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, June 30, 2011

Why our farm rejects Appendix A

We are fortunate enough to have in our possession very interesting materials from the early days of Shetland sheep being in North America. An American breeder gave us the materials as a gift when they retired their flock. This breeder never used AI, for it was not available back then. All of their sheep were descended from the original Dailley import. This breeder's flock had a reputation for lovely, soft, colorful fleeces that were treasured and sought after by handspinners and knitters.

First, I will say that the sheep I've seen out of descendants of the Dailley bloodlines are not only super special in a number of ways (esp. because they most closely match the standard), but also, because they so closely resemble Mr. Bowie Senior's tup (young) ram in a photo in the Shetland Museum Archives. In fact, there are many, many pictures showing sheep that are very recognizably like that one tup. Note: Mr. Bowie Senior was the key writer of the 1927 Breed Standard. If that type of sheep was what HE OWNED, and wrote the standard for, good enough for me! I would think he'd have people take pictures of the sheep he was most proud of, or most wanting to protect, or make the best example of what he was trying to describe. I'm so thankful he did that, because the pictures we've seen lately in the midwest of Shetland sheep, don't look anything like that!

But that is just the fun stuff. The real stuff comes from the old paperwork we have. One piece, I will share with all of you! It comes from the Shetland Sheep Breeders Group, a group in Scotland, but not the Shetland Islands. In fact, the contact person's name on my piece of paperwork, is in England (that's not the Shetland Islands, either).

Our 1927 Breed Standard calls for wool to be extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy and well closed. Great! That's exactly how it feels and looks! The fineness and softness of it is outstanding! Memorable! Very tactile! You can make any number of types of garments with it (which I do). You can knit with it, weave with it, and it spins easily because it's so fine and of such soft texture. It does not felt easily, nor is it of much grease. It is so extremely comfortable to wear, you don't want to even think of taking it off on a cool or cold day. It's extremely light and has just the right amount of ease. It's the hallmark of Shetland fleece. You can see that in the photos...the tup has longish and wavy wool, billowing tips in the breeze (remember...Mr. Bowie wrote that if the staples don't have tips, they are not Shetland!), draping around his body. Awesome photo!

However, I have here a copy of a ram inspection from the Shetland Sheep Breeders Group dating back to the year 1997. Each part of the ram was checked over by someone, with check marks indicating what the ram was like. I read it the first time....head...hmmm...wool on forehead, checked "absent". Hmmm, interesting....I would think a ram being inspected for breeding should have wool up there, for that is what our breed standard calls for, and it's easy to get/keep. Wool on top of the head is considered as important as a correct tail. Ok....eyes....the category "bright , alert" is NOT checked! Hmmm....Shetlands are famous for their bright, alert expressions! It's easy to pass on, and is a defining characteristic. Most other breeds do not have this, and lack of it might indicate either crossbreeding or poor health. I would think a good breeding ram should have proper expression. I started thinking he wouldn't pass.... I read on.....

Body....medium...ok looks good.....carriage and movement, checked "good..." ok (Shetland sheep have outstanding carriage and movement, very smart, strong, bright)....ok....down to fleece.....

