By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
In an age of advanced technology, when a person can find a quickly-processed wool sweater at any big-box department store or online, it might seem obsolete to produce a wool sweater the old-fashioned way — right from the sheep.
But the skills of “yesteryear” necessary for making a sweater “from scratch” are practiced and encouraged by Ute Zeis of Upsala.
Zeis (rhymes with rice) grew up in Bamberg, Germany. She married an American serviceman from Minnesota and moved to the United States with him.
“I fit right in here, with so many German people in the area. With people in Upsala being Swedish, we make it work,” she said with a grin. “They’re so friendly here.”
Zeis and her son, Levi, 18, and daughter, Anna, 16, live just outside Upsala on acreage that also supports 40 sheep, six alpaca, three llamas, one “llapaca,” six dogs and several cats.
The most recent addition is a llama gelding named Fritz.
“He is a guard llama, trained to do that,” said Zeis.
All these animals stand in stark contrast to her growing-up years, when “the closest I came to an animal was a bird my mom let me buy,” she said.
Her mother and grandmother taught her to knit when she was about 6 years old. She still has the scarf she made then, framed and hanging on the wall.
“The most complicated things to knit are sweaters,” she said. “I like patterns where you have to count and mark, taking a year to knit.”
She finds the quickest projects are scarves.
“I knitted maybe 20 last year for Christmas,” said Zeis. “The year before I knit about 20 pair of socks — they are so warm. This year I had the urge to do dishcloths.”
When she came to the United States in 1987, she couldn’t find any good yarns. After finding a spinning wheel in the attic and teaching herself to spin, she decided to produce good yarn herself. She raised Angora rabbits for a few years.
“Then I started out with Border Leicester, Lincoln and Icelandic sheep,” Zeis said. “Now I have more Wensleydale and am trying Blueface Leicester. It’s more what hand-spinners are looking for.”
Zeis operated a shop in Avon for a time, but maintaining it got to be too much when she decided to homeschool her son. At that time, she found her place in Upsala and moved farther north, lock, stock and barrel.
Zeis has taught many spinning classes, spindle spinning, knitting and crochet classes at wool festivals and through community education. She has also performed many demonstrations at local fairs and re-enactments.
She now runs her shop, Yesterday’s Crafts, by appointment only. Classes are given on an individual basis.
Zeis participates in the annual Shepherd’s Harvest Festival in Lake Elmo and goes to shows in Watertown, S. D., Hopkins and Cambridge.
Some of her fleeces are sold right off the sheep. She sends most of them off to be carded, but reserves the task of spinning when the wool is returned to her.
“I love to spin; spinning is very relaxing,” said Zeis.
Zeis doesn’t spin or knit just wool, however. She has spun dog and cat fur on request.
There is a large box of Newfoundland fur waiting to be spun. She has done cocker spaniel before.
“Knitting relaxes me,” she said. “I can never just follow a pattern; I make adjustments. But at this point after knitting for so many years, it’s kind of brainless, occupying my hands.”
For more information, call (320) 309-5577 or visit www.yesterdayscraft.com.