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.

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.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What a shock!

That's what I've been saying for over a year now! This little pup is Annabelle, a poodle mix. What a shock! She is soooooo different from anything I've ever had. After 22 years straight of herding dogs, this dog requires serious adaptation! She is cute as can be, and a very well behaved little dog, with a cheerful tail that never stops. She has an eye for things outside, so at chore time, she's stuck in her favorite "wait" spot, the back porch window. She has a little padded bench there, and a windowsill that can take paws. If she went through the screen, it'd be less distance to the ground than the backside of the couch, which she clears with ease (MUCH to my dismay, makes me close my eyes and pray every time!!)

She's also the poshest pillow pup you'll ever find! Give her any stack of poofy pillows, and she'll be snoozin' precariously on top. Would you believe she is the fastest dog I've ever had? She can run so fast, her ears become a cartoon blur...all the way down to the chicken coop! You should see her chasing her tail! Just a white blur. She is kept on careful training, so each night, for her dash to Coopville, she runs out her "Coop Loop". That's her trip around the coop, sniffing. Of course, the chickens are long since tucked in and the ducks are splashing around in their stall in the barn when this happens (read more adaptation).

We bought this little pup for Holly. It's a perfect fit...ease of care and feeding for her, and an easy dog to train. Cheap to feed, too!! I must say, though, that her training was, well, water over the bridge until she was a year or so old. That's when things really started clicking and she understood. Patient waiting worked! We've trained her well, so that she can be a "loaner dog" for relatives who love dogs, but don't want to take on the responsibility of ownership at this stage of their lives. She loves warming laps and casually looking out windows as the world goes by...great for therapy.

Meanwhile, I'm still adjusting. It's nice she is so content to be docile during the day when I have other responsibilities. Nothing lands on my knee or at my feet for play, like has been the case for over two decades, and she's very quiet. But still....

Stay tuned for future blog posts, where I'll share about my other dogs, all gone now. Hopefully, my heart can handle going back to those painful places, as I miss them all so much........

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Not much use for a...."

"....crossbred ram!" The timing of this couldn't have been more appropriate! We've been reading Charlotte's Web here on Wheely Wooly Farm. The endearing story of a little girl named Fern and her little pig, Wilbur brought many fun story-telling moments. Of course, the gander, with his idio-idio-idiosyncrasies was the favorite....or was it Charlotte? Not sure! Anyways, we needed a buddy for Wooly Bear. We had been looking all summer, but Shetland wethers were hard to come by this year. We ended up finding this wether from Psalm 23 Farm. Laura, the shepherdess, made the comment "Not much use for a crossbred ram" when I asked why he was wethered. Holly thought that sounded so much like the keeping of the little pig in Charlotte's Web, that this sheep had the name "Wilbur" (or ..."Woolbur", not sure yet :) before we arrived to pick him up!

He is a Shetland/BFL cross. Laura told us he had been chilled as a lamb so he had to come in the house for a bit. She sure did a great job in warming him up, but not letting him forget he is a sheep! This skill in shepherding created a personable, friendly, people-loving sheep, who understands which side of the fence he's supposed to remain on. He is easy to catch (ppppffffff! I mean, move him out of the way of the gate!), loves to be petted, and is gentle around everyone. Goofball Goldie thinks he is nice, too. Yet you can walk away and Wilbur/Woolbur (is there an idiosyncracy here?) is content to go back to sheepy business. Since we have lots of visitors who love to see the sheep, he is the perfect fit for our farm, and his gentle temperment matches Wooly Bear's nicely as well.
His fleece is light, with greys and browns underneath. I know absolutley nothing about the BFL breed, and their fleeces are not my favorite, but I think his fleece is lovely enough to spin nicely and be soft wearing. Laura, by the way, was written up in a statewide newspaper called The Country Today last week! It was a long article with pictures and was very informative. Congratulations Laura on the publicity for your farm! Did you get the copy I mailed?
Maybe some of you out there can leave comments about his fleece and tell me what you think. Adio-adio-adios!