Fleece has categories. Is it short (defined on the inspection as short being less than 2 inches, medium (2-4 inches...why would short or medium be on a Shetland inspection...'cause it's not on the standard... but those staple lengths are needed for other breeds....) and long (4 plus inches). They identify long as FOUR PLUS inches. That's good. Our standard, written by Mr. Bowie says LONGISH: that's the word long (4 plus inches), with -ish a suffix meaning not needing to be specific; vague. So longish means at least four inches, to any length of which is not as important. Both short and medium wool allows body definition to be seen, certainly not of beautiful drape, like Mr. Bowie's tup. The inspected ram was marked as having medium wool length (2-4 inches).....ok, hmmm.....the date on the inspection is early May. Since Shetlands have to be sheared near the summer solstice due to their rise and rooing, (if you shear them sooner, you get a mess...) I would suspect this guy was near a 12 month clip. Really? Two to four inches at a 12 month clip?? Medium length (2-4 inches) just before clip doesn't sound desirable for breeding, for longish (four plus inches, of which length is not needing to be specific) is what makes the famous Shetland fleece and variety of textiles. Medium doesn't match our 1927 Breed Standard, Mr. Bowie's tup, the Dailley sheep imported 30 years ago, or my own experience with my own sheep! Hmmm.....I read on. Further down, it says fleece in a new category:
straight, crimped, or wavy. I 'bout fell off my seat with laughter!!!!!!!! This ram was checked as having CRIMPED wool, with handwriting next to it saying '7 crimps' (per inch)!!!! So YES, the people in the United Kingdom DO know the difference between crimp and wave (we all know that already, for they DID write the English language, after all), because they have separate categories for them So YES, the tup in the photo has wave. Yes, our Breed Standard uses the word wave, because that's what they needed to create a Shetland sheep. But YES, this ram was checked as having NO wave!!! If he is a good breeding ram, he should have had WAVE marked, for our breed standard says WAVY, not crimp! At this point, I was thinking surely he would fail....

So this report says this ram had medium wool that was in between 2-4 inches in May, probably just before clip, and that it had crimpy (7 crimps per inch) wool. WOW!!! He didn't have wool on top of his head, and he was lacking a bright, alert expression. Hmmmm.......but wait! He is checkmarked as approved as a suitable Shetland ram for pure breeding, with a signature on the bottom!!! WOW!!! Then, I noticed that written at the top is a handwritten note in all caps that says "RAMS FOR AI" Hmmmm......! That clinched it!

Now, he may have been a nice sheep with a fleece someone wanted to get more of. That's ok! But that doesn't make him a good choice for a good SHETLAND ram. Nor does he match key language on the 1927 Breed Standard, in key areas.

And so there was my really good giggle! Rams in Scotland (not in the Shetland Islands) were passed for having the wrong wool! (...and wrong expression...and absent wool on top of head.)


So I visited their website (this was awhile ago). They have very nice looking sheep. Many had much better conformation than we've seen in the midwest of the United States the last few years. But something was really super queer to me. The sheep had someone else's fleece on them. The fleeces were skin tight, and the people were dressed in short sleeves. I've not seen (skin tight) in any of the Shetand stuff I've researched, except right after clip/roo when the wool starts growing back out (in the case of rooing, with fuzziness). If the photos were taken a few weeks after clip, why would they do that, when you can't see what their fleece is like? They must be nice fleeces, or they wouldn't be growing that. How would you hand shear such a short fleece?? (Shetlands have long been hand sheared with scissors-type tools, or tin can lids, or even sharp bone fact, crofters were well known for being slow to accept power plant clipping. Or roo it?? What would be left?? How would you make socks that would stand up with so much crimp?? Let alone stockings that rose above knees?? Would a fisherman wear such stretchy, elastic crimp in his sweaters out at sea, while pulling big ropes through huge pulleys, hauling in a big net full of squirming fish? How would you efficiently hand spin so many short staples when you need to buy food and supplies for your family? Where are the staple tips Mr. Bowie Sr. wrote about? How would those sheep survive 100 inches of rain without some pampering??

So do they roo those "short" fleeces? I'd like to see that! In the midwest, where I live, people who have short wool on their sheep shear in Feb. and March. How can that be? What a mess for the next year's clip!! The only way you could shear so early is if the rise has been bred out. I sometimes get too excited to get a fleece, so I shear it an exception to my usual method of waiting. But I always have to go back and re-shear that fleece because of it's rise, which I do around July.

