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.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fun/Pretty Shetland Fiber

Oh Gwennie! Some things never change! For those of you who are new to our blog, welcome! This is Gwendolyn, one of our mature Shetland ewes. She was bred to our handsome ram, Wheely Wooly Lerwick last fall, and we are hoping for lambs from her in April. She gave us a lovely little ewe lamb last spring, whom we named Wheely Wooly Gracelyn. Gwennie, as you can see, is very tame and friendly! ...nor is she camera shy...

Gwennie was born a moorit. That means she was darker brown as a lamb, but over time, she has lightened up in fleece color (my favorite kind of fleece color; faders!). Notice that her legs and face have re
mained the dark, chocolatey brown moorit color. She is so wooly on her poll (top of her head) and cheeks, that I suspect she carries some merino blood in her, although she is registered as a purebred Shetland.

I took this photo of her recently. Notice how her color is lighter along her back legs? You will see why in a minute, but first notice how wooly she is! I LOVE that about Shetlands! Her fleece length varies from very short under her neck to very long along those back legs. That area, along the back legs is called "britch wool", for it should be of different character than the wool on the rest of the body in a primitive breed like the Shetland. It's the hallmark of a historic breed that has not been changed much in the Northern European Short-tailed group. (I had worried that she would be more consistent in fleece length head to tail when she was younger, for I am not interested in same-o, same-o fiber like all the other more modern breeds. Turns out, I'm not disappointed! :)

Oops! That's not Gwennie!

Anyway (!), the photo below is of Gwennie's fleece. I sheared her myself last spring. She's a cinch to shear, usually chews her cud and pleasantly looks around while I snip, snip, snip. Some of the wool was washed and spun in summer, and it sold right away, but I usually stash the britch wool away for some other time. This photo shows how different her midside wool, along her ribs looks (on the left) compared to her britch wool (on the right). Wow!!! Her britch wool, when washed and left to dry sure surprised me!! Take a look at the next picture down!! Wow!! Yes that's right! Eleven inches long!!! That's longer than Iris's wool! (Iris is out of Dailley lines, Gwennie from Island Skeld.)

So anyway, in the photo here, you can see how the lock structure is very different from midside to britch. The britch is thicker but smooth and soft, and still has that lovely light handle Shetland wool is so treasured for. The color is also absolutely stunning! I couldn't take my eyes off it as it dangled at my wheel one afternoon when I was interrupted by the phone while spinning. This wool, while coarser and not for necks or wrists, is still stunningly beautiful and a treasure to have! It spun up and knitted up beautifully, and it makes GREAT socks! The chocolate brown makes the yarn a lovely warm color, while the more flaxen parts, the lighter golden light amber color adds highlights to the yarn that are unmatched! It's alive! Coarser? SOOO WHATTT! It's lovely! I'm not a weaver, but I can't help but wonder how beautiful something would be woven with this wool, if I saved it a couple of years. The highlights are so unique! It's TOUGH going back to boring plain white fleeces after delighting in spinning lovely color like this!

Gwennie's fleece...on left midside, on right, britch

The midside wool is very fine and soft. I made a scarf with some of it, sold that, and sold the rest as yarn. This winter, I'm catching up on spinning britch wools from a few of my sheep. This will also be for sale soon.

Wow, wowww, wowwwww!
Can't WAIIIITTTTT for this year's fleece!!!!
Shetland sheepies, you're amazing!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thoughts with New Zealand!

This blog is not about us, or our farm. This time, it's about what the world of computers can do to the word "community". Our thoughts are sincerely with those of New Zealand...especially of the area in ChristChurch. The area experienced a devastating earth quake yesterday (our Tuesday, their Wednesday). Not only do we feel for the people who live there, but we know New Zealand is a land of spinners, knitters, and shepherds (and also people who are related to me). We've watched the images come to us over our TV. Panacaked buildings, amputations, fallen steeples, and disaster declarations. I can't help but think of those who have affected so many of us spinners lives by their excellent Ashford Spinning Wheels. I have some of their most excellent products right here in my house. We here at Wheely Wooly Farm sincerely hope all is well with you, your family, and your workers, and we will keep everyone in our thoughts tonight!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weather or not...'s made me busy! This whole past week has been such nice weather that I've been outside LOTS! (Think yuck, muck, goo, and the earth releasing it's spring freshness..).

