Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From the ground up...2009

Wheely Wooly Farm has had a smashing first year and we wish to thank all of you for helping to make this amazing first year so much fun! Here are some of the milestones we accomplished this year:

First, the start up of this blog! This was a serious milestone for us as so many of you were asking if you could find us online! Pictures of the sheep, fiber, yarn, and other farm life were always requested, and I must say, getting those pictures can be a challenge sometimes, such as when Gwendolyn wants to socialize, rather than pose! We want to thank everyone for the great comments on the blog, emails, and compliments in real person! We sure appreciate all of you!

Second, creating a booth (our first day out shown here) for traveling to events off the farm. It was sure fun drawing up the plans and building our displays and signage! However, you never know what kind of response you'll get when you're all set up and out there! I couldn't have dreamed better! Thank you everyone for the overwhelming response, and the flood of questions and sales of our fiber and yarn! We sooo much look forward to these days and talking with all of you! Without all of you, we wouldn't be able to do this!

Next is the "Grand Opening" of our daughter Holly's Baa-tique! This project has been enormous fun, and the response has been beyond dreams! Holly's Baa-tique sells luxury handspun/handknitted items for dolls created from yarn from our fiber animals. We built the Baa-tique on the spur of the moment just before our sheep festival, and what fun that was! There are still things to add, such as a awesome chandelier and beautiful lamps we found recently. This has been a great way for Holly to have her own business, and so she designed her own business cards to match! What fun giving those out! Thank you to all who stopped to hear Holly share her amazing knowledge (for her age!!) and who supported her entrepreneurial efforts!
Yet another milestone is all the students we've enjoyed teaching over the year! From young kids to grandparents who are retired, we've taught all ages the joy of working with fiber. We also got many of your wheels working, or at least got the problem identified!!! While I consider this the hardest work of our farm, it is the most rewarding! How great it is to see faces light up when a student realizes they can do it! We hope we've spread the love of spinning and knitting to all! Thank you for entrusting us to get you over the beginner's hump!

Then the next big point of our year was our county fair. The past two years now have been amazingly rewarding to see 4-Her's gain skills and confidence to try fiber arts, and to exhibit them at the fair! The look on their faces when they get the blue ribbons? Priceless!!!!!!! From washing fleeces, to spinning on drop spindles, to dyeing yarn and fiber, carding, and knitting....whew! You've learned A LOT!! I've seen concentration grow, and confidence bloom. That is thrilling for me!

But for me, the biggest part of our first year was hands down something that created one of the best moments of my life outside the big stuff like marriage, and children and degrees....and one many of you have come to know of us by....our Grand Champion Ram win with Wooly Bear, and Holly's fourth place ribbon in Youth Showmanship at the Midwest Shetland Sheep Breeders Regional Show in Jefferson, Wisconsin! What a great day that was!!!!
Here the judge had us lined up for the ram lamb class. Wooly Bear really stands out with his black fleece and broomstick straight topline!
This shows the moment when the judge was deciding who'd be Grand Champion. Wooly Bear stood so square and quiet! I halter train all of our sheep, but with Wooly Bear, I treated him like the powerful ram he would become. The result was an experience I'll NEVER forget! He was so obedient, so mature, so relaxed and calm, yet his heart was so connected to mine and I could tell he was quietly needing reassurance from me. Together, we were a team to show our best sides to the judge. It was really, really a great day, and a dream fulfilled for me from way back in my youth. Since this was my first ever day out showing my own sheep, I think that dream was fulfilled! On top of that, the comments from the judge about Wooly Bear and his fleece, and his overall twinkling impression made me soar even more!!! A once in a lifetime moment when many years of dreaming come true!

So! Oh boy! How could year two, or any year after this get any better?!?

All of this would not be possible, however, without our sheep. That day, a few years ago, when someone's little ewe lamb pinged cupid's arrow into my heart while standing in a pen at the show, changed everything. Today, I've built up, by very slow and careful choice, a small but outstanding flock of purebred Shetland sheep that produce outstanding, genuine Shetland wool, that is a dream to handshear, wash, spin, knit, and most importantly, wool that creates genuine soft yet durable, lightweight, etheral garments that will become favorites in your wardrobe, if you can get me to part with it!!!!

Did anything baaa-d (sorry) happen this year? Yes, no lambs. That was a really hard hit. When our lamb window had passed and the ulitmate reality was sinking in, it was hard to take. We had borrowed, trustingly so, a ram from a breeder. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a blessing that took only a short time to reveal! As sad as last spring was, the results of that situation gave us soooooo many more blessings instead!! Things work out in amazing ways!!

Then in April, we lost the last of our three original dogs. I didn't realize I could shed so many tears.

