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, March 31, 2010

Can Hardly Believe it...and Iris

I can hardly believe it! I've never experienced anything like this in my memory! It is March 31, and it's 71 degrees outside!! The meadowlarks are singing, there is a pleasant breeze, and last night, we heard the spring peepers (small frogs that sing a lovely spring chorus)!! Our local weatherman put up the statistics...NO snow measured as having fallen in the entire month of March! While that did not set a record, the statistic amazes everyone I talk to! Yes, we are very lucky this year in our pleasant weather. I actually have windows on the house opened up! On March 31st!

Meanwhile, I've been very busy spinning up an assortment of Shetland fleeces; ewes, rams, lambs and wethers. The colors have been such a joy to look at and as is typical of spinning Shetland, a joy to work with! Then, I realized, April is approaching! If I'm going to spin anything for myself and have time to knit something before the busy summer comes, I better get busy! So out came the fleece from my ewe, Iris. I spin her fleece every year, and sell the yarn. It is my best selling yarn. But last spring, the fleece was really, really nice. Since I don't get to save much of the wool I raise for myself, I decided I'd make a sweater out of Iris's wool this year. So after washing it, I carefully set it aside for the day to start spinning.

Her wool is dreamy to work with and spins up quickly. It is incredibly soft slipping through my fingers, especially when plying and it drafts like a dream. She grows an immensely long, super fine undercoat, with silkiness and fineness to her outer coat as well. Joy!!

The singles yarn already reveals the lovely lustre as it glows on the bobbin, capturing the distant light from the window. The color is very "soft", too.

So far, I have six or seven skeins spun, and I'm about a third of the way through the fiber. While I haven't measured the gauge of the yarn, my guess is it would fall in a light worsted. That is my favorite grist to spin. I use modified drafting techniques to create a half worsted/half woollen type yarn for softness and strength. It is very fun and relaxing to work on this, my favorite ewe! of my favorites! One of my many favorites! I really do love them all!!!

So I hope to get Iris's fleece all spun up this week, even though I have a non-spinning project to complete with a deadline (equally fun!) I already have a sweater pattern, or I might just use E. Swansan's (day later edit!!!! Giggle, giggle...can you believe I wrote that?? They were a very close mother/daughter team, so I guess it's okay...I doubt I'm the first one to mix up their names! Giggle, giggle...that should be E. Zimmerman...giggle giggle...) percentage system to design a sweater. I also have cute sheepy buttons if I decide to go that route.

I also thought some crocheted trim around the edges of the sweater with contrasting yarn might be pretty. You can do that with natural colored wool, as when washing, natural colors won't run or bleed.

Oh the joy of spinning!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

International Show Your Shawl Day May 1st!

Spread the word! May 1st is the first annual International Show Your Shawl Day! Spinners and knitters around the world, take out those beautiful shawls you've worked so hard on and wear them around for the public to admire!

I am a teacher and I LOVE encouraging people to pursue their interests and find joy in what they do. Wheely Wooly Farm strives to encourage those who love sheep and fiber arts, even if that is not always an easy task. Over the years, I have enjoyed viewing stunning pictures of shawls made by people around the world. These shawls were made in an amazing array of patterns, shapes, textures, fibers, and colors! However, when I leave my farm to go about my day, I seldom see anyone wearing a shawl. Pondering this last year, I decided I wanted to try doing something. It seems we fiber artists work so hard on creating these lovely garments, but then tuck them carefully back into storage, don mass-produced clothes, and return to living our lives looking like everyone else. It sure would be fun to see all these shawls come out of storage, and see the sun! Let's support one another in wearing our creations and wowing the world!

So we here at Wheely Wooly Farm are encouraging everyone to take your lovely shawls out of storage, put them on, and proudly wear them for the day on May 1, 2010! Spring is such a great time for new beginnings like this. The weather can be cool as the ground warms up, and the sunshine is bright. No matter the weather, come sun or rain, a shawl in spring is the perfect garment to wear. For those of you in the southern hemisphere, enjoy wearing your shawls on a fall day. If you cannot wear a shawl because of your work, put a picture of your shawl up on a blog, facebook, or youtube for the day. Let's bring these lovely garments out of hiding collectively and enjoy the day admiring everyone's efforts and hard work!! Please spread the word! Pass this blog entry around! Tell your friends! We hope everyone will have fun doing this! So get your shawls ready for the first annual International Show Your Shawl Day on May 1, 2010!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Busy, busy, busy! Working with my knitting students was quite a rush today! Fun!! People often say teachers give so much of themselves to help others, but I think teachers get way more in return! I love to see my students grow in their skills, or accomplish something that excites them. I love to see the reactions when they accomplish something they weren't sure they could do. Good teaching brings many smiles and laughter. It always makes my day!!

