JOSEPH — Entrepreneur Sally Brandt has been running the Sheep Shed in Joseph for more than a decade, but nothing there stays the same.
“We always have new things,” she said. “I’m always adding new items.”
Most of those items are hand-knitted items made either by herself or some of the approximately 30 local vendors who bring things in to be sold on consignment. Among the items Brandt sells are yarn and knitting supplies, neck warmers, hats, scarves, gloves, slippers, needle felt, rugs and wall hangings.
One of her most unique offerings is her own hand-painted yarn, each strand having multiple colors. She takes prewashed white yarn and paints it with sponge brushes, rather than placing it in a pot of mixed dye as in what is often misleadingly called “hand-painted.” It’s then re-skeined to mix up the colors.
“You can only go so far before you have mud,” she said of the more commercial process. “With mine, I can paint on as many colors as I want.”
But it isn’t an easy process.
“It’s a long process,” she said. “I have to … put them in a set and then paint them and then I microwave it to set the dye.”
Brandt said all of her merchandise is locally produced. Even some of the wool is from locally raised sheep and alpacas, which customers ask for.
“They just want to work with something local,” she said. “Some of it is hand-spun, some of it is not. These people raise the sheep and they send it off to be processed and turned into yarn.”
Brandt said she has even painted some wool from her own alpacas.
“I used to hand-spin and hand-paint all my own yarn, but it was so time-consuming and you just can’t get the payback on it so now I order it in bulk,” she said.
With her alpacas, she saves the wool and sends it off to be processed.
“I had some people come by from Caldwell (Idaho) who said they had just started a processing plant so I gave them a bag of my alpaca. They took it away to Caldwell and shipped it back to me,” she said. “It went from being a bag of a lot of fluff to being yarn.”
She doesn’t do a lot of spinning anymore, although some of her consignees do.
“I can spin it, but it’s so much faster if they do it with electric spinners,” she said. “It’s pretty darned expensive.”
Brandt said a couple pounds of wool yielded about 30 skeins of yarn for about $350.
Brandt also teaches classes in knitting, though she has no set schedule. When she gets several requests for a class, then she’ll set one up.
For the past seven years, the Sheep Shed has been at 3 S Main St. For the previous three years, Brandt was in partnership with Nancy Knoble at a larger space next to the Cheyenne Café. Brandt said that she and Knoble talked to local merchants to make sure the Sheep Shed wouldn’t be drawing unfair competition and not carrying art that other businesses were.
About the time Knoble decided to retire, the building the business is in now came up for sale. It had been sitting vacant for nine years.
“It was a disaster, an eyesore,” Brandt said.
Fortunately, her husband, Ray DeLury, had yet to retire from his work as a building contractor and stonemason. He went to work and refurbished the 1937 building in sections.
The front portion of the Sheep Shed was first, allowing Brandt to open for business. Eventually, the back portion of her shop and the space next door, which now houses the Flannel Lantern, came next.
But the Sheep Shed is more than yarn and knitting. The shop also sells artwork, art supplies, CDs by local musicians, cards by local artists, soaps, salves, dryer balls and an assortment of other items produced locally.
The art supplies aren’t ordinary, run-of-the-mill ones, either.
“They’re a little higher-end art supplies,” she said. “I try to carry a variety of supplies for artists.”
Brandt said that although business is slow in the winter, she spends the time restocking her shop for the busy season. She said she has customers come from Seattle and Portland who purchase a year’s worth of knitting or art supplies.
“It only takes a couple of those customers to come in and buy their year’s supply,” she said.
Although she has tried to avoid serious competition with other Joseph merchants, it seems unavoidable, though her merchandise remains unique.
“Lately, it seems almost everybody around here is starting to carry hats and scarves and neck warmers and things that are not hand-made. They’re imported,” she said. “This is the place where the things you have are hand-made. … And yes, a hat is going to cost more here and that’s because it’s not made with acrylic; it’s made with fine fiber like alpaca or merino wool — that’s the finest wool.”
Because it’s real, Brandt has a bit of advice for those who buy hand-made knitted items from her: They must be hand-washed.
“If you throw them in the washing machine, it’ll ruin them.”