Also, I had the chance to communicate with some Shetland breeders whom I probably would never had the opportunity to communicate with without Wooly Bear's big win. What a learning experience! Some of those experiences were hair-raising! Some were crack-ups! Some were sad. Some were rude! Some were puzzling, and some were scary regarding the future. Some were words I had to look up in the dictionary!! I was kept riveted to my seat! I've learned where some want to take the Shetlands in the future, and where the Shetlands should stay. I've learned about people I dub "The Scientifics", and other people who want to commercialize Shetland fleeces by hiding behind certain words. I've learned that animals become tools of manipulation and greed, even these sweet Shetlands! I've learned that many people who make breeding choices and sell Shetlands don't know how to spin or knit. I've learned our own farm's identity and goals with clearer focus. I've discovered more of who I am as a shepherd, spinner, knitter, and lover of beautiful, high performance garments. I've learned that sheep, especially sweet, leaping little Shetland sheep can change your life, and make you feel you're in love all over again!

Thank you to all for enriching my life in 2009, every one of you! It's been a G-R-R-R-E-A-T year!!!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Sock Year!

Wheely Wooly Farm has had an incredible first year thanks to all of you! So many people have contributed to this first year as being outstandingly memorable. I would never have dreamed that so many great things could happen with our sheep, fiber, and yarns, as well as the many, many new friends we've made along the way! This picture shows where it all started....from the ground up!

These two pairs of socks were handspun by me from the very special ewe we now own, thanks to special friends of ours who were willing to part with her. Iris's wool became my dream sock. Honestly, I burned countless calories wiggling my feet in her warm, soft wool! The sock on the left is dyed with fruit punch drink mix, while the sock on the right is Iris's wool in the natural color, with a purple accent yarn. The yarns are both 2-plys, spun in a light weight worsted (meaning about a 3 or 4 on a yarn scale). This grist makes an excellent sock that is strong, and warm.

Then there is Sweetie! Her wool is soft and warm and a real delight to knit up as well!
The socks are from her wool in this picture.
These two pairs of socks are from wool I purchased, sheep unknown. The dark blue pair on the right are what I was wearing the day I hurried out into the snow with just my muck boots on, and was positively delighted at the cush and warmth! Bye bye soaking wet boot liners! fun colors with angora rabbit cuffs...
To Romney wool soooooo easy to spin, but soooooo dense and heavy to wear!

To lovely Gwendolyn and her golden tips!

All of these socks were knit from my handspun yarn. Most were knit from one pattern, a pattern I highly recommend by Melinda Goodfellow. She can be found at Yankee Knitter Designs. She writes patterns for other things, but it's her sock pattern that has me hooked! It is sooooo well written, which is perfect for a handspinner who might spin up a variety of gauges of yarn. Her pattern covers it all, and is extremely well written to simplify the sock knitting process. Before long, you'll have most of the pattern memorized. There are so many wonderful patterns out there to be explored, but that can also be overwhelming. Melinda's "Classic Socks for the family in Fingering, Sport, and Worsted Weights" will open the door to anyone who wants to learn how to knit socks, or get better at knitting socks. After learning how to make the socks, you can begin throwing in your own creativity by changing yarns, intarsia, and so on. The creativity is endless! All of the socks you see above have been for my family. You can do it, too!

There is more to come on the excitement of socks in the new year, so I hope you'll continue to follow my blog! I don't think you'll be disappointed! If you learn to knit socks, please please send me a picture and I'll add it to my blog! I highly encourage all of you out there to experience the joy of Shetland wool by experiencing the warm, soft socks they produce!!

So back to our first year! Stay tuned for the next post for our top moments of the year! In the meantime...Happy Sock Year from Wheely Wooly Farm!

Monday, December 28, 2009


We made it! This was a roller coaster Christmas for us! There were lots of things to look forward to, lots of family to visit, and plentyyyyyy of food, but there were also lots of scrooges milling about this year, too.

The biggest scrooge was the huge storm system that created havoc in our region for several days over Christmas. It started Wednesday night and lasted pretty much through the weekend. The roads became a mess and travel was delayed everywhere. On Christmas eve, we had freezing rain that was heavy and treacherous. By Christmas day, it was gusty, pouring rain and warm, with air temps rising to nearly 40 degrees, then back down FAST that evening! In about one hour's time the air temp dropped from mid thirties to 21 degrees. Our back door froze shut, the standing water became solid ice, and the house was coated with glistening rippled sheets and icicles! What a mess! The next day brought better control of the roads, but a few inches of snow kept the driving slow, annnndddddd of course, that is what we were doing this year...driving! Did I mention the fog? Heavy fog? Fog so thick you couldn't see the tail lights of the cars just in front of you? Fog so dense that speeds of 20 m.p.h was still guess work as to where the road was, all snow lines mailboxes or ditches to see...all flat, snowcovered landscape in the dark, thick fog?

We had some family flying in, which didn't go as planned due to the big storm last weekend on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., but every one made it ok after the whole family agreed to delay our gathering one day. It was so fun to see everyone and catch up, especially with two newly married couples and therefore, two new brides! There were also....let's see....four dogs along! The dogs were impressive! Everyone got along great and it was a wonderful day of catching up and eating too much.