With this being lambing time, I always think of others who are lambing out their flocks. Last year's weather in my region was absolutely horrible! I tried hard not to think of all the little lambs affected by that. This year is such a treat! The weather is much better so not much to worry about. So, of course, my worries go to the Shetland Islands themselves. What was their forecast today? Let's see, how many ways can you describe rain, mist, showers, moving in, moving by, brightening up, darkening, and winter showers? The sheep on the Shetland Islands don't get much of a break for lambing...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blue spring!

What's this?? Could it be?? YES! That's blue sky! We have had a very nice winter this year, but the skies were cloudy most of the time, and fog occurred frequently. We had ideal snow cover starting with our blizzard back in December, which covered the plants nicely. That snow stuck around all winter, keeping the ground so nicely insulated that frost didn't penetrate very deep this year. WOOHOO! We escaped the horrible -17 degree stuff this year!! I couldn't believe my camera actually took this picture of clear blue.

So is this bluebird yarn or blue sky yarn? As cozy as the cloudy skies and fog are in winter, I just love the return of springy blue skies! Soon I'll be watching for those puffy white June clouds that all remind me of sheep!
What's this? A dead cat?
Uh oh. Dead chickens?
Wait...whose tracks are those? Here's your test...what doesn't belong?

Warm, gooshy gloppy, sticky mud. JUST what we wanted!

No, those aren't dead animals. They are happy animals soaking up the warm sunshine and dozing. The hens were dust bathing. It's sort of like "chicky play dead". Sometimes they flap their wings and open all their feathers so the dust gets to the skin. Then they put their heads upside down in the dust and roll over or around, occasionally adding a wing flap to make a cloud of dust. It's an important and necessary kind of bathing to keep them emotionally and physically healthy. And Goldie? Well, if his paws aren't skidding around the corner in the barn, or if he's not rolling off the coop roof, or if he's not getting rides on his favorite door, or if he's not stalking you in the garden, or rubbing against your pruning shears while you're trying to cut, he's playing dead.
Wooly Bear likes the sun, too. I cannot wait to shear him! His wool is so fine and long. I sure wish he didn't enjoy wearing his dinner on his head! His neck wool is pretty messy. He's not a very tall ram and since I ground feed, he found ways to burrow into the hay....every day. :( Despite the vm, I'm going to comb his neck wool to remove the vm because it is so amazingly soft!! He also has a lot of vm just around the top of his horns and the neck area close to his horns. :( The rest of his wool is nice and clean. I know I cannot coat him next year because his wool would surely matt up under a coat. I'll just have to hope he'll stop putting his dinner on his head I guess! In the meantime, I sure love his wool! This is where I freeze up....WHAT am I going to do with his yarn?? He is such a nice example of historic Shetland sheep. The preservation of these sheep is the mission of our breed organization in the USA, or at least it was! Who knows where that is going, but there are certainly many changes taking place. As Wooly Bear gets older, his fleece will not be as soft as hormones rage with age. This is characteristic for all Shetland rams, so it's easy to freeze up on what special thing to do with his lamb's fleece!

I have that Shetland wether carded up and ready for spinning, however I got a little distracted this week with this exceptionally fine weather. :) I cleaned up the garden, pruned the fall-bearing raspberries, pruned the fruit trees, and cleaned up Coopville. I even had laundry hanging out on the line! Horses have been going by on the road and neighbors all catch up every day. I'm trying to keep spinning, and I have to get ready for my next group of knitting students. And we recently shopped for buttons for sweaters. FUN! And we delivered something for a community service project we worked on. Sooooo nice to have clean, easy roads.

So now the frost is out of the ground and mud season is settling down with some areas getting firm and dry already. WOOHOO! Two years ago, we had the worst mud season ever since that year, the frost was very deep. I'm pulling old annuals out of the garden I left for interest over the winter, being careful to only step on designated walking paths to protect soil structure and aeration. Earthworms are everywhere! Better yet, the ground is warm enough to release the earthy aromas now! Oh, I love that! The smell of earth and green.....sniffffffffffffff.....ahhhhh! Oh, did you hear that? The song sparrows are back.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bluebirds and Quacks

Oh lovely spring, how joyful it is to see you again! The bluebirds are here! I think this is the earliest I've ever heard them. We've been having weather that just cannot be topped for March. By Thursday, we might hit 70 degrees!! The last few winters, we had yet to break the freezing mark and our snow was deep, with more snow coming...

