It’s not often in life that one gets to have a dream and follow it all the way to reality, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have done just that. For many years I wanted to remake Germantown. Some of you will remember it from it’s previous life as a Brunswick yarn, or if you have a grandmother or great-grandmother who knits, you may remember or have heard of Fleisher’s Germantown, or Columbia - later Columbia Minerva - Germantown.
Germantown is a yarn with a history as old as America. For many years the term “Germantown” did not mean a specific kind or brand of yarn, it simply meant good quality worsted spun wool from Germantown, Pennsylvania.
The days of the bustling Germantown mills are gone. Most of the old textile mills in this country have shuttered, either in whole or part. The ones that survive tend to focus on one aspect of production - top dyeing, twisting, or just spinning - so in order to create a finished product, yarn must move from location to location before it is ready for sale. Wool may come from Wyoming or Texas, travel to California to be cleaned and processed, shipped to Pennsylvania to be spun, then to Maine to be dyed, and then back to a warehouse in Philadelphia. The machine, as they say, has a lot of moving parts. That said, there are many amazing small mills across the US who will make yarn sheep to skein, but as a wholesale company, we need to be able to have a large and consistent inventory, which is something - as amazing as they are - the smaller mills cannot manage. This, coupled with the desire to limit the manufacturing process to one location, makes domestic production an uphill battle.
For many years, I kept my Germantown yarn dream a secret from everyone except Kate. I wanted it to be perfect, and I was willing to wait to get exactly what I wanted. I’m a Capricorn, after all, and my long game is on point. I was confident I could find a way to make it happen. In 2015, I happened to meet a lovely gentleman from a mill in North Carolina. He said, “If you’re ever down that way, stop in and I’ll give you a tour.” In 2017, I called him up and said I was coming. I packed an old skein of Brunswick Germantown in my suitcase, put myself and the baby on a plane, dropped the baby at my dad’s in Charlotte, and drove to the mill. I thought I might have found what we had been missing: A mill who could take the whole project from start to finish. At the end of our meeting I put the skein in his hand and said, “I want you to make us this.” He took it and said, “It’s a bit raspy, isn’t it? I think we can do better.” I went home full of happiness and anxiety. It truly felt like we were destined to make this yarn. On the eve of our ten year anniversary, I applied for the Germantown trademark. Coats Canada, Inc. was the last company to own the trademark, and they had abandoned it in 2001. Shortly afterward, we received our first samples from the mill. I may have cried a little bit.
Kelbourne Woolens Germantown is a Territory wool. Territorial wool (or range wool) is a bit of an archaic name for wool that comes from the former US Territories, broadly anything west of the Missouri River, but in the case of Germantown, mostly from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The most prevalent breeds are Rambouillet, Targhee, Columbia, and Polpay. The natural color of the fleeces has a more creamy tone than the whiter Australian or South American wools, and more crimp and body which makes for a loftier yarn with more bounce. Germantown is a worsted spun yarn, as opposed to a woolen spun, which means the fibers are combed, adding strength and a nice, smooth quality to the yarn.
This yarn sample that I held in my hand felt perfect - it was my whole existence as a yarn maker wrapped into one little package. Even though it had taken many years to turn my dream into a reality, something about it, and the timing, felt just right. Here we were, poised to reinvent our brand in the same city as the oldest and most iconic yarns in American history.
Last week, when I was away at Vogue Knitting Live, Kate sent me this picture in a text as the Germantown skeins started to roll in. I definitely cried a little bit. She used the image of the original Horstmann mill as inspiration for our label, which is the company who later started Columbia Yarns as what is possibly the first American consumer hand knitting yarn brand.
We are proud to carry on the tradition, and we hope you are ready to welcome Germantown back into the fold. Do you remember Germantown from way back when? We’d love to hear your stories and fond memories in the comments. Stay tuned for more information about our upcoming collection, and more on the history of Germantown yarns.