Other gatherings and plans went great as well, but only after rescheduling one of those gatherings two times, until finally we were able to get together all day Sunday. I've never experienced such goofy weather at Christmas time like this before. Glad THAT part is over!

The other scrooges were a pesty cold being fought by some family members, and daily updates of burglary reports by a neighbor. In a way, I was grateful for the big storm, since even robbers don't like working in such weather!!
The scarf and socks (yes, more socks) were gifts. The socks are made out of the little ewe we showed in Jefferson this last fall, Sweetie. Sweetie won fifth place in the Senior Ewe class, and fourth place in Youth Showmanship. The yarn is very soft and warm! Natural colors have the most appealing look about them! The sock pattern is a basic one, and I knitted in some accent yarn around the cuffs. Surely nothing fancy, yet I love them!

The first picture above is of a requested ornament to be handmade in the shape of a duck! After shearing my ewe, Mona (whom you haven't met yet), I carded some of her wool with a peacock colored shredded mylar, then spun up the yarn. This gives the yarn the affect of being those beautiful black feathers with that beetle-green sheen you see on the Cayuga ducks. Since Cayuga's are what Lucky and Lucy are, I decided to make the duck ornament out of that yarn. I had to draw up my own pattern of a duck shape, then trace the cut out shape onto the burlap. Then I used a rug hook to pull the yarn onto the burlap in loops, creating the hooked rug look. I wish my camera showed off the ornament better, but it is hard to get a good shot of it.

Meanwhile, all our animals weathered out the storms effortlessly. Wooly Bear has not rammed anything since the blizzard, the chickens are all in the shed with a warming hut, and the horses stayed in their stalls, without complaint! You could hear the rain and ice on the roof and sides of the buildings, and the wind whipping frozen branches madly. The ewes were playful and leaped around a lot. They've been sooooo quiet lately! All during December, we hardly heard a peep...I mean...a baa out of them. After you learn about Mona, you'll learn how unusual that is!!! The barn is a cozy place to be...even if you're doing chores at a the dark...after driving icy, foggy roads.......after eating toooo much.....and toooo much coffee......

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I can't believe I'm...

...putting a picture of my feet at work out in cyberspace! Years ago, before people even had microwaves, surely no one was talking about doing something like this!

The socks are from my ewe, Gwendolyn. She's a moorit Shetland, but is lightening up to a musket-ish color. The boots are for muck. They go nearly up to my knees, and are not intended to be for snow. I used to wear Sorrel boots, especially when I lived in the mountains of Colorado. I was getting tired of taking soaked wool liners out to dry every night, and trying to stuff stiff liners back into the shells before I could go back out in the morning. Then, one day I had to rush out the door in snow so quick, I stuffed my feet into these boots. They are very fast in and out. Ta-da! Warmth! No wet liners! Now I wear them all winter, and I don't know where my favorite Sorrels are. I know all of you are reading this like a riveting novel! lol
This was given to me just before I left for my Colorado adventures all those mannnnnny years ago. The woman who made it was not wealthy, nor highly educated. She raised a family and worked menial jobs. Yet, she learned to knit beautifully with those horrible yarns of those days! The stitches are perfect, and the whole afghan is put together strongly and with skill. I didn't care for the colors, and color is what teens care about, right? But I packed it in my suitcase, and away to the mountains I went. The very first night on the train, I was miserable. I was terribly sick with a cold, I had no voice, a terrible headache, was freezing cold, and the train rocked hard as we screamed across Nebraska and clanging train crossings. I wrote a note to the bellman about really, really needing my suitcase. He took me to a luggage area, where I zipped open the huge outer pocket and pulled this afghan out. It was like love from home. Back in my seat, I snuggled under it's warmth (a little plastic warmth!), and felt so much better, I actually fell asleep!
Here is a close up of the flower. I've seen this pattern in knitting magazines, and I always meant to get a copy, but busyness keeps me from accomplishing that right now. Today, I marvel at what an accomplished knitter she was, and what knitted things can do for someone. We have really come a long way in fibers available to people! I can only imagine what she could have done with the wools I produce here on my farm today. The knitter of this afghan passed away some time ago. She would have been a great teacher for me. I strive to break the generation gap today by voicing frequently the need for older knitters to link up with younger knitters! I also strive to teach kids how to spin and knit. The students I've worked with have given me great joy and I cannot wait to help them on their next projects! I hope many of you out there will do the same and try to connect with youth to spread the joy of fiber and knitting!
This is what is on my wheel today, more lovely dyed Shetland yarn! For those of you who've followed my blog for awhile, you know I wrote about putting pictures of my now gone dogs here on my blog. I'm struggling with that. Christmas is so close. That makes it even harder for me, as we bought our second dog as newlyweds, just before christmas. As a puppy, he played under the christmas tree, skidded in the snow, and learned to ask to go outside by jingling the christmas bells on the door nob with his then, very short nose ( didn't stay short!!). He may have been "just" a dog, true. But my heart is still broken, and we miss him dearly. I'm sorry, but I cannot look at those pictures right now.

