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 28, 2011
Sigh....EAA (that's the Experimental Aircraft Association) is fun, but it sure is noisy! As I walked down the pasture to do an afternoon check on my sheepies...you know....the ones invisible by the still palatible tall grasses....a deafening sound befalls the farm. That sound is one that I know brought much terror to thousands of people in the past, and it comes from a line-up of eight Warbirds flying together in formation, right over my pasture. As they pass by, each wing looks like it might clip the wingtip of the nearby plane any second! They turn together in a graceful arc back to the airshow right over me, affording me a free and terrorless view of each plane. The noise is thunderous. It makes my heart pound, for I know that this is the sound people heard just before bombs fell in WWII. But for me, it's a familiar sound, one I grew up with. Those old Warbirds are just a normal part of summer for me. Wouldn't be the same without them, actually.
The sheep seem unfazed as these old geezer planes slowly pass by. They just keep grazing, with an occassional highpitched baa coming from an unseen sheep somewhere hidden in the grass. (Think Boy's Choir for rams.) Later, as I head back up to the house, an F14 flies by and takes my breath away, spinning me on my feet like a top. They are FAST! LOUD! WOWWEEEWOW!! THAT was cool! How am I ever gonna stay at my wheel spinning with all this aviation excitement going on???????????
As I settle back at my wheel, I'm just getting into the rythmn again when I hear a Blackhawk helicopter approaching. Not wanting to miss it, I run outside to see! COOOLLL!!! Hey! Ever find a ballet teacher on a Blackhawk?? I have!! (many giggles) Ok, ok....back to spinning......
EAARRRRRRRR.......wait! Here comes that cool stunt plane! I think he's doin' flips! Gotta see that!!! I can hear it as I run out the door...eeeaaaarrrrrrr...eeeeeaaaarrrrrr...eeeeaaaaarrrr...one for each full flip.
If you've never seen the AirVenture show, you gotta get here! The Warbirds are reinacting a WWII bombing raid, the stunt flyers are flippin' out, Air Force jets wizz by, and old bi-planes putter past. What a show of contrasts! If you turn around, behind you will be someone's Blimp floating along. Ok, so this blog wasn't about sheep....but let me ask, do you know your airplanes, executive jets, blimps, warbirds, hurricane planes, airships, ultralights, and so on?? Do you know our nation's aviation history? No?? What are you waiting for! :) Join the 30,000 other campers and 580,000 people who aren't missing it! It's a zoo.
Monday, July 25, 2011
As I sit here on my (usually) peaceful farm, I am quite conscious of the continuous diving and banking of airplanes overhead....airplanes that are going up......coming down......going up.....coming down....as they practice all of their stunt movements. Frequently, a plane starts flipping sideways over and over, or diving straight for the ground...or going straight up, stalling out, and tumbling nose first back to the ground before the pilot fires up the engine again and pulls out of it. You see, starting today, we are having the world's largest airshow on the planet! It's called EAA, or the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual gathering. This show draws in the biggest names in the airplane biz...from astronauts to Boeing execs to amazing former WWII pilots (and their planes with nearly naked girls painted on the sides) to hurricane radar planes to stunt pilots and wing walkers to....you name it! They are all here! This event also draws celebrities...this year, George Lucas is apparently coming since he is/was? working on a film on the Tuskeegee? Airmen. The event attracts up to nearly 1 million visitors, although this year attendance is expected to be very low...around 580,ooo. Planes come in from around the globe and line up in the sky waiting for their turn to land on our little runways. Airplane wings become tent shelters as thousands of private craft line up and stake down in fields that become overnight plane campgrounds. The city becomes a buzz of foreign languages...absolutely FUN to hear all the people talk...or try to! You can sit down to eat a brat and find youself in casual conversation with a commercial pilot from a major German airline (one of the many experiences I've had...) The traffic in town becomes impossible, and you see $500,000 rigs with crystal chandilers dangling inside pull up next to you at the stoplight and you wonder who's inside THAT one!....Pat Parelli???? Hey Pat and Linda! You can hide out on MY farm! Pull your rig into my pole building! Enjoy Carumba! She's SOOO much fun!...oh yea....back to sheep and airplanes....
