MONTICELLO – Kristi Pyatt would love to pull the wool over your eyes.
And the Monticello artisan is eminently qualified for the job. She learned to knit at her mother's knee at the age of 12 and has been perfecting her craft ever since. She also offers one-stop shopping.
“Ah, there's my ting-a-ling, this is our girl Sally,” she says, introducing a very rotund fluffy sheep that comes clanging into view with a bell fastened around its unknitted neck. Sally is one of a mini herd of seven rare “Leicester Longwool” sheep that gorge themselves on the rich grass wrapped like a green blanket across Pyatt's five-acre Fox Run Farm. Fat and happy, the roaming Leicesters are fueled to provide all the raw wool the most fanatical knitter could ever need.
Their owner sends of a lot of their wool away to be spun into yarn but also dabbles in spinning herself, after hand cleaning and combing the fibers, and turns it into yarn on a wooden spinning wheel she keeps parked in her living room.
Pyatt can then color it in any hue or combination of hues, another painstaking process done by hand. And she uses an actual paintbrush, believe it or not. “Yeah, I really do,” she says with a smile. “I sit there hand-painting my yarn with cups of color. I put them together in different ways and just play with it.”
She sells off her own website and caters to a discerning clientele that appreciate pretty wool that's cloud-kiss soft. And the color range is so extraordinary, so vibrant, it's easy to imagine that Claude Monet would have left his garden at Giverny to come shop Fox Run Farm.
Customers armed with needles rather than Impressionist brushes can use that yarn to knit their own socks, scarves, shawls, sweaters or whatever, or they can hire Pyatt to do it for them. Custom knitting is another of her services, which also include knitting lessons.
What matters, she says, is that something gets knitted by hand by someone who cares for someone else. Pyatt enjoys the creative process itself as a relaxing way to knit up life's raveled sleeve of care, but she also maintains the needle clicks of material creation are tapping out a deeper meaning.
“When you knit for somebody, especially somebody you know, you really put a lot of feeling into doing that,” she explains. “You spend a lot of quiet time on it and you think about who it's for and how they will wear it; knitting is very personal.”
It's a sense of caring and involvement she and husband Nathan are trying to pass on to their boys Reagan, 10; Mason, 8; and 6-year-old Logan. Nathan Pyatt says they want to teach their sons about the value and importance of working to provide for their own needs. The kids help tend the sheep and prep the wool that will be turned into clothing for them from their very own favorite sheep (they each have one).
The boys also care for three head of Angus Simmental Cross cattle their dad raises on the farm. Nathan Pyatt has a Ph.D. in “ruminant nutrition,” which means he is an expert on cattle feeding, and his day job sees him engaged in research and working to solve customer problems for an animal health company.
He says he isn't trying to herd his offspring down the same rarefied career chute that takes him to cattle operations all over the country. But, as his boys learn both woolly and leather husbandry (plus taking care of 100 chickens) and also lend a hand harvesting their own food from the family's extensive vegetable garden, they grow in appreciation for the effort expended to feed and clothe ourselves.
“It's been amazing to watch my sons' transformation over the last few years,” says their Dad. “You see their eyes being opened to what it takes to raise animals, what it takes to care for animals and what they give us back.”
Sometimes the boys get the wool pulled from their eyes in unexpected ways, but the life lessons are no less telling. It turns out, for example, that the phrase “black sheep of the family” echoes back through atavistic chords of memory to something very real in the critter world.
Kristi Pyatt points out a black sheep called Sadie all off on her own. “Yeah, it's true, the other sheep really don't like the black sheep very well,” she explains. “They segregate her, just because she is a different color. But I love the color, and I need to get more black sheep so Sadie will have some friends.”