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.

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...

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