Having grown up in the city that puts this airshow on each year, I've had the opportunity to visit the grounds for free on many occassions. While I've not had the opportunity to shake hands with Buzz Aldrin or any shuttle pilots, I have had some absolutely amazing experiences there! The most memorable one BY FAR is the day I saw the Stealth flying just before me! That day, I was driving down a busy two lane street, and nearly crashed my truck!!! No one knew when it would arrive, for everything surrounding the Stealth's arrival was secretive. When it did come in, the whole city was in an excited panic! Radios blared it's presence, people ran out of their houses to see, and cars stopped in the middle of the street to see it fly by! It was the NEATEST thing I've ever seen! Straight out of Batman, the Stealth was flying low, just above and in front of me. It was flying slow, silent...and looked absolutely out of place in this world....straight out of science fiction or something! It had the most amazing presence in the air....and as it approached me, it began to bank....and I nearly crashed my truck! I did manage to pull over to the curb and watch it as it slowly flew away...only to realize after it was out of sight and I began to recover from what I just saw, that other cars didn't make it to the curb....they were stopped right in the road and everyone was stunned. That was a very cool experience!
Other years, I've jumped onboard Navy Seal helicopters and Coast Guard helicopters, hurricane radar planes (the ones that fly through the hurricane and the eye), and the Concorde, that huge and super fast plane that has been banned from the skies now...to military cargo planes and little private planes and ultralights. (In fact, there are LOTs of ultralights around this week...and the biggest thing I've learned from them is their constant little engines WILL give you a headache fast.) I've had the opportunity to shake hands with trim, handsome young pilots who've flown through hurricanes, delivered military ammunition to war zones, rescued people out at sea, spyed on foreign countries, delivered everyday people to a destination on commercial aircraft, to WWII and Korean War pilots who were shot up and experienced....well...the H word, to fire jumpers who fly over wildfires and dump retardants. I've sat in the pilot's cockpit (of many planes and helicopters) and looked at the array of instruments with wonderment, noticing the deadly words labeling certain buttons and switches.... I've put on pilot suits and floatation devices and jet suits, just for fun! I've also flown on a little wooden bi-plane...ok...I was scared! It was soooo slow and creaky! You can go up in the blimp if you have the moola, or you can ride in a helicopter, or one year, when the amazing Concorde was here, if you had the moola, you could spend 45 mintues!!!!!!!!!!!!!! flying up to Canada and back with a sonic boom!!!!! EAA is always fun for everyone even if you know nothing about engines or fusalage...which can get extremely boring after awhile! But then comes the Harrier! That 's the plane that can hover in place over a spot, then begin flying off!!! UNREAL!! LOUD! AWESOME!! People were screaming in amazement, but you couldn't hear them! Let's not forget the F1 fighter planes that come every year and play Top Gun...aviation IS indeed exciting!
So what does all this have to do with sheep? Well, I'm a horse person....well....I WAS until my little Shetland sheep came along! It was super fun to go inside the seeming mouths of the monstor cargo planes and see how horses are flown around the world. I would imagine the original flock of Shetland sheep that Col. Dailley had flown in from England would have had a ride similar to that...in big boxes perhaps? Don't know...but I did get to see how the boxes are loaded and secured on the plane, and how the animals are cared for during turbulence and such. FUN! You see, I am most into the Dailley flock because that flock went through a ridiculous amount of documentation! Their history is rock solid. The Dailley flock was brought to North America by a man who specialized in international animal transport, of whom his family has carried on. That flock is so heavily documented, there is no doubt they are the real deal, rock solid, unlike other supposed 'imports'. We often think today that all the government paperwork and red tape is such a headache and so time consuming, but after it's said and done, I can see now how advantageous all that documentation has turned out to be! The Dailley flock contains REAL Shetland sheep, with heavy documentation to prove it. And I can easily visualize what that original flock's flight must have looked/felt like! The way their container was strapped down inside the plane. Where the flock's keepers would have to sit, and what the noise must have been like, the take off in such a huge plane, lifting so high in front of you with the rear so low!.