Since spring is so springy this year, I'm working with springy, bluebird yarn. What could be better than birds and yarn?? Oh Sophie...

I am very happy to report that Lucky the Duck is doing better than ever! He is dabbling in the water now, and seems joyful that spring is here. Now that the swelling has gone down some, we can see that he looks scraped. He also has scrapes on his bill. We are pretty confident he got his head stuck somewhere, rather than a predator attack.
If you look closely, you can see the ruffled feathers on the top of his neck. On the other side, he has a large open area that is healing. You can also see his neck looks, well, crooked and funny. He is still sore, and still has that pouch where his neck goes into his body, but his spirits are up, he's eating, and doing just great! (And he's not exactly photogenic.) When I let him out this morning, both of them ran as fast as they could to the water. It was sure good to see that. And he's quacking! That is the best part. And Lucy? Well, (giggle, giggle) she loves quacking under water and making bubbles.

This is the swatch I knit up from my iset ewe, Lil' Rainbow. The flash really lights up the lighter fibers, but in real life, it looks pretty black. This is a singles yarn so you see twist energy in there. The swatch is all garter stitch, except in the middle, where I did stockinette. It was knitted on a size 2 sock needle.
Next is a picture of the "blue" ram lamb's fiber. He was actually a gray, I think, but hard to say. It was sooooo hard to get a picture of this with my limited camera and flash. In some light, the gray looks gray. In softer light, it takes on a bluish hue, especially if it's by warm wood tones. This, too, is a singles knit up on size 2 needles, all garter stitch.
I had great fun at my knitter's meeting! I had several students all learning. One learned how to rip back to fix a complicated mistake, and how to do yarn overs. Another learned how to knit. Yet another...a six year old sibling waiting....saw this ball of yarn I had there of a sheep I sheared for a neighbor. That ball of yarn really appealed to him. So he started asking questions, and poking arms to get older people's attention, pointing to the yarn and asking how to "use" it. That boy wanted to knit!!! So I asked him if he wanted to. His eyes became very bright and wide...YES...he wanted to try! So we sat down and I showed him on the spot, with my little sheepy poem to help remember the steps. I was floored! He had total control of his fingers and knit to the end of the row! Then, I told him I'd bring a ball of that sheep's yarn next time and he was VERY excited! I think all of this is just amazing! I just inspired a six year old boy to knit with sheep's wool!

(That sheep, BTW, was needing to be sheared last year. I got the call and agreed to help out. When I went to check out the situation, I could tell the sheep had more than one year's growth in his wool. It turns out, it had been three years! The fleece was 18 inches long! And it turns out he was a fully intact ram....a very big ram. He was as docile as could be for me, and I got his wool off nicely, but it took awhile!! The family donated the wool to my 4-H project and my spinning students. This is the wool that appealed to this boy. I think it is amazing how things work out!!)

Another sign of spring? The local drive-in has opened! We notice it like a flock of migrating birds....guess we'll have to pack in some ice cream cones this week. :) They've already been swarmed by spring-hungry ice cream lovers.

In the meantime, I've decided to card the fleece of the other Shetland wether I'm working on. I really don't like taking the time to card because...then I'm not spinning! Oh well, it makes the spinning go faster and the yarn nicer in this case, so it's worth it! Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

One Bad Day...

...for Lucky the Duck. Here he is pictured with his mate Lucy last fall by the pumpkin patch. Together, they forage all around the farm. We were really looking forward to watching him float and splash around in springtime lakes...yes, for the first time ever, we were looking forward to spring flooding! (Funny how animals can change your perspective on things!) Then the other afternoon, I found Lucy running back and forth in front of the coop, alone, quacking like she was upset. Uh oh.