Then the next thing I know...snowwwwww! Lot's of snowwwwwwwww! Everyone's cozied up in the barn and happily passing the time by seeing who can make the best matching hat and earrings out of hay......


UPDATE: Well, we sure were dumped on in this storm, too! The rams are still in the barn because after taking one glance at those big drifts 'tween the barn and their pen, I decided to wait for summer sun.....

...and I had to dig the door out so the horses could go out....and I could get IN the barn.....

....and after sweating after that job, Calypso got stuck in snow up to his belly. In his efforts to boost himself OUT of the drift, he got his foot caught under the outside wall of the barn! No injury fortunately! Everything is fine. As I hiked back up to the house, shoveling along the way like a snorkeling mole, I was feeling pretty confident I'll still fit in last summer's clothes....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Valentine for you!

From Wheely Wooly Farm, Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!
(That's sweet little Honey here...we hope she'll give us her first lamb or lambs this spring.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Today, I was out in the barn doing general upkeep and trimming hooves, taking fun pictures of very cute woollies and such. The sun was shining bright so I let the hens out for the first time in awhile, for we've had a pretty good cold snap...temps down to -17 degrees last night (and I was out trimming hooves!)...anyway, I decided to open the big door so the hens could enjoy a sunny warm up. Delighting in watching them happily cluck and peck at treats in the warm sunshine, I started walking on to the next thing I wanted to do when CCCCRRRRAAAASSSSSAHHHHHHH!!!!!! I heard this HUGE, HORRIBLE crashing sound! My first thought was something fell off someone's truck and shattered on the hard, very frozen road! I went tearing out of the barn to look when I saw it! Two vehicles had crashed together and were slammed into a snowbank in my front yard!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nothing was moving....not a sound! I started running up the driveway, and I remember hearing myself say over and over something! One vehicle was smashed bad on the driver's side....I'll never forget my thoughts as I ran through the deep snow of our front yard to check on the passengers, senses heightened to smell gas or anything!!! What would I find inside??? As I approached the very quiet, very still, crashed vehicles, I saw the passenger window was not there. I saw someone sitting in the driver's seat...and I asked if they were ok when suddenly I saw two booted feet started coming through and I could hear someone crying!!!! Oh.....!

I helped the person climb out, who looked ok despite the major damage to the vehicle!!! As she climbed out, I took her hand and steadied her, then lead her away from the crash....she was shaking and I wasn't sure of her injuries, or the safety of her crashed vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle came around, and said he was ok thankfully!!!! Well, to make a long story short, turns out both drivers seemed ok, and were the only people in their cars. The woman was very worried though for her dog was in her crashed vehicle. I asked both their names, then helped them make the right calls (both seemed dazed) and making sure she wasn't going to pass out, I went to check on the dog, for it seemed safe to do so. Shock!!!!!!!! I stuck my head in the window and saw THE LARGEST, CUTEST Great Dane I've ever seen!!! And he seemed fine, just blinked at me...patiently waiting for whatever comes next in a nice sit (maybe he was dazed, too?)!! No blood or anything. Everyone turned out ok in the end and I had them come in the farmhouse to warm up in between things, including that very large, VERY CUTE, very nicely behaved dog! (Ok...I think Swifty thought I brought Calypso into the house for he barked a very funny bark when he saw that big friendly fella who stood taller than my desk lamp!) I ended up being outside for a near continuous stretch from noon to four in the afternoon, and it was only 9 degrees out with a freezing breeze. THANK YOU Lil' Rainbow, for keeping my toes so nice and warm through the whole thing, that I never once thought of my feet out there!!! And THANK YOU LORD that everyone is ok tonight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How 'bout a tip!

When knitting lace, be sure your chart doesn't get turned upside down without you realizing it.....

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pretty bobbins full of yarn!

As promised, here are the pictures of pretty bobbins full of yarn I've made lately, as well as Wilbur and his fiber/yarn.