Aviation has created a massive shift in humanity, both good and bad. It is swift and all encompassing. It's exciting, enormously helpful, and...in the case of the year I got to nearly TOUCH the Enola Gay, overwhelmingly, unshakably sad. But I think it goes without saying...nearly EVERY subject, nearly EVERY place I now visit, becomes related to sheep! Those sweet, endearing, powerfully raming sheep! Even airplanes.
This year's big highlight is Boeing's new 787 airliner, supposedly an airship so sophisticated and luxurious that it is exceptional. If you live anywhere in Wisconsin or surrounding states, I highly recommend you get to EAA!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Everyone out there knows how much I love and enjoy genuine Shetland sheep! As a very busy shepherdess, spinner and knitter, I work closely with the sheep and fiber all day, every day. Therefore, I have lots of time to think about how much I enjoy this work!
In the early days, our farm brought awareness to the continent that a small group was working hard to change the history of our breed, in fiber, conformation, expression, and facts about the history. Our concerns worked! Today, awareness of the changes is strong, and more people are getting active to stop our breed history from being rewritten.
Then, our little ram lamb won a surprising victory as Grand Champion Ram, setting off sirens in those working to create new history! In fact each year, genuine Shetland sheep, with longish wavy drapey fleeces (just like our ram) win big...something I quickly learned frustrates that group immensly! Thus, our name was added to their already long list of breeders to hate.
That experience resulted in my design of Shetland Showcase, a multiple day program designed to restore fun in the breed, give new shepherds a forum for learning, and to promote the fiber/textile connection. Shetland sheep are one of the world's premier hand spinning/ hand knitting breeds, responsible for a vast array of amazing textiles...all from a very tiny part of the world! A small organization called MSSBA...the group of people feverishly working to change all of the Shetland sheep in North America to something like a new sheep bred in Scotland proper, promptly took my idea of Shetland Showcase and ran it as something they renamed "Handy Shepherd". It may not be quite what I had in mind, but it did restore the vital link between the fiber and the textiles! It will now be harder to rewrite that history, just as I had hoped!
After that, I turned my attention to the extremely unprofessional and foul language allowed to post on our national organization's chat list. It worked! I've since found out that the list is controlled by the group who wants to rewrite the breed and it's history, so that even if you are a paid member of our organization, you cannot participate on this forum if they so choose. Hence, I worked to fix this problem, causing one of the moderators to immediately lose her position, and the organization began working to regain control of a chat list gone astray.
The tension is growing. Last year, that brewing tension resulted in confrontations by those wanting to force change of the breed onto those who love the original, genuine breed. This year, exhibitors of genuine longish wavy fleeces will be needing added security, and I know the festival organizers are trying to figure out just how to protect them and manage a safe environment for all. A serious task indeed.
As our general membership's awareness of these problems grows, and as they grapple with how to safely handle this year's challenges, I've already moved on to the next exciting project before me! One thing I've definitely picked up from the group of change is an absence of gratitude in the flock that first set hoof in North America. Why would they have gratitude for something they don't want to keep?? That sure isn't the case here!!!! We here at Wheely Wooly Farm are very appreciative of the one person who literally gifted these incredible sheep to us! That person would be Colonel G. Dailley of Quebec, Canada. Therefore, I've created a Celebrate Col. Dailley Day, a day to honor him and his amazing work/talents/ and struggles. I've picked October 13th as the annual day we will celebrate him here on our farm, and in our literature, for that is the very day in 1980 when the hooves of the very first flock in North America set down on North American soil. That is a day none of us should forget! I've shared my ideas with some key people, so stay tuned!
