Francis Chester, the patriarch of Cestari Sheep & Wool Co, graciously granted me an interview this week. A fellow indie designer told me about Cestari and when I saw it at Black Mountain Yarn shop, I had to give it a try. Immediately a fan, I wanted to know more about this yarn company, which has such a unique vision and family focus. So without further ado, please say “hi” to Francis!
Cestari – what’s the story behind your unique name?
Cestari is my Ancestral Italian name from my father’s family who were shepherds for centuries.
Your website shows you to be a leader and initiator in many aspects of wool production: from your decades old family-run operation, to your new on-site mill and your invention of a more humane sheep shearing device to your “Let’s Grow Together” initiative, which spells out many wonderful ethical and socio-economic missions. What inspired your ethos? And how do you see these initiatives (your proactive approach and purchasing above the market rate) will act as a catalyst to rebuilding the US ethically produced fiber industry?
I believe in following the Ten Commandments, the Manuel for peaceful living.
It has to start somewhere as the sheep numbers in the U.S. have gone from 54,000,000 in 1943 to 5,400,000 today while the world’s numbers have increased from one billion to one billion 100 million-mostly in meat breeds.
You offer transparency through your website and eventual opening for tours, do you also plan on being GOTS or fair-trade certified?
I don’t need to be certified; I just try to operate Cestari in a sound manner.
On the blog interview with Tolt’s you mentioned “We are in the process of building a new large building to house both the woolen system processing equipment, and also the late model cotton and cotton blend processing equipment which I am now acquiring. This will be, as best that I know, the first commercial wool yarn operation built in decades in this country. Our new location will be fronting our home and sheep ranch.” As an animal-fiber free knitter (due to allergies) this really sparked my interest! Would you mind expanding upon your plans for your cotton lines? Do you plan on including organic cotton?
I purchase Virginia cotton that is grown on peanut land. They use a 3 cycle planting. Soybeans, peanuts then cotton. Soybeans and peanuts are both legumes plants putting nitrogen, etc. into the soil, thus giving cotton an unusual amount of nourishments making the cotton beautiful and strong.
We presently have the following cotton lines: Old Dominion-100% cotton; Ash Lawn-25% wool, 75% cotton; Monticello-25% French Linen, 75% cotton; Montpelier-68% cotton, 25% wool and 7% silk. We will be adding colors to the Montpelier collection. We will not have a certified organic cotton.
Sarah added: yes, he will combine the wool and cotton on a machine, but he will have it thoroughly cleaned in-between each run. He understands allergies. The mill has not yet broken ground, and there are still a lot of things to figure out. So, there’s time to take allergies into consideration and investigate how to keep things separate.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that your Old Dominion Cotton has many eco aspects to it from locally grown cotton to eco kettle dyes that are so benign they can wash right down the drain. However, I’ve not found it specified in any one place (even the yarn page on your website), but rather scattered rumbling from LYSs and on-line knitters/ designers. Do you mind providing the whole spiel of what makes your Old Dominion Cotton eco?
Our dyes have been tested by the E.P.A.-U.S. 2 times in the past 5 years and have been approved for humans, animals and birds and fishes and even discharge in our septic system. The cotton in grown on peanut land, peanuts being a legumes plant. see the above answer for more on the growth cycle.
Puddles, species to species question: Do you have a four-legged shepherd companion worker?
We have 2 donkeys and 3 great Pyrenees
If there is anything else you’d like to share, feel free!
With the years of experience (70) dealing with milking goats and sheep I have solved 2 problems:
1. Nutrition-18% protein feed-alfalfa hay with 20% soybean mill mixed with 80% corn. Wool and milk are protein and the animal needs good nourishment for the dual products plus quality meat.
2. Protection from predators-corral the herd each night-there is strength in numbers plus the donkeys and guard dogs.
To find out more about Cestari on their website: http://www.cestarisheep.com/
Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Ravelry!
Cestari Yarns are in LYSs scattered throughout the US, so be sure to ask for it in yours. Or shop their yarns online here – they offer yarns, knitting supplies, as well as moccasins, slippers, boots, and blankets.