Monday, December 14, 2009


"It's a secret!" That's what I find myself saying over and over these days! My knitting needles have been busy, but I cannot put pictures up of what I'm doing because it is all a secret, of course! Even the sheep are keeping the secrets! They know who donated fiber for what project, but they are not telling!

This is what's on my wheel today. It is very soft and has pretty winter colors...Shetland wool. Reminds me of those dusky, frosty winter sunsets when the sky at the eastern horizon fills with those beautiful pinky, dusky purples and greys as the light fades in the west.

Sophie finds the latest pile of fleece....again! How she finds that fleece so quick is amazing! What a great place to be in all the snow and cold....unless you're the spinner and need that

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last blog post either on the post, by email, or in person! So many of you recognized the importance of being truly qualified in the breeding selections of one of the most premier handspinning breeds of sheep in the world. Shepherds who are avid spinners and knitters/crocheters and who work frequently with fleeces make good breeding/buying/selling decisions, no matter the current trends. I don't know how one could make good decisions without that knowledge. In pretty much all other fields of work, we expect people to be qualified in their area. Here in America, we don't seem to apply that to sheep much, especially the Shetlands, who's wool is famous for high quality, durable, long-lasting garments. I think it has been easy to stray from good fleeces.

At Wheely Wooly Farm, we are breeding for fiber as our top priority. We will have fleeces that are soft, strong, and easy to handspin without complicated and expensive processing, no matter crimp or wave, without the need to blend in other expensive fibers for strength. Doing this creates an unforgetable, delightful, product that is ethreal to knit up and extremely comfortable to wear, and thus creates long lasting, treasured garments. That is the ultimate goal in my mind. My flock plan includes keeping sheep that have long and wavy lock structure and the "double coats". These fleeces have excellent value in a variety of ways and I just cannot imagine culling such sheep because they do not fit into one narrow window. They are Shetlands, and Shetland wool is so exceptionally different from other breeds! Diversity is what often draws people to Shetlands. Their diverse fleeces are sooo colorful, soooo beautiful, and sooo wonderful to knit up and wear!

Thank you, too, to all who visited our booth on Saturday! What fun it was to meet everyone and talk sheep, fiber, yarn, and favorite garments. The word I heard the most often seemed to be "warm"! People who wear wool are warm! What a great gift that is!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Non-Shetland Sock...

Here is a picture of a sock I made from non-Shetland wool I spun and knitted into a sock. Notice the gaping stitches along the gusset? (Find the triangle on the inner foot between the heel and the arch...the gaping stitches are the line of stitches at the upper left side of the triangle.) Those stitches are straining in a critical spot. This sock was personally designed to fit perfectly, and it does. However, the fibers cannot take the strain where the sock experiences lots of flex and stretch. Clearly, this wool is lacking in elasticity, and functionality, even though it was crimpy wool. It is also hard to get on and off, for it cannot stretch and respond like Shetland wool can. This sock allows cold air to penetrate, and it will wear out quickly here. This is what I mean.........

You see, Shetland wool has properties to it that cannot be measured. These unique properties give Shetland wool lovely handle. Handle goes beyond how a fleece feels raw on the hoof or freshly sheared. Handle includes how well a fleece takes being put to use! (Afterall, that is THE reason wooly sheep still exist.) Even "coarse" or "non-crimpy" Shetland wool has exceptional handle, in that it makes for wonderful spinning wool, wonderful knitting wool, and wonderful wool to wear in a garment that will work with you, not against you, whether you wear it next to your skin, or layered. That is why it is so famous.

There is no scientific test out there that functions better than the human sensory experience in judging the usefulness and exceptionality of fleece. Europeans (as well as South Americans, Asians, Russians and Icelanders, among others) have known this for fact, their own human sensory judgments of fleeces built exceptional wealth, and put many breeds of wooly sheep in high demand throughout the world over long periods of time.

Since many of you have asked about purchasing lambs or getting started in a Shetland flock for yourselves, I thought I'd start giving pointers here and there on how to get sheep you'll be satisfied with for the long run. While I'm certainly no expert, I'm happy to share what I've learned by being so passionate about Shetlands myself!

Pointer Number One:

Buy from a flock of handspinning sheep. If the flock owner is not an avid spinner and knitter/crocheter, you cannot be certain you are getting good, usable wool. Even if you are not a spinner or knitter, you might want to sell your fleeces to spinners to help support your sheep. (Shetlands arguably are, after all, the foremost handspinning sheep.) A farm using their Shetlands primarily for HAND spinning (not commercial milling as that changes many factors), and the making of wearable garments will proudly advertise that, and will have garments to show you (there are some farms out there that do this, but many don't). The flock owners will be wearing garments made from their wool.