Part of my motivation for this annual day of celebration is to express my gratitude for his work, and the ongoing work of his family in maintaining that original flock to this very day!!! Without their sacrifices and hard work, I would not have had the opportunity to discover this amazing breed! The other part of my motivation in creating this celebration is to help keep the facts straight. Last year, I was very bothered by a board member in our national organization skewing the facts way off to attempt rewritting the history! I was also very bothered by the slanderous comments made about the very movers and shakers who worked hard to keep this breed going and growing! That is going to stop right here, on our farm. We have since enjoyed many great conversations with the earliest of people who brought us these sheep, and have learned that my ram, and many other genuine longish wavy fleeced sheep are indeed very special and very real. In fact, I've learned that genuine Shetland sheep in the US and Canada are definitely in the majority, and that they are loved and treasured by their shepherds.
Our farm has already had a profound impact in our country and elsewhere. We treasure this breed, as so many of you out there also do! Our work has kept the changers busy at the end of their fire hoses, constantly trying to drench the flames of truth with new history and control. What they can't seem to gain control of, though, is that thousands and thousands of people just LOVE those beautiful, genuine sheep! Stay tuned!
Monday, July 18, 2011
As a busy knitter, I can't say enough about the joys of knitting with Shetland hand spun yarns!
Shetland natural colors are so amazing! Here is one I love. It's a rich brown with some amber highlights. This rich brown is known in the old norse language as "moorit". Many of the words used to describe the Shetland sheep, as well as words of places are rooted in old norse, for the people of the Shetland Islands relate closely to their Norwegian heritage. For example, the main town in the islands is called Lerwick, which means 'muddy bay' in the old norse language. When I named our ram lamb last year 'Lerwick', I didn't know that yet! It's neat how his coloring is dark brownish/black. Lerwick is the main seaport on the east side of the Shetland Islands where shetland sheep, fiber, and supplies have been traded for centuries. It's still the main port, still busy, today. Our Lerwick's yarn is selling fast, with less than half of it left. Come early if you'd like to try it! Wink's will also be available.
Notice the natural heathering? His tips were lightened, but he is not a blaeget (another word for describing fiber). Because this is his first shearing, his tips were in great shape, with this wonderful ability to bring highlights into the yarn! Pair this yarn with coordinating colors, or rich blues/greens and it's stunning!
Next, we move on to Esther's yarn. Per customer request, from loving her fleece and yarn last year, I've worked on Esther's fleece this last week. Her yarn has excellent Shetland handle to it, and lovely, rich color with amazing softness! I wish I had a picture of Esther, but I don't. :( Her wool is five inches at the front shoulder, and over nine inches at last rib! Longish, wavy wool works! This ewe had been bred from stock following strictly the 1927 Breed Standard without any add ons. It sure works!!!!!!!!!! Sometimes, it's hard to part with our yarns, for as I work with it, I often think of the clothes I'd make with that yarn. Esther was no exception!
This is a closer view, showing again, the natural heathering hand spinning brings to the finished yarn. That heathering disappears with milling. The eye intreprets this lovely color as very interesting and unique...pleasing. Heathering also brings great fun in paring complimentary colors with the yarn!! The fun with Shetland natural colors is never ending, for there are so many possibilities!
Friday, July 15, 2011
Go to Youtube and search for Shetland Textile Museum! You'll see all the lovely colors on my sheep in that video! Lots of blacks, grays, and browns with some whites. Notice the beautiful weaving? Again, lots of blacks, grays, and whites with a little brown. Such beautiful stuff!! How could a person ever get bored with Shetland sheep?
Thursday, July 14, 2011
So many lovely colors!!
One of the many joys of keeping Shetland sheep is the natural colors! Shetlands have a variety of colors to them: black, dark brown, many shades of grey, many shades of brown, and into many shades of 'white'. This photo shows some of the colors in our flock. We absolutely love the solid colors that fade as the sheep ages. The color dynamics are outstanding and endless fascination for a busy handspinner like me! Our flock is very similiar to the very first sheep that arrived in North America 30 years ago, all solid colors with varying fleeces of longish, wavy wool. (If you've heard all of the original imported Dailley sheep were all single coated or less than four inches in staple length, someone changed the facts.) The white sheep who's tail is facing the camera is not a pure Shetland, though. She's our half Shetland, half dairy sheep, Posie! Notice her cute tail! Longer than a Shetland's, with a little wool on it...makes a great flyswatter!