So back to this ram. He had the wrong wool (length and staple character), he lacked a bright, alert expression (was he crossbred or not feeling well? fact, in between his lack of bright alertness and shorter wool, I would have worried he was possibly ill if the breeder said he was purebred?), and he lacked wool on the top of his head. My point? Other groups have more modern day production dreams/needs/markets. They've designed their ram inspections and specifications for those needs and markets, as this inspection clearly shows. That's ok! But that doesn't make for good Shetland sheep breeding in an organization devoted to preserving and protecting (the group I belong to, NASSA) the genuine Shetland sheep; the sheep responsible for the famous textiles over hundreds of years, the sheep we want to raise on our farm. We drool over those extra fine, soft textured, longish and wavy, well-closed fleeces, and we appreciate how little feed they take to produce! Since Appendix A had been around for the breeder of this inspected ram, is this what it produces?? Is this how the sheep get evaluated?? We've been so happy with the instructions on conformation, expression, gait and fleece the 1927 Breed Standard, without Appendix A, has given us. The Standard, standing alone in it's amazing simplicity, WORKS!! I've learned so much more about spinning and knitting because of the fleeces the Standard alone gave me. By the way, the Shetland Sheep Breeders Group wrote Appendix A (outside the Shetland Islands). That's why our farm (and our breeding program) rejects Appendix A.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Facts don't change.

Shetland sheep have not changed, although there are people out there trying to change them. Shetlands are a very diverse breed full of variety. That's a fact. They exhibit lovely, long, wavy, flowing fleeces. They are small when placed near a typical meat sheep, and even smaller yet when sheared. However, they are not tiny, miniature, or fragile. Shetlands are very personable sheep that are easy to train. They thrive here in the Midwest, where I live.

If someone tries to tell you a longish, wavy fleece is a "throwback", they are changing the facts. If someone tries to tell you to "cull" or not register or breed such a lovely animal, they are changing the facts. If someone tries to tell you Shetlands have short, crimpy fleece head to tail (or even just short, crimpy fleece), they are changing the facts. This breed has always been, and will continue to be a breed with short wool under the neck with delightful crimp, longish and wavy wool midside, and long, usually without crimp wool along the britch.

If someone tries to tell you that long fleeces on a Shetland are coarse, they are changing the facts. Long, soft, wavy fleeces are the very definition of the fleece of Shetlands. It is a pleasure to work with, and to wear. Extra fine, soft textured, longish, wavy wool is what has produced the many types of famous textiles that have made this breed famous. If someone tries to tell you super short, super crimpy wool was used to make such a huge variety of textiles, they are changing the facts. If someone tries to tell you Shetland fiber was only used for delicate lace shawls, they are changing the facts. Delicate lace shawls are only one tiny component of the Shetland textile story. If someone tells you Shetland fiber was never used for household items such as table cloths or rugs, they are changing the facts. If someone tells you Shetland fiber was not used for weaving, they are changing the facts. If someone dismisses the importance of the Shetland textile history and facts, they are changing the facts.

If someone tries to tell you our breed organization, NASSA, was set up to protect and preserve super short, super crimpy, consistent head to tail fleeces, they are changing the facts. NASSA was created out of worry that the Shetland sheep would face the same crazy alterations other species have been subjected to here in the U.S. Protect and preserve means being sentinels for extra fine, soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed, with bright expressions and good conformation. That means protecting and allowing those lovely long, drapey fleeces to flourish.

If someone tries to tell you all the Shetland sheep on the Shetland Islands today are real Shetland sheep, they are changing the facts. What fact about the Shetland Islands is most true? There has been much change. If someone tries to tell you their market is the same as our market, they are changing the facts. We have freedoms. They don't.

If someone tries to tell you people hate longish, wavy fiber or that it's "scratchy", they are changing the facts. Long, drapey fleeces are the hallmark of the Shetland sheep. Extra fine, soft texture, longish and wavy produces garments you don't want to take off. People love both longish, wavy fleeces and the garments made with them, adore them both, and treasure them both. Extra fine, soft texture, longish and wavy has been a huge contributor to the surge in handspinning, handknitting, and weaving here in the U.S. Shetland sheep and their hallmark longish, wavy fleeces capture people's hearts for life. We are extremely lucky to have them here in North America.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fishy book blunder

I've recently been reading a new book out called The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn, written by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. Inside, is a review of many kinds of sheep, including Shetland. Upon reading the Shetland section, however, I have some serious questions!!

