It’s All in the Wool at Shepherd’s Dream
By Richard DuPertuis
Fluff & Stuff
Story and Photo By Richard DuPertuis
A mattress under construction at Shepherd’s Dream lies on the floor. Its Melton wool cover, a sign of top quality, contains layer after layer of wool batting that lofts the mattress’s height to a full 12 inches. That’s too high, according to the woman kneeling beside it. To provide for a firm bed, the wool must be pressed flatter.
Sarah Sunshine Smith, the company’s owner, performs this entirely by hand – and foot.
Moving quickly, she lifts a corner and spears the mattress with a 10-inch needle. She pulls downward and repeats upward, threading a tuft through the mass of cotton and wool with a length of twine. Then she places a bare foot on the mattress, toes positioned between loose ends of twine, and exerts just enough force to compress 12 inches down to the desired five.
She knots the tuft with a flourish, and plants the needle for the next one, measuring only with her eyes.
This deft demonstration follows the company philosophy: 100 percent natural and made with love, with dedication to the highest-quality craftsmanship, Shepherd’s Dream creates a pure, unique line of wool mattresses, toppers, comforters and pillows, says Smith.
Though many of its products are covered with organic cotton, the main ingredient in any Shepherd’s Dream bedding is the wool, which was chosen because it’s the most breathable of all the fabrics. “Breathability helps regulate your body temperature,” Smith explains. “This gives you a deeper, sounder sleep, because you’re not being awakened by overheating or sweating.”
Another advantage wool has over a cotton fill is its natural flame resistance. “When we flame-tested our mattress, it self-extinguished in half the time allowed,” she says. “And wool has incredible durability. It can last for generations.” A mattress finally discarded and exposed to the elements of sun, moisture and microbes in the soil will entirely, slowly decompose back to the earth.
Smith’s skills with (and her love of) wool began back when her mother, Eliana Jantz, started a bedding company in Sebastopol. “I was born into it,” Smith says. “I was probably 5, 6, 7 when I made up stories about how I slept in wool beds.”
Jantz says her young daughter was quite the promoter. “She would write things down about her and wool,” she recalls. “One time, she said she’s been using the wool for 20 years. She was only 8 or 9.” Naturally, when came the time for the wool girl to walk in a community parade, Sarah marched dressed as Little Bo Peep, shepherd’s crook and all.
Both women remember it was at about age 15 when she really dug in to the family business, which by that time had grown enough in local influence to develop a criterion for responsible and sustainable wool production among Sonoma County farmers. When Sarah graduated high school, she was, in her mother’s words, “a master at making mattresses.”
Back in those days, Jantz says, the country’s wool industry was in sharp decline. “It was getting hard to find wool,” she recalls. “It was being replaced by synthetic.” As processing facilities vital to her supply of quality wool began closing, she and friends joined forces and finances to set up their own carding mill, which opened in Montague in 2002. Its supply of premium wool ensured, Shepherd’s Dream prospered.
In 2007, Smith bought the bedding business from her mother. Her husband, Nathon, bought the Montague facility, the Woolgatherer Carding Mill, which processes far more wool than is needed by Smith’s small bedding business.
Today, the wool bound for Shepherd’s Dream begins with sheep sheared on select organic farms in California and Oregon. The fleece goes to a cleaning facility in Texas, the closest one in the country that the couple trusts to turn around the quantity and quality of wool they need. From there, it’s shipped to their mill in Montague, where workers run it through two buildings.
In the first one, they toss wool fresh out of bales from Texas into a machine called the picker, as described by Woolgatherer Operations Manager Eric Smith (no relation). “The bales are compressed to about 600 pounds,” he says. “The picker opens up the fibers in the wool and prepares it for the carder.” The before-and-after difference is stunning; the wool goes from clumps to pure, white fluff.
The second building houses the carder, a towering machine that combs the fluffy wool and feeds it into a system of rollers. They pass their soft, white load from one roller to another, each transfer rendering a thinner and thinner sheet of wool, until a conveyor belt gently stacks gossamer layers to create the final product, wool batting trademarked Premium Eco Wool. This ships out to, among many other places, Shepherd’s Dream in Mount Shasta.
Owner Smith says she moved production down nearer to the mountain about three years ago, “because that’s where the workers live.” She employs six south county residents. Shepherd’s Dream also maintains showrooms in downtown Montague and in Ashland. Business is conducted by appointment only.
Now in her mid-thirties, Smith has been in the natural wool bedding business for 20 years, and is proud she can produce quality wool bedding within her company’s vision of total sustainability. “We are definitely looking at the bigger picture,” she says. “Our children and our grandchildren and on from there.”
Shepherd’s Dream • (530) 926-3400
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