If you go to look at a flock on a cool or cold day, and the owner of the sheep is not wearing their own wool, that would certainly be a red flag!! (I have not bought from some flocks because of this..."Oh yeah", they say, shivering, while covered head to toe in synthetic athletic wear and cottons, "our wool is great for spinning!".) If their wool is not good enough to wear themselves, why should you?

Remember, all the scientific tests in the world cannot match the amazing human sensory capabilities. If test results and numbers are thrown around, clearly the flock owner is not well informed about fleece, and is relying on those tests to "sell" the wool for them. Unfortunately, those tests do not tell the whole story. the ads, pay attention to the primary use of the flock, listen/look for those modern test numbers that pertain to fibers, and notice what the shepherd is wearing. You'll learn who is in the business of selling sheep, and who wants you to be warm and satisfied for the long run.
If you buy into the most famous handspinning breed of sheep in the world, make sure you buy from an avid handspinner.

Post Blizzard Update:
The roosters are crowing again, the birds are chirping, Wooly Bear stopped butting the wall, and every drop of water is frozen stiff. And I think my (formerly wet) mitten is still out there, frozen to the stall door latch. And the driveway is all drifted back in.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day!

Wow! What a day! It started out with a snowman of the warm type....then out to shovel! First, the house door had to be shoved open as a drift had rendered it unusable! Then to look up and see every door of the barn drifted shut....oh boy! This is is one of those doors. The threshold of the door is about 14 inches off the ground, so the drift ended up being up to my waist of tightly packed, super dense snow. Got pretty sweaty shoveling that one out!

Once in the barn, this is what the window looked like looking out! Wow!

Here is another door....that drift was nearly four feet deep and impassable.

All the animals were in the barn for this storm. Wooly Bear and Wilbur are enjoying their cud in their stall. This storm was caused by a fierce low pressure system that gave pressure readings along the lines of a category 2 hurricane. Obviously we don't see that around here very often! I noticed the anxiety in my animals. Wooly Bear started butting the wall with his head for the first time ever (he is a very docile ram), just as the storm began to hit. Today, he did it again a time or two, until he received a surprise splash of water. Back to chewing cud and being happy with my reassuring voice! :)

Wait....that's no sheep! No, that's our pony, Calypso (or Calippy, or Bud, or Buddy Boo....idio, idio, idiosyncracy here?)

They went out in the snow to gallop around and have a good roll.

Then back to the gate, pleading to come back into the barn! Any apples for me? (Yes, Calippy, they are in your grain bin...)
After an afternoon playing in the snow, shoveling, cleaning stalls, moving the chickens to a "warming hut", and tending to water buckets and feeders, it was time to come in for a steamy bowl of homemade chili made with our garden tomatoes and homemade garlic biscuits. Yum!
In the news, even snowplows are getting stuck, and city buses. A sheriff's squad car was smacked by a semi when responding to a different accident, and LED traffic lights were blown over with snow so bad you couldn't see which light was on. LED lights do not burn as warm as normal lights, therefore they don't melt the snow! Power outages are reported all over the place, and cars are in ditches everywhere. We are thankful we haven't had any serious problems.

Next up? Punch number two! Tonight is high winds and rapidly falling frigid temperatures! Oh boy!!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Got my socks on...the blizzard is here!!

Good thing I finished those socks quickly, as they are certainly needed! Snow had been predicted for a few days now, but that storm has turned into a truly defined, all out blizzard. We don't get "real" blizzards here very often, once every decade or so at the most frequent (although we all feel like every storm is really like a blizzard in our minds!). Here is a picture of those wonderful Gwendolyn socks...warm and thick, AND with a pretty top band. Blizzard away!

This next picture shows that gusset I detailed in a blog entry a week or so ago. This is what it looks like when it's done. The vertical stitch columns coming down the heel on the left are where you pick up those stitches. The result is a little triangle in the fabric that cuddles your heel just right. (Blizzard...sustained winds of at least 35 to 40 m.p.h)
I have lots of Marybay yarn to sell! At least 10 skeins all two ply spun on the Kiwi. It is incredibly soft and a challenge for me to not pig it all for myself! It has a lovely buttery cream color with wonderful lustre and oh so soft!!! (Blizzard...visibility reduced to 1/4 mile or less for at least three hours.)
Here is the rest of the fiber from Marybay I have yet to spin. It is the lovely neck wool that I will card before spinning as it is so fine. This is where I get intimidated...the wool is sooooo nice that I freeze up and fear I'll wreck it! It is truly exceptional wool. (Blizzard...considerable falling and blowing that means several inches up to a foot of snow or more.)
All the schools in most of our state have closed for Wednesday. Our govenor has declared a state of emergency throught the whole state! I don't remember that ever happening before! Our sheep are cuddled up in the barn, along with everyone else except the chickens, who are dozing in the coop. My sheep are sure spoiled! The air temperature is pretty high yet...around upper twenties as is typical when it snows, but as this low pressure system moves out, we're going to fall into a rapid deep freeze of below zero temps. Yuck!! That's what I hate the most. I can handle the snow and all that, but the below zero stuff is miserable. We've weathered out these storms before and we'll do fine unless the power goes out. Then it's a scramble to keep the water tank from freezing up before the water can be distributed.