1. Why is the reader steered to a private individual's website for information about Shetland sheep with no mention of our national breed organization?? Seems fishy to me that the reader is not given the information to find NASSA, where accurate and credible information about the sheep can be found, especially since the title of this book uses the words "sourcebook".

2. Why is a breeder description of fleece used that doesn't use Breed Standard language? Why is said breeder not identified in the segment? The breeder describes Shetland fleece as silky and crimpy. Our standard demands longish and wavy. (Neither the word silky, or crimpy is used on our standard) Fishy. Using incorrect words misleads the reader.

3. Why is there no mention of the Doanes, Col. Dailley's daughter-in-law, Linda Zuppan and her vet, or others who are CREDIBLE, reliable sources for Shetland sheep? (People who will go down in history as largely significant to the breed's early years on the North American continent.)

4. Why are the staples as short as sheepy arm pit wool and really crimpy when our standard demands of us longish and wavy fiber?

5. Why do the authors claim matte fibers felt easily? Our breed standard demands of us extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed. The scales on Shetland fibers should be close together, fine, and smooth at the arc of the scale, hence soft texture. These qualities make Shetland fiber hard to felt. No genuine Shetland fiber should felt easily.

6. Why is the emsket lock brown?

7. Why is there virtually no mention of the importance of Shetland hand textiles to this incredible handspinning breed?? Hummmm, fishy, for you cannot separate the fiber characteristics from the rich hand textile history!

8. Why are Shetlands referred to as British sheep, when Brits and Scots had nothing to do with the development of the breed?

9. Why do the authors refer to beaver coats as coarse when our breed standard demands of us extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed? Longish and wavy is very soft, fine, and a pleasure to spin, knit, and wear.

Food for thought. Remember, Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wink, Swifty, Hap, Posie, and WILD sheep!!

Time sure flies! The last three weeks have been very fun and busy. We wrapped up shearing, washed fleeces, and prepared for our sales season, plus tried our very best to keep ahead of the weeds, trimmed hooves, mowed, mowed, mowed, mowed.......add a little traveling and well, I'm sleeping good at night!

Wink here, in the photo below, is a really pretty moorit color. Shetlands have such outstanding colors! I had him sheared with a clipper since his wool is too short to handshear decently. The skin line was a brilliant moorit rich chocolate brown that we all drooled over. He is SUCH a nice ram, but not breeding stock. His baa is distinctive...very deep, raspy, and short. Here he is waiting in a stall for his shearing moment.
Winky waits...

For those of you new to our blog, this is our farm dog, Swifty (purebred Border Collie). He's just one year old now and a HUGE delight to have around!! He brings life into new perspectives of joy. Here, he continues to watch the sheep even though he's hot and needs a quick rest in the shade.
Swifter waits...

Next, comes Wooly Bear's Posie! Can you believe she's out of a little black/grey Shetland ram?!? Gives me giggles. Her wool is going to be so much fun, and she's growing very sweet. Another WILD addition to our flock! Such a reputation to have! Posie is easy to take pictures of, always watching me for an opportune attention time.
Posie waits...

Let's see...who's next? Oh! That's another WILD sheep in our flock! Hard to catch! Watch out! Whew!! Oh Maewyn! You're so unsocial! Please, don't tear my jeans! Notice her LOVELY longish and wavy fleece? Nice woolly poll, too.
Maewyn doesn't wait...for attention!

