Above: Jeanne Carver has built a yarn business to capitalize on the wool from the ranch's historic Columbia breed of sheep.
Below: Imperial Yarn products are sold nationally and internationally.
// Photos by Randy Johnson
The yarn operation is booming, and Jeanne says they can’t keep production ahead of sales. “I’m a work in progress and I’m not a businessperson,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to go after as much market share as is possible.” Jeanne points with pride to the fact that since January 2011, Imperial Yarn has received no financial support from the ranch (part of the range war). It has grown to stand on its own, with Imperial Yarn more than doubling its sales in 2011 from the previous year. “A growing portion is e-commerce, but our bread and butter is local yarn shops all over the country,” says Jeanne. She has also sold to yarn shops in Berlin and London. Area ranches recently expressed interest in selling raw wool to her operation.
Employing women on the ranch is also a point of pride to Jeanne. Son Blaine’s wife, Keelia, is the full-time warehouse manager at Imperial Yarn, along with five other local women, in addition to Cohen being creative director. They call themselves the Imperial Yarn Girls (buttons available with orders) and have set up headquarters in the historic Hinton House, which the Carvers have restored (they live in the 1970s brick home built for George Ward). Jeanne spent 15 months researching and writing the application for a National Historic District designation, which the 22-acre ranch headquarters received in 1993.
Authors, environmentalists, yarn aficionados, Vogue Knitting and schoolchildren who have been known to serenade the sheep all have made pilgrimages to the ranch. Jeanne has embraced education and sharing the history of the ranch to anyone who wants to listen.
“The efforts … are simply our way of honoring the past as we constantly adapt and find the way forward to a solid future,” she says.