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, May 18, 2011

Cat's Paw Lace from Wooly Bear

THIS is what all the hard work with sheep is all about! Here is a beautiful lace piece I knitted last winter. It's worked on a circular needle with a light worsted weight yarn. The yarn is very special, for it comes from our Grand Champion ram, Wooly Bear. Wooly Bear doesn't have a fancy show name, because he was very carefully selected and named just for our farm. When we plucked him out of someone else's back yard as a lamb, I had NO idea he'd give our farm so much!!! He has become the cornerstone of Wheely Wooly Farm, both in fineness and softness of fiber, but also in conformation, gentle temperament, and for the awesome lambs he's now giving us!

Wooly Bear's Cat's Paw Shetland Lace

The wool for this piece comes from Wooly Bear's black lamb's fleece, sheared in spring of 2010 (I sheared him). Then, upon preparing the wool for spinning, I spun most of it in a nice light worsted (about 3 or 4) two-ply yarn, for at the time, I wasn't sure what the fiber would be like...I just knew it'd be soft! I didn't have a project in mind, but I knew I wanted to make something that would become a keepsake in our farm collection. Ok, THAT'S intimidating!! After spinning the yarn, I carefully prepared it for safe storage, and began to ponder...and ponder....and ponder what I would do with it! I was really intimidated by that, even though I frequently and quickly knit up lots of other Shetland yarn I spin into many things. But this one was different.

closer view...

The piece measures eight inches wide by about 41 inches long, just perfect for wearing in the open neck area of my winter coat. It's long enough to keep out cold wind, but not long enough to be bulky in the body area under my coat. The width is REALLY nice when the wind is stinging! Lace is notorious for being exceptionally warm, and this scarf has made me a full believer in that!!

The pattern is thought to be the original one used by the women of Shetland. It is designed to have flow in knitting, so that it can be knitted on the go, without having to think much, or having to look back at a pattern. I found that to be a hidden delight as I got going on this piece!! It truly has flow. It would not be hard to walk along with a pony on my arm while knitting this....just like they did....

The cat's paw pattern has many variations to it that can sometimes be subtle. It is GREAT fun trying out these variations!

My scarf has four repeats of the pattern in it, with some garter on each side to prevent rolling. On the bottom, I knitted a separate border trim on straight needles, just for fun! I had first learned this trim at the beach with my toes buried in warm sand, with Iris's yarn (my favorite wait! They are all my favorite ewes!!) The trim was simply sewn on to give the ends a bit more weight. The weight helps keep everything in place while I knock out and smash yet more frozen water from water buckets in winter....sigh. I like the line of transition inbetween the cat pattern and the trim, for I think it looks more professional and finished, with clearly marked boundries where the patterns break.

Even more fun, I was not the only one to work on this piece. I love to get others interested in knitting real Shetland wool by asking if they'd like to knit a bit. One person did, a young family member who is currently taking tough classes at a high ranked private university. After studiously working on it, and finding a whole row quite exhausting, she declared, after another row or two, that this was harder than anything she'd worked on in her classes at school!!! Giggle, giggle! I hope she was hooked! After handing it back to me, she watched with much interest, as I continued the knitting. We followed the chart together so she could see what I was doing. It was another fun moment of sharing that I think we'll both remember for a long time to come.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Wooly Bear's Cat's Paw Shetland Lace, and reading about the special memories that come with this piece! Now it's your turn! Give Cat's Paw lace a try!

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