We ran all around the farm, looking for Lucky, but couldn't find him anywhere. Uh oh. No quacks, nothing. Lucy seemed relieved to see us, and they never part. This was not good. We combed the grasses, checked the woods, looked in all their favorite areas. Nothing. Then, we found him, in the barn aisle, stuck behind the door! Obviously, this was odd. As I got closer, I realized he was very quiet, still, and standing in a lot of mess. Humm. Bending down to pick him up, I could see he had a large injury to his neck! Oh no! A predator attack! In the middle of the day! We did the best we could for him, and settled them down in Coopville for the night, as they seem to want to live with the chickens. Later, we realized we couldn't figure out what happened to him. There were no signs of a predator anywhere that we could find. Also, he lacked signs of being in a predator's mouth over the rest of his body. So we wondered if he just got his head stuck somewhere? I think it will always be a mystery.

Two days later, he was not doing good, just when the spring lakes were at their finest!. I thought for sure we were going to lose him. Without Lucky, the possibility of hatching out ducklings was a spring without a plan! By morning yesterday, after our best efforts, DH made the decision to let him out to play as long as he wanted in the pond, so his last days would be happy. That turned out to be the turn around!! Even though he only stood in the water, water was healing. Today, he is still recovering, but has returned to eating, drinking, and preening! We aren't out of the woods yet, but we're heading in the right direction!

Here is some lovely Sheltand yarn. I've sold a lot of this now and have only a skein or two left.

I meet again with one of my student knitting groups soon. This program has really grown, so I'll be sure to wear short sleeves, as it will be busy! I'll have several students ranging widely in age, and skill level. It is soooo fun! They are all doing great, and the new ones have moved on from swatches to projects now.

On the Shetland Showcase, things are not good. Unfortunately for the many people involved, a group is attempting to utilize my Shetland Showcase concept into their event activities by just changing the name a bit, without my express permission or participation, even though they comprehend I am the one who solely designed and authored the Shetland Showcase, and that they don't have permission to use it in their event. It is my hope that they will realize what a mistake this is for the many involved, and come to a resolution quickly.

Meanwhile, we are having bird excitement every day. The sandhill cranes have been calling as they fly overhead now for a about a week. The robins are here and wake me up in the morning! :) The red winged blackbirds are perching in tree tops by the barn, just like always in March! This year, they are three days late and I sure missed them. :) And yesterday, we heard the killdeer and meadowlark!! I LOVE meadowlarks! They are my favorites. We also heard one mourning dove. So strange to only hear one in spring and none all winter. The dove hunt here has decimated our local doves. We have also seen a new woodpecker. We love the signs of spring! And a pigeon on the silo cracked me up. I was observing Lucky through Coopville's window to see if he was eating. While sadly watching him want to eat but not, I kept hearing this scriteeetch, scriteeeeeettttccchhh. Then I noticed a pigeon had figured out the top of the silo was wet and like a slide. He was sliding down, flying in a circle, landing and sliding down over and over. The scriteeeetch was his feet on the metal! Silly bird!!

I've started a new fleece on my wheel. This time, I'm working on a Shetland wether who's fleece so far has again been a very pleasant spin. I really enjoy the handle of Shetland fleeces!! His britch wool is really nice so moving up the fleece should be fun! Wethers tend to have nicer fleeces as they don't have all those raging hormones. The yarns I've spun recently have piled up and will take me awhile to wash nice. I also took some time recently to spin up some yarn from Lil' Rainbow, my iset ewe (see prior blogs in February). Then I knitted up a little swatch with the singles I had carded and spun. Wow! It's really pretty and softer than I thought it would be! The biggest surprise was that the yarn looks black! I'm so glad I snipped a few locks to play with before shearing! I can't wait to get the rest of her fleece in. I also carded and spun a singles of the little blue ram who's fleece is pictured a couple or so blogs back, then knitted up a swatch. Oh so funnn! More to come on his yarn!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


When I decided to take my little ram lamb to the sheep show last fall, so I'd have a second sheep to accompany my child's ewe for her youth showmanship class, I HAD NO IDEA WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE I'd have to deal with as a result!! What a beehive!! After winning that show free and clear, the onslaught began. From name calling, to insulting other Northern European Short Tail breeds, to orchestrating coordinated slamming of my farm blog (and that I was "next" in line to be "steamrolled"), to lies about how the wool was historically used, to unacceptable intrepretations that "longish and wavy" means the opposite, to bragging about writing comments back to me on my blog that are oozing with sarcasm, to picking up (without my permission) and dropping my ram lamb back to the concrete after the show AND threats that things are going to get "real interesting" in Jefferson next year! Whew!! That is some beehive (and that's not mentioning it all)!!