And last, comes little Hap. He is sooooo cute! Hey spinners out there, did you see that awesome article in the latest issue of Spin Off magazine about the Soay sheep (Summer 2011 pages 86-91)? Check out the fleece samples (p. 89, especially sample number 2)! You can definitely see where the Shetlands get the fleece characteristics with soft, fine undercoats and very distinct hairier tips to shed the constant onslaught of rain. I again (this happens all the time) found that what the campers are saying about Soay sheep to promote their cause (of a shiny new shetland sheep) is unfounded in other areas! Notice that the Soay fiber is NOT super crimpy, super short OR super consistent??? It's (GASP!) longish and wavy!! And HAIRY! Is it possible that hobby farmers in America, who don't spin, or knit, know soooo much more about the Shetlands that they are credible redefining the breed and making everyone else breed for that?? Or should we believe all the rest of the well-researched, consistent information from the rest of the world, over a period of hundreds of years that reiterates over and over, Shetlands are what we've HAD in the US for the last 25 years (well, before AI that is)? I'm going with history, not the camp! I'm not culling longish and wavy, I'm keeping them, because that's what's right. Longish and wavy is beautiful. The camp and their changes will either fade away or start their own breed organization, and we'll all be able to get back to normal.

Back to Hap! Hap reminds me of the little lamb in the photo on p. 86, bright, sweet, with upright horns and a beautiful Shetland expression! You can see Shetlands do NOT have huge, wrinkly noses and super broad heads, but rather more refined and expressive faces. You can see the alertness. I think Hap has excellent Soay/Shetland expression, something we strive for here on Wheely Wooly Farm. Hap is out of a spotted ewe (my only sheep with spotted genetics, so to say). He was born with moorit tips, but just below that is lots of light whites, creams and some light grays over his hips. Upon his first shearing, he'll look totally different!
Hap waits...

...wait....what is Hap waiting for? For the pasture to be under control! I can testify, reed canary grass brings FAST growth, soft fleeces, and very healthy lambs, er, if you can find them that is!

Happy summering everyone!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Twilight goes to school!

Ok, THAT was fun!!! I LOVE doing these educational presentations! The kids were GREAT and were full of awesome and meaningful questions! And little Twilight was a GREAT ambassador for the breed tonight...on this, his very first outing.

I was worried about how it would all go. Turns out, today was very hot and humid...which snuck up on everyone. The poor sheep were really heat stressed out on pasture today. Thankfully, we set up the ram pen near trees so they were fine. The trees are outside their fence with plenty of root clearance, yet the way the sun moves across the sky, the pen is nicely shaded all afternoon.

But that's not where little Twilight was today. He was out grazing with all the other lambs and ewes...and Wilber. So I had to make a decision. It was just too hot to put him in a kennel for the ride in. It's a short ride to the school, where the meeting is held (5 minutes), but in this heat, it'd get to be too much pretty quick. So I decided to halter him and let him ride by the air conditioner under my feet. First, I haltered him, then let him explore that out on the lawn. He wasn't too fazed by it! The key to success here was that I was there the split second he was born. He has come to know me as the friendly human who is always there for him. I can catch him, pet him, and he follows me around. So I knew he'd be just the right candidate for tonight's job! Besides, he's just plain cute!

Wheely Wooly Twilight goes for a ride, to school!

Not fazed! He rode along very nicely. I talked to him, but I don't think he needed that. The cool air from the air conditioner did the most convincing that all was ok!

When we got there, our presentation was bumped up to the beginning so that he wouldn't get too hot in the building. We were grateful for that. As we walked into the gym, the kids instantly took to him! But I had asked that they all wait, and I'd give them a chance to pet him in the presentation. What GREAT kids!! They all listened so great! So we went up to the front and I gave the presentation. Twilight was positioned around lots of new stuff...not fazed! The floor was slippery. Not fazed! He quietly stood by my leg and looked around. He didn't leap or get worried or even baa. He just waited patiently for what was next. Look familiar? Wooly Bear (Twilight's Rampa) did this with me at the Sheep and Wool Festival MSSBA show a couple of years ago. Must run in the family! (giggle, giggle)
Ready Twilight?