Anyway, this picture above has some moms, lambs, and one sheep who was not placed in a breeding group this year.
Below is Honey, with her lamb, Hap. Honey's fleece is very popular and sells out fast. Hap is her first lamb. He's growing remarkably fast! Under his mooritish brown color is bright white and a little soft grey in spots, for Honey carries spots.
Hap was named for the famous hap shawls, those working women's shawls that were made from Shetland wool for centuries, and worn by crofting women. The women were responsible for raising their families AND doing the work about the croft (farm) in summer while their husbands were out at sea fishing. To this day, many people in the Shetland Islands will refer to themselves as fishers first, before shepherd. I love this photo, for it shows the closeness a ewe shares with her lamb, even when it grows. Lil'Rainbow and Lacey are inseparable, as are Claire the dairy ewe and her lamb Posie. Mona is much more casual with her parenting. She is excellent in her mothering skills, but lets her lambs take on more responsibility for themselves. For example, her ram lamb Whirly (the one born just before a tornado ripped through a community just northwest of us) will occassionally mistake Lil'Rainbow and Lacey as his mother and sister...while Mona carefully watches and waits patiently for him to figure out he has the wrong family!! Poor little Whirly!
Here is Lil' Rainbow, another ewe who's yarn sells out every year, fast! Her softness and coloring are very unusual and hard to replicate with commercial dyes, for the color is very rich and heathery. Her ewe lamb, Lacey has very soft, longish, wavy wool, too! We are so happy for how this turned out for Lil' Rainbow, the ewe who lost her first lamb to vicious weather on another farm. She has absolutely TREASURED her little ewe lamb! Maewyn, the little moorit ewe in the background is Mona's girl. She also has gorgeous longish wavy wool that is very fine! Lot's to look forward to in next year's fleeces!! (Posie is the white sheep in this photo.)
Finally, who says weeds can't be beautiful?!? Here is a little bouquet that was made for me a couple weeks ago...yes, our peonies were blooming at the END of June...the latest I've ever experienced. Isn't it beautiful??
Next time, yarn and fiber photos! Wink's moorit, Esther's fiber, and others!
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Things sure have been busy around here! Our days are long, warm, and sunny...great grass-growing weather! The sheep have been rotated to a place with shade during the late day heat, plus they've been getting an occasional rainwater bath here and there. Next year's fleeces are growing in nicely. Meanwhile, the lambs are growing so fast, I can hardly recognize who's who! It's not so easy to complete our head count any more, as the lambs and moms blend together, nearly the same size now, even though the lambs will need another year and a half to be fully mature.
The garden is also growing rapidly in this great summer weather. You can practically hear the corn crackle in growth when the heat and humidity crank up. Then a nice shower comes along, cooling everything off. We had such a late, wet spring, I'll just be harvesting our peas in a few days. I don't think I've ever harvested peas so late into summer before.
On a sad note, we lost our ducks. They disappeared in the middle of the afternoon one day. The neighbor's cows were getting chased around lately, and another neighbor has been losing hens, roosters, and guinea hens at an alarming clip. The evidence left behind points to a stray dog. Hmm....think I'll keep the sheepies IN when we go away!!
Today, I was spinning Wink's fleece, a rich chocolatey moorit brown so deep and lovely!! Pictures will be coming soon so stay tuned! Shetland sheep have the most amazing colors in their wool, with depth and richness unmatched by anything else I've ever spun. I'm also spinning lots of Coopworth. Coopworth is a lot like Shetland for me, for both are very easy to spin...a joy really.
That's our quick update...stay tuned for beautiful pictures of lambs, fleeces and all their rich colors!