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.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
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 centuries....in 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.
So...read 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.