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.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Home from festival fun/ and Carol Rhoades

My festival goodies!

It's Sunday evening and I'm just home from a very fun sheep festival! Of course, I have my goodies here now...that I don't have time to enjoy yet for there are things to do! The photo above is some of the goodies I have. I finally broke down and bought a smaller handshear for shearing my sheep. It's taken me a long time to do it, but Shannon out in Oklahoma (a longtime Shetland breeder who handshears countless Shetlands with her husband) recommended I get one a long time ago and now, I got one! I'll use it around the necks and horns of my sheep, instead of my big shears. Can't wait! I also picked up some Soay fiber fluff, seen here, for a bit of fun spinning! I talked for a long time with the Soay sheep's owner and made a new friend! The sheep were bright-eyed and sweet! Fun! I also picked up yet more bobbins for my wheel. Having more bobbins really helps keep up with orders and they were badly needed. In the background is yarn from a little yearling ram in my flock out of Wooly Bear. His fleece, turns out, was a very valuable fleece and I lost out on knowing that before I spun it! It's black with a clear white transition line on the lower inch or so of fiber, making it a very unusual and beautiful fleece. I've already spun half of it, and the yarn will be ready for sale soon! Thanks to David Kier for the ongoing support in helping me learn things I should know about shearing and fleece! I always so appreciate the time he gives me!

I think my favorite part of the festival is the friends and people I see every year! It's so much fun getting reconnected with so many familiar faces and updating about the year! I think I made some new friends as well, and I certainly met some new, VERY talented artists who have done beautiful things, from gorgeous jewelry to handknit beaded scarves to the talented spinner/knitter who designed a spinning wheel sweater with sheep on it! So cool!!! I got to talk to everyone, and THAT is the best part! I heard about sheep that passed away who were old friends...and hay problems, excitement with Border Collies, and predator problems. I talked three needle bindoffs, perfectly consistent yarn overs over a large garment, and was updated on an old college town. guessed it...we talked Shetland sheep! And people were so kind to my family in encouraging growth and enjoying the moment! Thanks goes out for that, too! AND, I got the kennel returned! Whew! That took me two years!!

I saw the biggest Corriedale ram I've EVER seen...a massive sheep! And I got to meander around the Shetland barn Friday night. It's always FUN to see more 'Shetland sheep'!! I met Rich Johnson...who was definitely needing absorption time...and we said hello to Claire...for Claire! (giggle, giggle!) I bought a couple of new books with info. I'm just bursting to learn about shearing and dogs, bought a BUNCH of roving from the big fleece winner, Carol Wagner! Congrats again, Carol for the big win!!! So happy to hear it! ....and I had great conversations with fleece judges...AND the UK judges MSSBA brought in! That was FUNNNN for me!!! I learned some GREAT things such as an adult ewe weighing 40 pounds would certainly be a disqualification and that even if you want to keep such a tiny sheep, it shouldn't be registered, for it will possibly pass on birthing problems in the future to other things like yes, super crimpy fiber loses it's resiliency over a fairly short time. That one, after the judge admitted it, created such a stir, one audience member was on her feet saying I didn't know how to spin, and that I should take spinning lessons!! The other comments the UK judges made that were very meaningful were that Shetlands should NEVER have fatty, meaty toplines. In fact, certain wealthy people in Britian order their meat from certain areas of the Shetland Islands (not Scotland mainland) BECAUSE they want LOWFAT meat. Me, too! Also, Shetlands should NOT have beefy, thick bone, but neither should they have petite bone. Both are undesirable. And last, what was emphasized over and over and over by both UK judges was that the most desirable Shetland is A WHOLE PACKAGE! Every part of the sheep is important. You cannot separate the parts and still claim it's a good Shetland. A good Shetland is a WHOLE PACKAGE. Good advice!!!!!!!!! My feelings EXACTLY!! That's exactly why I've blogged so much about toplines, bone, expression, etc. Tails, too, were heavily discussed, with comments made about how important correct flat, fluke-shaped tails were...which was NOT much visible in the Shetland barns this weekend. (and, unfortunately, I saw more than one pair of fatal horns again this weekend...I still can't get why someone would bring fatal horns as showcase stock for breeding...)

