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Fun With Friends #4: A Collaboration with Handspun Hope

On a farm at the base of Rwanda’s majestic Virunga Mountains roam a flock of sheep. Tended and cared for night and day, this herd is part of the Handspun Hope project – a True Vineyard Ministries initiative dedicated to employing and empowering Rwandan widows.

Handspun Hope employs 58 people in Rwanda to hand-spin & dye 100% organic merino wool. We are thrilled to now call them an official cooperative partner and to launch our brand new collection of winter-weather must-haves – hand-spun, knitted hats and vests for adults and kiddies alike!

Handspun Hope began in 2007 when Diana Wiley, Executive Director of True Vineyard Ministries, traveled to Rwanda on a trip with an international relief organization. While there, she was deeply moved by the genocide widows she met and struck by the stark conditions of poverty in which they were living. 

On that very same trip, she came across a livestock-sharing project at a church in Musanze, Rwanda’s northern province. She observed that while various families in the community were receiving sheep to cultivate, they were mostly using them for sustenance. That’s when it occurred to her: “what about the wool?” From there, Handspun Hope was born.

Handspun Hope seeks to create sustainable employment and income-earning opportunities for women in Rwanda by helping them make high-quality yarn from local sheep’s wool. While wool-spinning was once a common practice in Rwanda, the skill was completely lost after the 1994 genocide. Diana {after teaching herself!} taught a group of women in the community how to spin wool using a drop spindle, eventually upgrading to spinning wheels to increase their productivity, as well as the quality of the yarn.

She and the True Vineyard Ministries team also bought a plot of land in Musanze and began importing sheep from Kenya to populate it. While they began with 25 sheep, they have since grown their flock to 150, and continue to expand it with the goal of creating a sustainable supply of wool in Rwanda and, accordingly, more employment opportunities for local women.

We love Handspun Hope’s mission and philosophy, as well as the incredible handmade process behind their products – one that spans nearly a year to reach its completion. Over the course of eight-month cycles, a shepherd tends to Handspun Hope’s sheep - caring for them day in and day out, keeping them clean, and feeding them with the best possible minerals and nutrients to ensure that they remain as healthy as can be.

When their wool has grown to its optimal length (and the longer the better), the shepherd begins the process of shearing the sheep, shaving off the wool by hand. The artisans then triple wash it clean, picking out any grass or pieces of debris that may remain. They card {i.e. disentangle} the wool, comb out the fibers, and feed it into a spinning wheel, making one ply at a time and feeding it back into the wheel to create whatever thickness they desire.

Once the yarn is ready, the women dye it by hand using local plant and vegetable material – like flowers and onion skins – or 100% organic imported dye. The final result is richly saturated, vibrant, high-quality {and eco-friendly!} yarn that is perfect for making soft and luxurious accessories and apparel items.

While historically Handspun Hope’s artisans have made yarn and sold it to other companies to work with {rather than creating finished products} we are very excited to share that for the first time - for our order - the artisans hand-knit the yarn to create each item themselves {a skill which, we might add, they learned for the first time last year!}

We are thrilled to partner with Handspun Hope and to support an organization that is creating products that are truly 100% Rwandan-made. Keep your eyes peeled for more on this inspiring group & check out our collection here:

*photographs courtesy of abbey henderson