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!

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