The kids all came up to the front of the room, very excited to see him. Some sat directly in front
of us, others sat on the floor, on the side. They learned about the Shetland Islands, the sheep, the fiber, and I spun for them for a few minutes. It was a jammed packed presentation as I had only 20 minutes to give it! The kids were super fascinated with my spinning wheel! They asked lots of great questions on how it worked. Even the adults were asking great questions! Out of the whole crowd, questions were asked about the wheel, sheep, fiber, yarns, knitwear, and the islands. I never dreamed we could get so much content and dialogue in 20 minutes! I also passed around several skeins of yarn in different natural colors for everyone to see (as well as the Cat's Paw lace scarf and a crocheted flower). One of the skeins was dyed bright green from Kool-aid. I briefly joked that if we mix Kool-aid in the sheep's stock tank, their wool turns that color when they drink it (I meant to say like our tongue's do when we drink that stuff...but I forgot that part). Got some good giggles out of that one! Then I told them how I really make the yarn green. More giggles!

Then, I taught them how to "pet" a ram, and why. No hands on the head or horns! EVERY kid listened and did as we had asked! GREAT KIDS!! The whole room got to touch his fine fleece. Twilight never twitched or squirmed. He seemed fine with it. I think one Mom wanted to take him home...

This is what a Shetland sheep feels like.

We ran out of time long before we ran out of questions. The whole thing lasted 24 minutes...only four minutes over. Not bad! I hated to see the fallen faces when time ran out yet arms were still up, but other important business needed to be discussed as well. As we walked out, I let Twilight "walk". He has virtually no experience on the lead, yet he walked out as though he's been doing it all his life! (giggle, giggle) We took it 20 or so feet at a time, then stopped for positive reinforcement and a look around. He seemed so grown up! Once home, we put him back in the pen with the ewes, and all was back to normal! Thanks 4-Her's for being such a great crowd and listening so well! Hope you learned a lot and had fun! We really enjoyed sharing Wheely Wooly Farm with you!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thanks Tovah Martin!

Sheepy people seem to have had an interest in Tasha Tudor, that famous illustrator who was a very interesting person. Tasha's illustrations were absolutely enough to draw people in; lovely violets, primroses, oak leaves, garlands, forget-me-nots...and so many others! Yet that wasn't all with Tasha. Turns out, most of us would have barely known what Tasha Tudor was like, until Tovah Martin and Richard W. Brown came along. If any of you have read Tovah's books on Tasha Tudor, you'll know what I mean.

I've always wondered what Tovah Martin was like, since she did spend a lot of time working on her Tasha books and others with garden themes. I've seen her on some shows doing a little segment on something garden. She must like gardening. It was written in Tasha Tudor's Garden that Tovah had Saanen goats. I thought she sounded like an interesting person in her own right.

Well, wonder no more! The spring issue of Country Gardens has a small, but nice write-up about Tovah, her home, gardens, and goats. What a pleasure to read about her plants and design dreams. I especially liked the round veg. garden. Is that a solar panel on the goat barn??

If you liked Tovah's writings on Tasha Tudor, don't miss out on this little article about Tovah herself! Thanks Tovah, for sharing a little about yourself!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Our 2011 Schedule!

The lambs are growing and grazing, the garden is in and already weeded a few times, and most of the flock is sheared. I've waited with three sheep to let them get past their rise before I shear them. I have lots of beautiful yarn coming off my wheel so we are very excited about the upcoming sales season!

So let's start with summer! We'll be attending the same markets as last season so we hope to see you there! Watch for our booth. We'll have yarns from many of the same sheep as last year, plus lamb fleeces from last year's lambs as well. We'll be at these markets nearly to the holiday season, so start thinking about your projects ahead of time! Last year, we had yarn going out for relaxing knitting by the lake in July,' holding onto summer' knitting in August, and then the frenzy of fall, holiday and gift knitting of the latter part of the year. Take out your pattern books and get your projects lined up! Remember, only a couple of skeins can make many kinds of projects! If you'd like lots of skeins for a sweater project, let me know. It's good to look over our fiber and order that ahead. And don't forget that Shetland fiber dyes beautifully! I'll have more of the lighter colors which are great for dyeing, but I will also be bringing many natural colors that are so beautiful mix and matched!