So with all this blizzard stuff going on, I'm so glad to have my socks! It's hard enough to go out in these storms to care for the animals, but imagine going out and never noticing cold toes! That is my daily life here. My feet never get cold, and I'm usually outside for an hour or more. I wear rubber mud boots...not even winter boots. And cold floors are not even noticable, unless I put my cotton socks back on! Then I feel like I'm standing on an ice rink!

Happy Blizzarding!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Meet Gretl! :) She's a purebred Shetland ewe that I do not own. Gretl's fleece shows that variation I like to see in a Shetland sheep. These variable fleeces give the fiber nut lots of variety in fiber type, and thus, suitable wool for a variety of fiber projects.

The top wool in the picture is soft neck wool. It is shorter in length and much crimpier. The fleece in the middle was taken midside (along the ribs). Unfortunately, Gretl's fleece has been washed, so the fibers are a little blurred. She has nice crimp midside, with an intermediate length fiber (about 4 inches). Strangely, some tips are nice all the way to the tip, while other locks have about 1/2 " of outer coat on them! The wool is very soft and fine, with a nice crimp. The lower left and lower right locks come from Gretl's back legs, and is called the britch wool. This is typical of Shetlands in that the wool looks and feels very different here. There is a soft, downy under wool, and a longer, stronger, coarser wavy part that can vary in length quite a bit (Gretl's is about 6 inches long). It looks very different than the wool under the sheep's neck or along the ribs.
Here is that fine, crimpy neck wool. It is really short, just over two inches long. (Gretl was what I called "zip" sheared, meaning she was sheared with an electric clipper. I call it "zip shearing" because it is sheared off so quick, as opposed to hand shearing, with hand blades...those garganutian scissors. Zip shearing cuts the fiber at skin level. Handshearing requires leaving some wool on the skin.
Here is the britch wool on top of the neck wool, to really show the contrast. The differences of color here reveal some spotting. Gretl's fleece is nice in that it shows that variation that is so useful.

The socks in my last post are finished. I'll post the pictures in my next blog! We are bracing for our first significant snowfall this winter in the days to come, so I'm sure I'll be wearing them right away!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Shetland Socks

...I just can't stop making those socks! Shetland sheep have absolutely the best yarn for socks! (Ok, maybe that's a bit subjective.) You get everything you need all in one package...color that won't bleed or fade, depth that adds interest and appeal to the eye, strength that gives your socks durability, softness that makes you wiggle your feet just for the delight of it, and just the right crimp to give you cush without excess loft. If there is tooooo much crimp, the yarn would have to be pretty small in grist ("diameter") to allow your feet to fit into your everyday shoes with the socks on. Excess crimp makes cush, yes, but I've also discovered that really crimpy yarn makes for some saggy socks! I save the crimpiest wool for other projects.

Here is Gwendolyn. She's a moorit Shetland ewe who has really nice conformation and a lovely fleece (striking her model's pose here!). She does not have the variation of fiber I'd like to see to make her a believable purebred Shetland (that means her crimp is pretty consistent from neck to tail, which resembles commercially bred sheep.) Other than that, her wool makes for lovely socks!

So of course, I had to make MORE socks! This time, I added a rim around the cuff. That yarn is (gasp!) a synthetic yarn! Gulp! Yep. I used it. It is left over from a project I knitted before I had my own sheep, or could spin my own yarn. I love using a contrasting color just for the cuff for visual appeal. I also like how easy these socks are to pull on or off in a hurry. In this picture, I've knitted to top of the sock and already turned the heel. Here I am just picking up those stitches on the heel flap to begin knitting in the round again for the gusset decreases. When I first learned how to do this, I thought it was so hard! But each sock I made (and a few screw-ups along the way), got better. Now it's not only easy, but one of my favorite parts of knitting the sock.
There are different ways of doing this step, and everyone has their favorite. Once you learn it, you can fly along here and have it done in a minute or two. Here, the right needle is inserted into the next stitch being picked up, and the yarn is wrapped around, ready to be pulled through the stitch. That little curve on fabric under the needles on the left is where the heel will sit in the sock.

Gwendolyn's wool was spun worsted weight, so this will be a wonderful armor against the cold this winter. Bring on the cold weather and let's get it over with! I'm ready with all my warm, soft socks!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Speaking of stuffing...

