Jean and Tracy Eichheim are sheep people. They live near the Black Canyon in Crawford, on a private piece of pastoral farmland.
There are amazing views overlooking the valley from their front porch, and there are acres dedicated to farming and raising a handful of sheep.
The Eichheims moved to the area from Fort Collins in 2002, where they also farmed. At one time, Jean had a ﬂock of 40 sheep she cared for. She began keeping the animals as pets and “weed eaters” in 1976, but soon realized with a ﬂock that big, she had lots — and lots and lots — of wool on her hands. A friend took the raw ﬂeece and sold it at ﬁber shows for a few years before Jean and Tracy thought they could sell it just as well as their friend could.
But in 1995, even with selling the ﬂeece, Jean still had a lot of wool. “I had so much wool, I had to do something with it,” she said. Taking after some friends and fellow sheep ranchers back in Fort Collins, Jean purchased a spinning wheel and began spinning her own wool into thread.
When she got the hang of spinning, she went the next step and learned how to crochet. And from that little decision-to see the production of wool through from beginning to end-Jean and Tracy started Woolly Designs, a hobby with potential, Jean said.
“That was the genesis,” Tracy said.
Jean laughed. “No, that was the end of it all.”
Whether it was the beginning or the end (or what Tracy calls “from the shovel up”) all the wool had to go somewhere. The Eichheims’ home is a testament to their passion; Jean’s crocheted creations line the home in the form of rugs and stuffed animals, a few tote bags and some hats. Her hall closets are lined with hangers that display a wide range of colored thread and yarn, from the natural, un-dyed colors like oatmeal, beige, gray, a rich brown and black, to her strands that have been dyed in every shade imaginable. In the sunroom, there are boxes of wool waiting to be spun. And in the living room are hand spindles, made by Tracy for hand spinning.
Tracy’s hand spindles are a modern adaptation of an ancient tool that was used to turn ﬂeece to yarn. He and Jean noticed there was a lack of good, quality hand spindles available on the market. He began creating a light yet sturdy hand spindle. That project too took off at a rapid pace.
“He’s quite well known for his spindles,” Jean said. He’s made, tested and sold over 3,000 in 12 different countries and in every state in the U.S. He takes special orders for spindle designs. A German spinner requested three lizards on her spindle, with each one biting the tail of another. Another woman requested a dragon on hers. Tracy agreed to both requests — and many more — which entailed hours of searching for just the right artwork, then scaling it down by hand, then cutting the designs into the wood of the spindle.
“He loves a challenge,” Jean said. Tracy has a months-long waiting list for his spindles.
The spindles aren’t the only Woolly Design products to have made it halfway around the world. Two tea cozies, crocheted by Jean from her own wool, made their way to England.
The couple sells their wares at area craft fairs and at ﬁber shows. They always take a spinning wheel for demonstrations, and they have taught classes on the craft of spinning. Along the way they’ve met fellow “ﬁber fanatics.” “We meet the neatest people,” Jean said. “We have the most fun.”
Through Woolly Designs, the Eichheims have become dealers for the Majacraft spinning wheel, which is imported from New Zealand, and for which they are one of a few dealers. You can ﬁnd information on these wheels, and some examples of Jean’s creations, on their website, www.woollydesigns.com.
“It’s just a fun thing to do,” Jean said. “This whole ﬁber thing is my disease.”
They currently raise only six sheep. They are shorn once a year by a man in Greeley who specializes in sheering wool for hand spinners. After the sheep are shorn, the Eichheims clean and skirt the wool, and prepare it to be spun into yarn, a process that takes about two weeks.
“And then ... I’m very slow at crocheting,” Jean laughed. “It’s quite time consuming to get to the point where you can start making things. And that’s after you know what you’re doing.”
Both seem to know what they’re doing though. “We just have way too much fun doing this,” Jean said.
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