I will also be doing a couple of demos this year. The first one is next Monday already at the 4-H meeting. This will be my second time around on request of the club and our leader. We expect nearly fifty people, so be sure to arrive early for a good seat. I guess it's my turn to give my 4-H speech! Just kidding! The second demo is in the planning stages and will be announced at a later date, so stay tuned for that. I may also plan a demo day at each market. Do you think you'd like that? Let me know.

We'll also be at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, but probably just as festival goers! Last year, I accidently double booked myself for the Saturday of the festival, something I was not happy that I did. I really wanted to see how my Shetland Showcase (as so many of you know now...stolen and dubbed "Handy Shepherd" by the MSSBA people) would go. Turns out, my sales at my other event were double over my Sheep and Wool Festival sales the prior year, so I think we'll be sticking with our locations from last year, especially since many of you followed us up from the festival the prior year! Plus, with the hostile confrontations that occurred at the Shetland show last year (on Saturday, when we weren't there) I've seriously worried about whether the Shetland part of the festival is a safe family activity. (edit: actually, hearing about those confrontations clinched it for us. We won't be there!) I know we were threatened after our Grand Champ win in 2009, and a different family faced confrontation last year, not to mention threats of lawsuits to others, and angry behavior towards the judge. Considering the anger across our nation, and how quickly things can in the case of one now well known congresswoman, it just makes me uneasy when people get that upset over SHEEP!! The 2010 board for our organization really tried to slam dunk changes to our breed, and while many of them have now been firmly voted OUT, unfortunately, those people are still trying to force their idea of a shiny new Shetland sheep on the membership, even though the membership has clearly voiced they want to stick with genuine Shetland sheep. It doesn't help when one confrontation was by a board member's family, and it doesn't help that a MSSBA show planner has been asked to step down from one of their national organization duties for failing to carry out their duties faithfully, with impartiality. How can an organization function in a situation like this?? I know there has been talk of extra security by festival planners in the Shetland barn this year because of last year's confrontations; rightly so. I hope they do, and keep everyone safe.

Needless to say, it's NOT what I had dreamed for Shetland Showcase! To make matters worse, everybody has been reminded of the true character of this group in that they stole my idea, renamed it, put it on, but never credited me for it all, even though everyone knew it was my dream to restore our breed, organization, safety and fun, and give us new opportunities to enjoy our sheep!!! That didn't earn the MSSBA people any publicity credits either! It's embarrassing. I know that the hard working early people who created our national Shetland sheep organization, and built it up to where it was just a few short years ago never imagined all this could/would happen, as they've voiced in our many conversations. The organization they worked so hard to develop, share and grow has changed. I'm so glad so many members have gotten back involved to try to take back our good name!! However, we clearly see it's going to take time and work. So we'll see you at the festival, but not on Saturday, not this year anyway!

I was also asked to participate in, and sell yarn at an historical event near our farm. I considered this opportunity pretty heavily, and felt honored to be asked. However, I knew there was someone else who would be more suitable for a historical re-enactment, for she has a wheel with all leather parts and has the right outfit to wear. I really hesitate to do historical re-enactments for two reasons. First, Shetland sheep were not known to be in or utilized by people here in my area back in early times. Secondly, I really struggle with people seeing spinning wheels and yarn design as something people only did "in the old days", thinking it's no longer useful to us today. Nothing could be further from the truth! Spinning is just as useful, needed, and fun today as it was in times past!! I'm TIRED of being cold all winter! I'm sooooooo glad to have my cozy and sophisticated Shetland stuff to wear!! And from what I'm hearing from you, our customers out there, you're glad spinning hasn't been lost, too! I LOVE the photos you've sent in!! So fun to see where the yarn goes and the joy it brings you!