From Wooly Bear and all of us at Wheely Wooly Farm, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

All's not white

This is fun. One of the best, of unarguably many things, about Shetland sheep is their color! Spinners and knitters LOVE playing with the endless possibilities of natural colors. The best part, is that natural colors do not fade or bleed.

This picture is fun. The fiber samples above come from three purebred, registered Shetland ewes. All three of these ewes look whitish to a casual observer. If you see the sheep standing out in the pasture, you'd describe them as light, or white. However, once you wash and start spinning the fiber, you can see white is not white is not white! Fun!

The first sample (on the left) comes from an older ewe named Marybay. She is lovely! This fiber sample has already been washed and about half of the fleece has been spun into eight lovely skeins already. It is incredibly soft, and has impressive luster. But as you can see, it has a lovely honey cream color to it, that is very warm and appealing. I LOVE it! I might add that Marybay is Honey's mom. :)

The middle fiber is from Iris and is not washed. She, too, looks white in wool from a distance, but upon spinning, you can see her wool takes on a beautiful white/grey/hint of black look to it. It creates lovely fabric that is warm and cozy in feel and looks come winter weather. This wool is really fun to dye or leave natural and has beautiful luster. It is also great fun to add accent yarns to the knitting, as the tricolors in the fleece allow accent colors to pop very softly, which brings interest to the eye. Everyone knows how much I love Iris's fleece!

The third sample (far right) is from Sweetie and is also washed. Sweetie has a honey look to her wool when you part it and see her up close, but when you wash and spin her wool, it has a glittery, fresh fallen snow look to it. It is bright and soft, but lacks the depth the subtle hues of undertones give.

All three are lovely "white" fleeces. It is fun to play around with the color! These are just three samples of color in Shetland fiber, for the actual combinations and hues seem endless to me. That is what makes it all so fun and creative!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bad Dog! Bad Cat!

We were gone this afternoon, flew in for a DH pick up, then out the door for the evening. Apparently, that was a bit much for the mischievous Annebelly (idio-, idio-, idiosyncrasy?) and Sophie! When we arrived back home later, I suddenly heard Holly cry out with sadness....this is that beautiful first skein of yarn (see prior blog entry) she spun last week! Badddddd Doggggg! Wait.....or badddddd kittyyyyy? Who dun it? Hummm...

I think we just need to rewind the skein by hand and it will be ok. It was laying in a basket on the sofa table. It must have looked like an appealing dog toy, or something! Such are the perils of pets and yarn! I had nobody to scold, for the timing was off. So while I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to fix this skein, someone decides now would be a good time to chase her tail! Maybe she thought the skein of yarn was her tail with pretty pink and green and blue ribbons in it?

So would a Border Collie ever get into this kind of trouble? Yes! One day I was visiting an old shepherd in my neighborhood. His Border Collie got bored with us people talking, and investigated her surroundings for something fun to do. In no time at all, she found a white plastic tree wrap loose at the base of a cute little fruit tree near us. Before we realized what she was up to, she had ripped the wrap off the tree and was having a delightful time flinging it up into the air and pouncing on it as it hit the ground, then repeating the fling. Agggghhhhh! She was so cute, I've never forgotten it.

Back to sheep........

I'll end with this:

Is the wheel a marguerite, a daisy chain, the band?
Surely this tiny thing so sweet comes from Titania's Land.
Fairy workers must have shorn the cloudy fleeces white,
Or dandelions dainty puff when drift in lazy dreams,
Or spikey thistles downy fluff tumbling in sunny beams
Before the rosy glow of dawn put whimsy to flight.
They say a fairy has no heart, but sorrow now they feel
For mortal souls who grieve apart and so they've lent a wheel.
Spin little wheel a thread that is stout
Spin for our seamen true,
Spin the pain of parting out
From hearts which sorrow and rue.
Spin the warmth of wool little wheel
Forget your fairy days-
Spin for the men so brave and leal
Who guard the ocean ways.

The Fairy Wheel
Anonymous Poem from England
The Complete Spinning Book by Candace Crockett, p. 40

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Luxurious knitted doll stole

Sigh...if only the modern woman could dress so fine! This luxurious doll stole was handspun on the shown drop spindle by a child. My child! It is sooooo fun to watch her excitement and delight at creating yarn and designing with it! Since the yarn is bulky, and hard to manipulate through a stitch for little fingers, I knitted this stole for her. DH and I made the drop spindle, then let her paint it. The bowl is filled with miniballs of roving she had a blast collecting at the WI Sheep and Wool Festival, then spun on this spindle. Her roving is stashed in a plastic grocery bag, which she excitedly carries out to the vehicle when we run errands and such. As I drive, she's spinning away in the back seat! Fun! The roving between the bowl and doll is the alpaca fiber she received from one of our favorite fiber shops, Bahr Creek (Thank you!) and is what the stole is made from. The skein in the picture is her very first full skein produced on a wheel, our Kiwi. It's certain now, I'll not see that wheel much in the future........................:)

