Montana Sweater Co.'s Beginnings

Jennifer Olsson

Jennifer Olsson

Montana Sweater Co.  is a small company located in Bozeman, Montana.  The idea to produce warm wonderful knitted garments from locally ranched and milled fibers became a passion for the owner, Jennifer Olsson, after her Swedish Mother-in-law taught her to knit six years ago.

Jennifer’s first attempts at poking two sticks through loops of tangled yarn resulted in the longest scarf in the world.  When she finally found someone to explain how to cast off, this scarf became her supportive husband’s Christmas gift. He still wears it out of kindness.

Fascinated that hour after hour she could turn controlled knots (after weeks of practice) not only into scarves, but  hats and mittens, Jennifer asked the question, “Who invented  this knitting thing in the first place, and what else can you knit besides store bought wool?”  That meant a trip to the local bookstore, the library, the internet, and her favorite yarn shop in downtown Bozeman.  She found out that the first written record of  knitted garments came from England in 1615, but basically without getting too technical, from the beginning of time woolly and hairy animals were much more comfortable in the snow and blowing wind than  half naked man, and that meant the animals had to share.   Once man figured out how to roll and twist animal fibers, then knot, weave, or lash them together to make a garment that kept his body temperature regulated in cold or hot weather, he did.   Some fibers were softer and warmer than others, hence the popularity of merino wool and cashmere.  But wait, there was also Vicuna, Guanaco, Qiviut, Llama, Possum, and Alpaca!   And pondering the attraction to soft exotic fiber, Jennifer looked out the window of her western home and thought, I wonder if a bison has anything to offer?  Because she wasn’t crazy enough, Jennifer decided to see if she could get close enough to a bison to find out if they had a nice soft downy something to knit with.

How to Shear a Bison

How to Shear a Bison

To make a long story even longer, she did find a source for bison fiber.  The Kroon ranch of Manhatten, Montana had been raising and processing bison for nearly a decade, and the hides were being tossed away as useless.  One day the Kroons tossed a bison hide into Jennifer’s garage and she went after it with a pair of the biggest electric shears allowed by law.   After shearing what she thought was the good fiber, she sent it off to 13 Mile Lamb and Wool Mill in nearby Belgrade, Montana to be turned into yarn.   A year of blood, sweat, tears, and experimentation followed before an acceptable skein of  Montana Bison Wool was created.

Every year Jennifer is able to shear bison hides from November through April, and the following October the yarn is ready to be knit into sweaters, mitts, and hats.  Montana Bison Wool and other naturally ranched and milled fibers from sheep and alpaca are also used to create original clothing designed and knit by Jennifer and her staff of handy knitters for Montana Sweater Company.