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, July 15, 2010

Spinning Grand Champion Shetland

It's not everyday one gets to spin amazing fiber. As a production spinner, I spend many hours at my wheel, spinning a variety of fiber from a variety of sheep and Angora bunnies. I come back to Shetland over and over simply because it is so pleasant and easy to spin, and so comfortable to wear. It's soft, light, and blooms with amazing handle that is unmatched by any other fiber I've ever spun. It is very sophisticated, a very grown up and adult look. It is stunning in a professional wardrobe, or for a dressy event, or a nice evening out in a nice restaurant. It also wears stunningly well out in the barn, with style and integrity to keep you outside longer in the cold than you would ever imagine, with style and comfort. Actually, it's luxurious. My feet tell me over and over that Shetland socks are out of the norm...WAYYY out of the norm!!

This week, I'm spinning the fiber from our Grand Champ. ram, Wooly Bear (that's him in the picture on the top right of the screen). His wool is long, wavy, very fine, and very soft, which matches our breed standard (unless you are in the camp that votes for changing the definition of basic English words). It's intimidating. Let me say that's intimidating! From time to time, I come across a fiber that really makes me slow down and proceed carefully, for it is so beautiful, I fear "screwing it up"! When I sheared Wooly Bear, I knew it would take me awhile to get past that fear. Just as can be expected, his wool was very easy to shear. So his fleece has been washed, and sitting in a special place, where I'd see it each day. I pondered day and night what I'd do with his should I spin it?? What should I do with the yarn?? What gauge?? What end product do I want out of it?? Do I want to sell it?? Make a keepsake?? You can see it took awhile to get past the fear.

I ended up deciding to spin a fine laceweight yarn to make keepsake lace scarves..."scawls". This is a special wool, from a sheep that has changed our lives and put our farm on the international map (although some would have preferred that didn't happen!:). The wool deserves to be front and center in a wardrobe. That would be a garment that combines a scarf and a shawl...a crossbred of sorts. I dubbed them my "scawls". :) I sell a lot of them, for they are beautiful, versatile garments that show off the best a fiber has to offer...strength, beauty, softness and bloom.

I am spinning the singles at a gauge of 40 wpi, so that my two-ply will be about 20 wpi. That is a comfortable laceweight that is not too tiny to see, yet not too big. Shetland spinners were famous for fine spinning. That is because the fiber is long, soft, and STRONG. The wavy length gives nice elasticity while keeping the fiber so fine, it's a breeze to draft, and the fibers sit well in the yarn. In fact, it's way too easy to get too many fibers into your drafting triangle, for the ultra-fine fibers just want to be spun. I spin this gauge nearly everyday, so it's not difficult. What IS difficult? Finding a variety of knitting needles in sizes 0, 1, and favorite gauge for knitting some things. Of course, the women of Shetland would have made this gauge seem gigantic!! But I'm not ready to go that fine...yet! I'll have to get glasses first...

So anyway, I have spun up a bunch of wool now, which takes a significant amount of time to do. I still have lots of wool left so I will get a lot of yarn at this gauge. I have pictures to show, but I discovered this morning that the lightning we had last night might have fried my computer. I asked the sheep about this, since that computer is mostly used for business, if they'd vote for a new computer. The answer came back a resounding NO!! They discussed it amongst themselves and voted for fencing improvements.'s their money! They earned it! They are significant around here! I guess I'll have to find a different way to pay for a new computer. Stay tuned....

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