Watch for our booth at local markets and craft fairs for more of these popular, unique handspun/handknitted doll stoles. Prices vary based on fiber. Fiber choices include angora bunny (see blog entry for Helping Hands Craft Fair), sheep's wool (some with glitz), and alpaca. They come in all colors and are excellent christmas gifts and stocking stuffers!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Honey, spinning, and Shimmer

Sweet Honey! She is a lovely lamb, and is so sweet, she'll steal your heart in no time. She was really wild when we bought her, as all our sheep seem to be when we get them. She came from a loving flock that was closely bonded, and I felt terribly guilty for taking her away from that. She baa-ed louder than any other sheep I've transported on the way home, and was so restless, I worried for her safety. In this picture, you can see a gap of wool missing around her neck. "Rats!", I thought when I went to look at her! She is a lovely ewe, but will require being fenced in a way that prevents her from sticking her head through to graze the other side, causing her wool to be rubbed out. In this little pasture on our farm, she is still fenced by squares large enough for her to stick her head through. Fortunately, I now rarely see her do that, and her wool is actually starting to grow back. Why she does it less here than she did on her home farm, is a mystery to me. Since she is an "09 lamb, she won't be bred, and is living with Wilbur and Lil' Rainbow.
Her wool is fine and soft, and will change color after her first shearing, to a fawn. Actually, her wool was coarser feeling when she came here, and now seems finer. I don't know if that is my imagination, or if there is truth to that. She is a honey color now, as a lamb. She was actually born dark brown! She has a white "collar" around her neck and a dark brown face with white fibers on her forehead. She has a wooly poll and cheeks, nice bone density, great conformation, a very sweet, bright expression, and a tail that falls correctly to the standard in terms of length and taper with a hairier tip, but somehow, I don't like her tail as much, and almost didn't buy her because of it! It falls in the standard, but somehow, isn't what I like to see...maybe too wide.
Someone else around here is liking spinning, too! In fact, I'm not sure I'll get my wheel back! I did buy the Kiwi for lessons, and for kids. This little wheel is so simple, smooth, steady, and short that kids easily learn on it; adults, too! Check out how fine that yarn is she's making!!! Makes a Mom proud!

After posting last time about Annabellie the silly puppy (who's now actually just over a year old), I realized I don't have any pictures on the computer of my first dog. She passed away several years ago, before the age of digital cameras and ease of picture manipulation. It will take me awhile to get a picture scanned in and figure out how to do that. She was a Border Collie/Heeler mix, out of champion stock on both sides. The male she was out of was a mulitple champion herding dog out of a northwest Colorado sheep ranch (I was working on ranches in Colorado at the time). One day, as an older dog, he was working sheep on the family's extensive private ranch, when he put his foot in a trap at a full run!!!! That was nearly his death. They released him as rapidly as they could, angry that a trapper would place traps on private land without permission, took him to Fort Collins to the vet school there, and made the decision to amputate his leg rather than put him down. A junior vet student there that day offered to AI him to a bitch he had, a champion working cattle dog who was a Queensland Heeler. The agreement was made to have crossed pups, as the Border Collie's prognosis was not good. Infection had set in and they thought they were going to lose him. There wasn't much time to mess around.

I got one of those pups, lucky me!! After doing much research, I kept coming back to the Border Collie as the ideal match for me. I was very active, living in the Colorado Rockies, and working on ranches. I took out pack trips on horseback, taking tourists above treeline, and on overnight pack trips. I also provided drop camps for elk hunters, although, fortunately, I never had to tie an elk head onto a horse!!! If you want interesting stories, ask any drop camp wrangler about getting elk racks out of the mountains on horseback (read, trees, blood, and bears)!!!! Not fun. I know I hated those days, but the rest was great fun.

Anyways, I rode horses all over the mountains, did lots of hiking, and skied all winter. It was a free and wild time in my life. And my little Shimmer was with me for it all. She put countless miles on, following me like an extension of my right arm. One day, she helped me retrieve a runaway pack mule. Another time, she alerted me to a bear near the trail. She became legendary in my area for never taking off after a deer, elk, or anything else. She made me, a first time dog owner (my own first, even though I grew up with a German Shepherd), look really good! I was so humbled by that. One whistle, and she was alert, on whatever you needed. She was fast, totally attentive (had that intense Border Collie stare), and a cinch to train. You asked something of her...BANG...she gave it to you!

Of course, as with all stories about dogs, there is much more to tell, but that is enough for now. In the end, the male she was out of made it through his surgeries, and lived on as a three-legged dog. I surely would love to have another pup out of him today. So why is Annabelle such adaptation? Ask something of Annabelle, and she'll think about your suggestion for awhile, or do the opposite!!. Ask something of a Border Collie (a good worker, anyway) and you'll get a response (the right one) on the spot.