I DID wonder why farm after farm was leaving the Shetland sheep events in Jefferson each year....dwindling attendance down to a mere few left. I DID wonder why so many people are breeding and raising Shetlands outside the American breed organization...with NO interest in being involved or being members. I DID wonder why the sheep of the few left in attendance looked SOOOOO different than all the other Shetland sheep and clearly, VISIBLY DON'T line up with the Breed Standard of 1927. I think I know why now!!

Then, for the first time in years, the Midwest Shetland Sheep Breeders (MSSBA) Show results of 2009 were NOT published in the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association (NASSA) Newsletter. That has not happened as far back as I could find. Do you suppose it is because a normal-looking Shetland sheep that matches the standard won Grand Champion Ram, and not one of those NOT normal-looking sheep??

Let's seeeee...NASSA literature is being "updated", the NASSA website is being "overhauled and updated" (remember, our breed has only been in the US since the 1980's and didn't have a breed organization until the 90's, AND wasn't online until later so everything WAS pretty well "updated" already), the NASSA Handbook FORMERLY distributed to all new NASSA members has been tossed away as not valid, board members refer new shepherds AWAY from NASSA literature to "information sites"...i.e. websites of their friends for breed information, proposals to travel as a group overseas the year the Doane's are planning the Annual General Meeting at their home in the U.S.A., and NEW photos of sheep everywhere coming from that little group who is making all these changes to replace the OLD photos, and many of the breeders who claim to have the "real" Shetland sheep but have no idea how to spin and/or knit Shetland fiber!! .... hummmm... sure smells fishy!!!

As if that wasn't enough, today's message regarding a two-day event in Jefferson this year was another surprise! That idea was mine, into which I poured hours of thought and design. I had no idea anyone was working on any planning of my event to make it a reality. My idea has been stolen!!!

My goal in designing that event can be read about in my blog entry back on January 29th. I designed the event to be a "Shetland Showcase". I had proposed my idea to NASSA back last fall. My dreams were to help bring back some sense of normalcy to the Midwest and to help temper this situation of this group of breeders who are literally bullying everyone away who don't support them in changing the Shetland breed into something they visualize, and that no one else has in this country, something that is NOT historically supported. My hope was to restore fun (although admittedly, we had a blast at the festival last year!!) I see I haven't been invited to the planning meetings to an event of my own design, that I laid out for Juliann Budde in a lengthy email last fall detail by detail!! I see my language was used to describe the event, but my name is nowhere to be found in acknowledgment. So guys...remember when you joked "I want to know it all!!" and "When is it my turn to know it all!!??" Well, if YOU know it all, why are you stealing my ideas and words?? Nice goin'.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Annabelle's Promotion

A couple of days ago, we had a little adventure around here. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was busy working...away from the living room windows. Suddenly I heard Annabelle bark, bark again, then howl and bark drawn out. "NOOOO BARK" is what I used to say, back when she was in school. I've since learned that her barking is valuable and always means I need to pay attention. So I looked out a front window. Huh. A car was slowed down on the road. Not recognizing it, I kept watching for a few moments as it paused, then moved on. Huh. Meanwhile, Annabelle was barking with greater intensity...howling with nose straight up in between barks. Huh.

So I decided to go look out the window SHE was looking out. Bright idea!!! Boing, boing,...therrreee go the sheep, right past the living room window!!!!!! Oh no!!!!!

I raced to the door, half threw on my boots, tripping as I crashed on the door nob, coat in hand and snared on the doornob!!!! As I got myself out the door, I hollered out "GIRLS!!!!!!!!!!" All my ewes were nearly out of sight!!! I hollered again as I ran to the shed where they loaf, coat half over my head (it's a pullover) as I tore down the steps of the hill, half in my boots, praying I wouldn't trip and fall...or run into the tree...or that the neighbors couldn't see me just now!! Despite my entanglement, I could hear them baaing back. How did we go from peacefully working to dog barking, to.....chaos like this.... in one minute flat???

