilly the Spokesdog for SHEMP Yarn sitting beside a basket of natural colors SHEMP yarn

Why USA Wool and European Hemp?

That’s a great question. I intended to offer SHEMP from farm to sale made totally in the USA.

I discovered that the US hemp industry had focused on hemp for CBD processing and not on processing industrial hemp for textiles.

They are two very different types of hemp.

Always one to meet a challenge, I began to talk with yarn spinners to find out what they needed to make a blended yarn from wool and hemp.

They wanted prepared wool top and hemp top. The wool was available in the US but not the hemp top.

Where could I find hemp top?

With SHEMP yarn all about sustainability, I found available sources in China, but I did not want to support the harsh processes used to process hemp fiber into hemp top there.

I contacted a network of industrial hemp processors and found a supplier in the EU who meet my standards for sustainably produced hemp top.

This supplier relationship led to the next step in the production of SHEMP Yarn.

SHEMP Yarn knitted mascot with white loopy wool body and black face.

What excites you about the combination of Wool and Hemp?

With SHEMP, we are playing a part in revitalizing the textile industry.

We are creating a whole new generation of natural fiber yarns and textiles.

Both wool and hemp are naturally sustainable and environmentally friendly. Wool is the original performance fiber, and hemp is a strong n natural fiber.

What excites me is how when we combine hemp with wool, hemp enhances all of wool’s natural attributes.

We found that combining wool and hemp creates a soft and strong yarn as opposed to a possible perception that it would be coarse or scratchy!

Why would handknitters love your yarn?

We wanted to find that out, so we surveyed hand-knitters.

100% of the respondents told us that sustainability and natural fibers were significant factors in yarn choice.

Beyond that, we asked about performance. Amazingly, 100% answered that they liked the look of the yarn; that it was easy to work with; that it draped well; felt soft; resisted tangling; and since we asked them to FROG the yarn, they reported that it resisted tangling and retained its shape after the second round of knitting.

All reasons to love SHEMP yarn!

What are the qualities of a wool and hemp blend?

There are many. It is versatile, naturally moisture-wicking, and has important breathable qualities when wearing apparel next to your skin. Synthetic yarns trap both!

While SHEMP Yarn is warm, it also adjusts to the temperature of your environment, another great attribute of wool that hemp enhances.

An interesting fact I didn’t know is that wool is naturally flame-retardant, and adding hemp adds a strong fire barrier.

All this is in addition to being eco-friendly and renewable!

Why does Hemp work so well in creating textiles?

We use industrial hemp, not hemp used for CBD production. Industrial hemp has many uses, especially in the textile industry.

I realize that this is not relative to just yarn, but it is educational.

What do you love to knit with SHEMP?

Well, I must admit, I am not a knitter.

When we created our focus group, we supplied them with yarn and knitting needles, asked them to knit with the yarns and let us know their thoughts.

Based on the fingering weight yarn, they reported that it was great for socks and shawls.

With that in mind, we have two fingering weight yarns, a Super Wash Merino Hemp blend, and a NSW Merino Hemp blend.

We also developed a DK weight yarn from Corriedale Wool and Hemp that is great for sweaters and unstructured outerwear. We are collaborating with teresaknits on Ravelry.

SHEMP Yarn Tote that will be available to purchase with daisy flowers and images of cartoon sheep

How will knitters buy your yarn?

In October, we are launching an eCommerce site where consumers can purchase our yarn.

We want to support small businesses, especially those of ‘brick and mortar.’

Our plan is to launch a campaign that maximizes their profitability through promotions and more. 

What are your hopes for the future of Shemp?

We hope that our innovative yarn — SHEMP — sets a path forward and becomes a natural choice for textile industries, including knitting yarns, outdoor apparel, home décor, and the military. 

What other questions do you think my readers will find interesting?

I think the fact that SHEMP is a woman-owned company is important.

Here is a special note: The commitment of two women moved SHEMP™ forward, Susan Barnhardt, Founder of The SHEMP Yarn Company Inc., and Mary Jeanne Packer, Founder of Battenkill Fibers.

Both Susan and Mary Jeanne are Mothers, Grandmothers, and, in Susan’s case, Great-Grandmother and successful Businesswomen.

Together, they are committed to ensuring that younger generations have access to natural fiber yarns and textiles that are both sustainably produced and positively impact the World.

I’m super excited for you and your team Susan!

What an amazing journey you’ve all been on so far.

It’s so good to learn about yarns that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

If you have any questions for Susan, please leave a comment below.

About The Author

Jodie Morgan From Knit Like Granny

Jodie Morgan (Author & Founder) | Lives In: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Author: Jodie Morgan is a passionate knitter and blogger with 40+ years of experience currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Taught by her mother and wonderful grandmother “Mama”, she fell in love with crafting from a young age. When she’s not knitting, you’ll find her enjoying a cup of coffee with cream, or sharing helpful resources and tips with the online knitting community. Get to know Jodie and the team on our meet the team page.

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