So that's a pretty good overview of our 2011 season so far, as some planning takes being closer to the event to finalize. We really hope some of you WILL be brave enough to create some wonderful Shetland things and take them to the Showcase! It may have a new name but it's up to all of us to make it into what I have dreamed of all along, a place where smiles return and we go back to enjoying and celebrating the genuine Shetland sheep in all it's facets! Remember! Shetlands are rich in history, rich in textiles! See you at the markets!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Cat's Paw and hodgepodge

Whooaaoooooaaa! We're getting absolutely blasted by days of ridiculous wind. Good thing Shetland sheep don't blow away. In fact, they're unfazed. Oh, but my poor little tomato and pepper transplants! I have them protected, sheltered, and watered as needed with warm water from the stock tank....but poor little plants! I still haven't planted my front planters, for the wind has just been too much for sweet little flowers. In the meantime, Annabelle (our other sheep dog) just has to suffer. Her contribution to the garden is to give up her favorite window seat for transplants.

So back to Cat's Paw lace for a moment. Did you know the word lace can be used in two different ways? First, lace can be used to describe a kind of knitting. I like to call it...making holes in your knitting on purpose! Lace knitting is open, airy, and warm to wear, contrary to a hole-filled impression.

Cat's Paw Lace...the Shetland Island's version, with added trim

Secondly, the word lace can be used to describe gauge in a yarn. In some parts of the world, lace gauge nearly requires a microscope to see it. Things made from this weight of yarn are stunning. Here in America, most lace knitting is of a larger, but still tiny gauge.

My Cat's Paw lace was made using the traditional Shetland Island pattern and is constructed with a light worsted two-ply yarn. I wear it under the collar of my blue and black coat, now designated as nice barn wear (thanks to Swifty's tooth). This scarf is strong enough for chores, yet very light and soft. It goes dressy with a change of coat. That's what I like about Shetland yarn!!!! It's like a chameleon...always taking on the color of the situation. Need dressy? It does that! Need dining out in cold restaurant? It does that! Need something for church? It does that! Need something for the drafty meeting room? It does that! Need something for the barn? It does that! Need something for a gift? It does that!! Need something for that grown son, or son-in-law, or hubby, or brother? It does that (well, maybe not Cat's Paw :)!! Need something for your boss that will be cherished? It does that!! Our yarns come in many natural colors and would make GREAT fiber for Cat's Paw lace! (That is...THE genuine, real Shetland fiber.)

If you'd like to make something using the Cat's Paw pattern, you can do a search on the internet for a multitude of variations of this pattern. Many knitting dictionaries also carry some version of this pattern. Cat's Paw can be the whole piece, or the pattern can be embeded into a piece with other designs in it.

Now for the rest of hodgepodge. Swifty came in a couple of nights ago reeking of something awful! My first thought before I knew what was going on, was something's on fire! Gunpowder came to mind....but it was just my dog! It was sooooo strong, we thought he'd been sprayed by a skunk...perhaps the one currently dining on our chicken feed in early evenings??? No, it wasn't that. Well, it's been so warm and frogs are everywhere, did he get a toad?? So we shooed him outside and rinsed his mouth out as best we could. What a good boy he is!! He seemed to understand. What we forgot in our worry was WE reeked!!!!! The smell was now all over our clothes! Showers! Laundry AGAIN!!! By morning, his reeking had greatly subsided. I had fretted all night...should I call his vet? Is he poisoned? Drooling? Foaming? Vomiting? Convulsing? Uncoordinated? Passing out? Nothing, just reek! By the afternoon, the smell was nearly gone. So we know it wasn't that skunk....we never found a dead toad.....and Swifty is VERY grateful to go in the safety of his kennel and boy!...he won't go near the woods! Problem solved, never identified.

Dead Chicken?

No, no dead chickens! That's Mable, rolling in the dirt. Sure feels good! I'm very glad chickens do their own laundry.....and that's Penny next to her. I adore Penny (and Mable, too). Penny is six years old now, and still lays some days. She's a beautiful hen. Mable lays beautiful eggs, too.
Mmmm! Early spring grass!
And finally, grass! The sheep love their pasture! This is what it looked like here back in April, as some in my flock gather to graze.