As I galloped into the shed with my coat sort of on and my heels finally to the soles of my boots, I saw immediately that the fence had broke...and one by one, the girls must have leaped out. Quickly, I opened the gate and raced for the grain trough. It's metal, so I picked it up over my head and rattled it (it's flimsy..think Tarzan). Of course, that is a sound they would hear from Africa! I heard them baaing, all of them!!! Whew!! The baa's were getting closer! So I dove over the far side of the fence, snaring my coat and nearly losing a boot, tripping over the cupcakes and flustered ducks...and tore into the barn, scaring the daylights out of the hens milling about in the aisle! With feathers drifting everywhere and alarm clucks drowning out the baas, I yanked open the door to the feed area, snared as much grain as I could in such a panic...half a pail, and tore my way back through the barn, tripping over cupcakes, snaring my coat on the door (eraughhhhthhhhhhh!!!), leaping over flustered and quacking ducks, diving over the fence, and galloping over to the trough.....NO EWES!! "GIRLLLLSSSSSSS" I hollered, but just then, they tore around the corner of the door in a cloud of dust and all but two gleefully boinged into their loafing area. The last two are my two newest ewes, but they figured it out quickly and were soon plowing over me to get to the trough themselves. WHEW!!!! With heart pounding, I closed up the fence, fixed the hole, and sat down. The girls all looked at me as they finished the grain...all peaceful and doe-eyed and acting as if nothing happened! Oh boy! THAT was a close call!

So we at Wheely Wooly Farm would like to officially announce the promotion of one attentive, persistent, hard worker the honor and status of Sheep Dog. She may not be black and white. She may only weigh 10 pounds. She may not ever be out guarding the sheep in their pen, but she is still paying attention and guarding them as best she can...from the window. Thanks for the heads up Annabelly!! You are now a titled dog: Annabelle, the Sheep Dog!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fun Locks!

Could it be? Could it really be? Could we really escape the -17 degree below zero weather this year? Really? WOOHOO!! I'm having no trouble moving right into spring things! I got my rest, and I'm ready. My house is even clean! One day while the soup was simmering, I ran out to prune some twigs off the willow tree. I love bringing them into the house each year to force the opening of the soft catkins (that's not what I really call them, but sadly, I cannot go there)! I also like to use the vase water for starting my seeds. Willow water is very good for little seeds and helps them off to a strong start. If you look close at the jar, you'll see little roots growing. Perfect! :)

This year, I have onions and leeks going early. I couldn't resist starting some herbs, too. There's basil, marjoram, and tadaa!...the parsley (not shown) is peeking up from the soil even though I sowed them on Feb. 22! That was a delightful surprise! Parsley is a notoriously slow germinater...taking as much as three weeks or longer to get going.

It is a nice part of the day to check on these little plants. While misting them, I could hear the cardinal and chickadees out the window, singing springy tunes.

This week I began toying around with acquiring lambs from a neighbor, who has nice little commercial sheep...rambouillets. The lambs are "textbook" cute, and it would be fun to carry on his work. I only needed to ponder a couple of days before I knew my decision. Nope. Those fleeces are the short, blocky-style staple with tight crimp, very unShetland-like. That is not my favorite to spin, and the price he gets for that fleece is hard to accept. I tried using the wool for kitty beds in the barn. It makes for a nice warm sleeping spot, but the wool crushes and doesn't spring back up (lacks resiliency). Wool like that is best used in industrial clean up rags for flammables and insulation. (Tip: did you know that vehicles that catch on fire easily, like planes and trains, are required to be insulated and carpeted with wool? Wool catches fire at higher temperatures, doesn't stay on fire, doesn't release toxic fumes, and doesn't melt what it is touching..i.e. the floor, the wall, your skin.) So everyday, part of my chores is to "fluff" the cupcake nest. End of thinking on that one.

I've been spinning like a wild banshee lately. I really love spinning. I'm almost to the end of Mammy's neck wool, despite surprise visitors this week and more knitting lessons. So far, I have 10 skeins of two-ply spun and waiting for blocking, and at least two more yet from the neck wool. This fleece has been an absolute delight to spin!! These genuine Shetland fleeces are so easy to draft, and so pleasant to handle! I've been doing it nearly all day...every day, at least in my mind anyway! So fun!

Here is an interesting thing about Mammy's fleece that I thought you might like. Typically, the Shetland fleeces are very colorful, whether the sheep is spotted or not. There can be any wild variety of color throughout. Mammy is no exception. These three lock samples are really fun when spinning. All are from the same fleece. The upper left one is soft gray with cinnamon tips. The lower left one is soft gray with whitish tips. The lock on the right is darker gray with the soft gray mixed in, but the tips are black! So interesting to spin I never get bored! And when you handspin, you don't lose that character as much as if the yarn had been milled. You end up with exceptionally beautiful, one-of-a-kind yarn that cannot be duplicated, and that shows off the exceptional beauty of this immensly colorful breed.

