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, January 6, 2010

Shepherd's Calendar...R&R Time

A little coffee, some quiet time....I've reserved this quiet January-March time in my head all this past year, when I was too sweaty from outside chores, too tired in my muscles to move another load, or too run-down from endless work both inside and out. It's the shepherd's carrot. Now that the whirlwind of the holidays are over, quiet is in the air. How nice it is! This quiet time in the shepherd's calendar is for contemplation, new projects, time to learn new skills, or catch up on I ever stopped reading....or spinning....or knitting! LOL! Anyways, this is the time for putting feet up and being absorbed in good books. It's time for dreaming about the year ahead. It's time to draw up plans and place orders for the next big garden. And yes, sorry DH, it's time for visualizing that next new project made out of two x two's!! It's time to think about improvements to the barn, cutting holes in walls, and fantasizing when I'll clean out the storage area (sometime after this cup of coffee....)Sophie takes quiet time seriously, every day, all year! Shortly after I took the photo of the socks and scarf on this pretty purple coat, Sophie settled in...again. She is so quick in finding warm spots to sleep!
So the turn of the new year was stimulus to begin our next fair's 4-H projects. Here is a great start! Notice how nice each stitch is, and how even the fabric is. This project was knit by a seven year old! It's a well planned, and documented project for...a bear! Life is so fun!

The project was measured out, a picture was drawn and labeled with dimensions. Yarn and needles were recorded, along with the date. Ready to knit!

Meanwhile, I am fascinated with the history of Shetland sheep and their wool. It used to be well known that Shetland sheep were renowned for producing excellent sock wool. In times past, socks were called stockings, and were knitted longer, so as to cover the kneecap. Since they were knitted higher up the leg, increases and decreases were inserted for comfort over thinner ankles and muscular, thicker calf muscles. The Shetland Isles are located in a place in which much exchange of goods occurred over the centuries, as ships passed by and cultures met. This was a critical outlet for the Shetland wool, and Shetland stockings (among other things). Journals, logs, diaries, etc. of people on ships have been placed in museums and archives around the world with obscure entries regarding the desire for Shetland stockings, their cost, and how they were acquired. Shetland history is not found just there, itself.

So the truth that we can derive from this is that Shetland wool was known in many countries as making very warm, soft, and durable coverings for feet, and that while this has been known for centuries, but is not well known today. Foot coverings were purchased by all levels of society, from hard outdoor laborers to royalty and the wealthy or esteemed. The Shetland wool of the past had no boundaries socially, until laws, taxes, restrictions, and breeding ideals were imposed on the "greater flock" in more recent times. The bottom line is that people wanted it. It was warm. It was comfortable. It was durable and it held up.
As I slip the yarn through my fingers while knitting this grey sock, my mind wanders with this. I don't have to get on a ship to get my socks. I don't have to work on the rolling sea. I don't have to commission my staff to fetch me a pair, nor alert a captain in my fleet to get me socks when he sails into Lerwick. I don't have to wait weeks or months to acquire a pair. I have it right my backyard. I am so very grateful for that.


  1. So beautifully said Amy! And oh so true! Even though I have to deal with sheep in these cold snowy months ... from January until the end of March is the quiet time around here too. April/May is lambing : lots of fun & lots of work, then shearing, then ....
    ... Oh and tell me more about what type of shetland wool spins and knits up into the best socks. I'm thinking about socks too ... my feet are cold with all this snow !

  2. Thanks Diane! I don't think you can go wrong with any Shetland wool. There is just something unique and special about Shetland fleeces beyond color. Make sure you have a good quality fleece to start with. I've made socks out of many fleeces, and what I've found in my experience is that soft double coats produce strong, soft yarns that last longer. Durability is worth striving for because once the socks are on your feet, you won't want to take them off. :)

  3. My grandmother's coffee cup - it was like seeing her afternoon coffee klatch - all that was missing was the stollen or the long johns from the local bakery!

  4. My goal this year is to learn how to knit my own socks and gloves!!! I refuse to buy any more socks from the stores:) And I so agree that it is the time to just sit back and breath for a bit and look at all the new gardening mag/catalogs I am getting! I am jealous of your knitting pic:)