Pretty roving, fun to spin (Coopworth)

Next is silly Wilbur's fiber. For those new to our blog, Wilbur is a Shetland cross wether we purchased to be a buddy for our then ram lamb, Wooly Bear. They have been together ever since and get along great for two reasons: first, Wooly Bear is a very gentle guy, and second, Wilbur is bigger! Wilbur acts as the "Lassie" of the fact, some days we can let him loose when we are around gardening and doing things, and he follows us around just like a collie. It's fun!
Wilbur's fiber close up
Notice the light tips? I really like that in a yarn. Fun!

Wilbur last spring, with Honey behind him his name from Charlotte's Web...

Next comes the yarn. Below is some Coopworth roving (dyed) two-ply, spun at about four stitches per inch for a project, and natural Cormo fiber. Watch out! Felts fast!! Otherwise, Cormo is lovely to work with. It seems best for items not worn much between the fast felting, and the extreme fineness of it, making it less durable. But very pleasant to work with.
Cormo and Coopworth (dyed)

Now comes more Coopworth, and Wilbur's yarn in the middle (all singles yarns). His natural colors are very pretty, creating that beautiful variegation I love so much. I do find it fascinating when a fiber has white, glossy tips, then color changes down the staple the closer you get to the skin side. Fun!
I know, I know...I'm a chronic bobbin over-loader....!

Hope you enjoyed seeing what's been on my bobbins most recently!

What's on my bobbin

It's been a very busy week here at Wheely Wooly Farm! Not only have we had lots to do, but we've had some pretty interesting weather to ride out as well. Wouldn't you know, it came just when we were scheduled to be on the road traveling! Sigh....

So anyway, the fleece on my wheel today belongs to our goofy wether, Wilbur. He's sort of a "Lassie"-type personality, and we love him. I sheared him last spring and am just now beginning to spin his fiber. It's pretty on the wheel...picture coming tomorrow.

The big storm that was amazing was first thought to miss us. Then, as the wind began screaming and snow flying sideways, the reports started coming in that we'd get hit with more than originally thought. We were ready. I had run the boys in the day before, just in case. Here again, I'm so grateful I've taught my sheep to be ok with handling! I haltered Wooly Bear and all together, we bounded through the drifts to get to the barn. They were afraid and stuck together as though glued together, but once their little hooves hit the concrete in the barn, they leaped and leaped! Tearing around the corner, they made their way right into their pen and found a smorgasbord of supper. It's extremely cozy to have everyone tucked in the barn with the wind raging outside, and sheepies contentedly chewing cud inside!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Every year, about this time, I start getting worried about the quality of fleece I'm raising here. Things don't seem as soft or spinnable.......but then I just touch the fleeces and I'm again reminded that the fleeces are FROZEN! Yes, the fleeces get stiff right on the sheep's backs. Of course, the fiber never feels as soft when this happens! Then, on a day like today, the fleeces start thawing out a bit and I just can't keep my hands off their backs! And I stop worrying.

So the storm raged all night long, shaking the house and reducing visibility to nearly nothing. The morning dawned with bad news...schedules were all changed around and we were supposed to hit the road! Everyone in the barn was fine, but the snow had blown in through every little seam and crack it could find...I had to SHOVEL the barn aisle! After we got out on the road, I was shocked. I have never seen such tall drifts...some as high as the tops of road signs. The crest of our hill was nearly drifted shut. Driving through was a tight squeeze while bashing newly forming mini-drifts with tires at the same time. Now, a day later, the road is still virtually one lane through there. I don't know how the plows can possibly fix that! The drifts there are over five feet tall. Amazing! The rest of the road was terribly drifted but the plows worked hard to get it all cleaned away.

We ended up going on our trip because our farm was close to the northern edge of this amazing and massive storm, and we were headed north. Sure enough, within a few short miles, we were out of it! AMAZING! Just a normal bright, sunny, mild winter day there!

So we made our trip just fine, and the schedules all worked out, but I have to admit, this storm scared me on some deeper level. I've grown up with storms, but this one was just different somehow..... of dyed yarns on the bobbins, and Wilbur's fiber. Fun!