Later Edit: After what I saw in the Shetland barn this weekend, I am again truly left wondering why the Standard is being so unused! Why are undersized animals being brought to a show?? They are too small, and the standard disqualifies them. Shetlands are a small breed, but not miniature. What about tails? Why are very incorrect tails being brought to the showring?? Incorrect tails are not only unshow-worthy, they are unworthy of breeding. They are stay-at-homers to carry out the daily flock purpose, at best. Where did the rich, beautiful colors go?? The barn was a sea of dishwater gray. The sheep with darker colors were lacking intensity and brightness of hue so well known in the Shetland breed. I've always hyped that we, as shepherds, should be taking our Standards OUT TO THE BARN with us to critically analyze each and every sheep. Make a photocopy of the assessment form in the 2008 and 2009 NASSA Newsletters for each sheep. Take the form out to your sheep and fill it in. THAT'S a good way to assess your flock for show quality. So I'm still left pondering...why are the people who changed our breed guidelines in 2010 by adding Appendix A, and redesigning the judges packet still having so much trouble just getting the basic parts correct, like tails, toplines, size, horns, and color??? End of Edit.

What else? I bought the mitten pattern I fell in love with years ago in a library book! It's not quite the original, but it's close enough and I cannot wait to knit with it! And Saturday's market was amazing! The weather was great, the music was great, and the repeat customers were great!! I had the great honor to see a sweater being made from our handspun yarn with carefully planned designs on it, and it was BEAUTIFUL!! I am truly humbled that our yarns are in the hands of such talented people! I have orders to fill and more fleeces have sold out.

To sum up my weekend, I am really proud of the hard work we've done over the past few years to carefully breed up our flock. While it's still small, it's correct. We have lovely fleeces that are soft and fine, and spin up/knit up/ and wear beautifully. We have deep, intense, lovely colors that create really special unique yarns. Now we have high quality locally raised, handspun yarns landing in the hands of very talented knitters, and our yarn is selling itself. We've gone from knowing nothing 10 years ago to owning, raising, breeding, shearing, processing, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and selling yarns and sheep! I could not have come this far without the help and guidance of so many of the festival leaders! I've also come to learn that preserving and protecting diversity in the Shetland breed is what many people would like to see besides myself, and some people even told me that before I could think to ask!

Later Edit: I forgot to mention something else that was significant the UK judges vehemently reiterated over and over, which is that scadder IS ok, and is NOT a disqualification in rams. Scadder comes in on the back of a ram's head as he ages, if he has it. It is normal in the breed, it's always been there, and always will be. No ram should be disqualified if he has it. This point was strongly emphasized over and over. End of edit.

More Edits!! It was suggested strongly by an audience member nearly standing on her tip toes in emphasis that I don't know how to spin, and that I should take a class by Carol Rhodes, who she claimed would quickly tell me all the things I'm doing wrong, mistakenly thinking my spinning skill is the issue, rather than the fiber. This was AFTER the UK judge admitted that super short, super crimpy fibers do not have the resiliency over long periods of time (and rightly so). So about Carol Rhoades! Carol has skillfully and professionally managed to detour around the political fleece misconceptions and debate by avoiding incorrect proclamations. Instead, she's carefully chosen history and accuracy. For example, she starts out her class description (which the instructors write themselves, I think) at the festival on Sunday (an all day class) as this (and I'll quote directly from page 31 of the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival Catalog...class is titled "Spinning Shetland Wool for Fair Isle & Lace Knitting":

"Shetland sheep produce amazingly versatile fleeces: superfine neck wool, a coarse outer coat and a fine to medium crimpy undercoat can all be found on one sheep. After an overview of the sheep and its wool, you will learn how to sort Shetland for various types of yarns."

These are the reasons Carol has earned my respect, and I look forward to her article submissions in Spin-Off Magazine. Carol clearly understands and recognizes, accurately so, that the proper fiber for ideal historical fair isle knitting does NOT come from super short, super crimpy wool. It is well documented in many places that fair isle is best knit with longish, wavy wool, typically found midside on the sheep's body. So while I could surely learn more fun stuff from Carol's interest in Scandinavian textiles and her experience as a loved and successful magazine editor, I already know that Carol Rhoades and I are on the same page. End of latest edit.

It's been a GREAT weekend!

By the way...Carol Rhoades describes herself in her biography on p. 38 of the catalog as this:
"Her particular interest is in primitive wools and how they are used for traditional knitted garments in Scandinavia and Britain." I think everyone understands that 'primitive' means not super short, super crimpy, super consistent, head to tail.

Please, please, please don't tell me that everybody, including the Dailley family, the Doanes, Linda Zuppann (sp?), the Ludlams, the Fletchers, the women of Shetland past, the Shetland Museum, the estate records and ship's logs, and modern day leaders in fleece and fiber are all wrong, and that the camp is the only group outside the SSS that have the fleece right!!!

P.S. You will note on page 2 of the latest issue of Spin-Off Magazine that Carol Rhoades is not just an editor of the magazine, she's a technical editor. Technical editors make sure things are correct. It's a tough job!!

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