The other thing I really love about Mammy's fleece is that she has that lovely longish, wavy lock structure the breed standard requires. The fleece was washed already, but the locks have rolling waves in them from cut end outward. The amount of undercoat is great, which makes for delightfully soft yarn, just as is called for in the breed standard, yet the small amount of outercoat makes for strength and durability in the yarn, and carries out the waves. This yarn is a high quality product! You have softness that won't wear through or pill or break up without extended rugged wear. You have natural color that won't fade or bleed or wash out. You have a unique, one of a kind yarn that is unduplicated anywhere! It is toasty warm yet it breathes. It knits up so pleasantly, and is remarkably comfortable to wear. I think all of those things put together makes for outstanding yarn! If you have avid outdoor players or workers in your family, this is the product you need to keep them warm and happy!

Which reminds me of one of my customers whose husband is begging her to learn to knit socks. She wants to spin, but puts up her hand at the possibilities after that. He just had a look of sadness about him that almost made me offer to make him a pair myself!! He told me he once had a pair of socks his Norwegian Grandmother had made for him when he was a boy, so he'd be able to play outside longer in the snow. They kept his toes so toasty warm, even when his feet were sweaty from all the uphill climbs, that he's never forgotten it. He said he's been unsuccessful in finding socks that have wool like those socks did, and wool without synthetic threads that make his feet cold and clammy. He's now retired and was really, really, really hoping his wife's spinning ambitions would lead to some plain, wool socks! I really feel for him. The problem is, I cannot spin and knit socks and sell them for what I have in them in labor. They would be expensive socks!...and I get constant requests for them. If I make them as a gift for someone outside my family, where do I stop...?

Oh Sophie!! I just put that there!! (...a child's carseat) That was sure fast.
...giggle, giggle...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Blue Sheep?

If you are from my state (Wisconsin), and if you have ever traveled up to Peninsula State Park, you have heard of that super fabulous little theater in the woods...and you have heard of the hilarious little production entitled "Lumberjacks in Love". This exceptionally professional production cracked up audiences for a number of years, including us. It's the story of a bunch of goofball lumberjacks in a rough logging camp of Northern Wisconsin, one of whom gets caught in a commitment to a mailorder bride. The actors were incredibly good with their lines, timing, singing, and cracking up the audience without missing a cue! Of course, the lines and songs themselves were almost more than my laugh lines could handle! In this little play, there is a line about "blue soap".....oh boy, am I deviating! Sadly, one of the key actors of that production, and I believe one of the co-writers died a sudden death while out jogging one beautiful summer afternoon in the park, hours before he was to perform again. He was a young his thirties and FIT! I cannot think of anything blue anymore without thinking about him, this production, and the crack ups he and his fellow actors brought to thousands of people. I still feel sadness about it to this day...

So what does that have to do with blue sheep?? sheep? Yes! Shetland sheep come in a variety of colors ranging from lovely blacks up two color "paths" to white. One color "path" takes a dark brown fleece up through a range of creams, honeys and fawns. The other "path" takes fleece color from black up the grey side from steely grey to soft greys, silver greys and eventually up to whitish. One sheep can manifest any range of colors in it's "path". Well, I feel very fortunate to have found this little fleece I'm working on right now...'s blue!!! I laid it out on the floor and the color coming back was exceptional!! I have seen A LOT of Shetland sheep, but around my area, this color is just not seen much! It actually takes on the color blue. I absolutely cannot wait to spin it! I took this picture before I washed the fleece. It comes from a little ram lamb I met last fall. I really liked him, and found it hard to leave him behind. He was well built and had this lovely fleece on him, but I could see he was going to have that nasty horn issue. One horn looked good, but the other was going to dive inward. So I told his owner I would buy his fleece after shearing. Turns out, the good horn dove inward as well...another Shetland tragedy. Boy, would I ever love to see research done on this to get this problem resolved!!!

The tips in some areas have that lovely cinnamon color. If this fleece was run through a mill, the colors would be lost to one tone. That is why I love handspinning with Shetland wool. You can preserve these amazing color dynamics. It's impossible to get bored!!! The yarn you design ends up being one-of-a-kind; unique to that sheep, unique to that spinner. Just as a memorable production, each fleece becomes a memorable product, designed with skill and commitment, and fond memories of the sheep it came from. Sadly, this fleece comes with the sad memory of those horns and the untimely loss of another beautiful ram.

Oh Sophie! That's clean laundry!! Must you?!?