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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Golden, Silky Goodness!!

Wheely Wooly Gracelyn
Sheared by me with these blades

Born a dark moorit, Gracie's fleece has lightened to a golden, silky, goodness with most excellent handle!  It's very light and responsive, with fineness that is very exciting.  While she would be called a 'solid color', her fleece has amazing depth of color, with color changes you can see in the picture.  Some areas are darker and closer to her birth color of moorit, while other areas have lightened to a beautiful soft dove gray.  I absolutely can't WAIT to spin this fleece!

Want to learn more?  Search Fair Isle Hill Caa (post's the link ) and you'll see longish, wavy fleeces and frosted noses just like our flock, and women shearing with blades, just like me!  Enjoy the journey! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Tam from NASSA Newsletter


This was a fun project!  If you know how to knit in the round, this is a nice project to make. The pattern writer in the article (NASSA News Vol. 22, issue 2, Spring-April 2012, p. 29) had selected fiber from a Shetland lamb with greys and blacks in it's fleece.  I just happen to have yarn spun by me from a very similar lamb.  The fiber was black-tipped, with varying shades of grey throughout, so I used it for this project.  This lamb is not from our flock.

I changed the type if increase to make in the tam, just after the ribbing.  Well, that's me!  I do tweak things around a it creativity I guess.  Another change I made was the addition of the crocheted flower in a lovely color on top of the tam, rather than the pom that is more traditional.  I just hand stitched that on, near the end of the petals so that the petals will always lay down nice.  For added fun, I could add a grey or white pom in the middle of the flower, or perhaps a flower made from the same grey yarn as the hat...double stacked and graduated smaller...or another idea that would be fun is some kind of button or something in the middle of the flower.  Knitting is so much fun, because you can do so much with it!  
The top, where the decreases are made, shows a nice swirl.  I don't have those lovely color stripes on my tam that the author of the NASSA article had because I work to even out the colors as they draft into my yarn.  Sometimes though, letting an area of black or something dominate the yarn for a few yards does create a lovely, unique stripe affect in hats or socks, giving the garment a real unique, one-of-a-kind look.  Sometimes, I like that, too.

It didn't take long to do the knitting on this hat, but I had been stalled out by not having the size 5 double point needles I needed to finish.  Once I had them, it only took maybe 20 more minutes to finish.  Then, I blocked the hat and let it dry on a screen.

Hope you enjoyed seeing my NASSA tam!  If you join NASSA (North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association), you can get the newsletter and make a tam like this, too!  Hope you find this project inspiring and good luck with making your own!

Monday, May 21, 2012

An Assortment of Colors for Fair Isle

...and every one of them from our flock!
Let's see...there's Wink and Iris and Sweetie and Gracie and Cosmo, Wooly Bear and Lerwick and....
...oops...a bunch of these were sold out last fall!
Don't worry!  More's comin'!

Wheely Wooly Farm has an excellent reputation for producing the genuine Shetland fiber that is genuinely longish, wavy, fine and soft, for your knitting pleasure. Just one look at photos of our flock and fleeces, and you can see that for yourself!  Our sheep are FLEECY!   Good thing, cause that's what our 1927 Breed Standard demands, and we're right on! 

We take pride in producing the same type of fiber the hill sheep of Shetland grew for the construction of those famous garments in the heyday of stranded knitting.  Afterall, the crofter (farmer and shepherdess) was THE Fair Isle knitting expert!  They are the ones who knit the garments, and the sheep were managed by them and sheared/rooed by them as well.  How fun it is to learn of their skills in raising fiber, and in using it, and we here at Wheely Wooly Farm take joy in genuinely protecting and preserving that special fiber so that others can discover it in the future while others are knitting with it today!

AND, we take joy in trying to mimic their skill in the knitting! (giggle, giggle).  I'm not there, yet.

Shetland sheep are a true heritage sheep, and there is so much to enjoy about them.

Coming up, not ALL of our fiber is soft and fine, but we're proud of that, too!  And guess what?  I got those size 5 double points and my mystery project is finished!  Stay tuned!  I think you'll enjoy seeing what it is!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dreamy Shetland Fiber

Wheely Wooly Lerwick's Dreamy Fiber!

This fleece has been on my wheel for three days now, and it's dreamy!  As is typical of Shetland fiber, it's very easy to spin.  The fineness of it makes it very simple (and very pleasant!) to spin a finer gauge yarn.  I've done some fingering wt. and some sport weight.  (Truth is, I spin very little bulky wt. yarn, and when I do, I have to make a constant conscious effort to keep it bulky.) It does take time to fill the bobbins with such fineness, but it's sure worth it!  What you can't see in this photo very well is the grayish tone coming through in the yarn color.  This lovely hue will make paring this yarn with some honey/fawn colors and light blue very pretty.  Can't wait!

Have a wonderful spring weekend everyone!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Handsome Lerwick, freshly sheared

Wheely Wooly Lerwick
Shetland Ram, just sheared of his second clip, by me.

Wow!  No matter how much I look at him, I still just can't get over how different he looks when freshly sheared!  In full wool (meaning a 12 month clip), he gives you the impression of being a huge ram.  His wool grows all the way out to his horns, leaving a ring of wool around his face like the old English queens used to know, those white collars you see pictures of them wearing?  See the picture on the right side of my blog?  That's Lerwick last year, a few minutes before I sheared him.  He looked like that again this year. After shearing, you see that he's really just a little poodle with horns!!  It takes me weeks to adjust....

One of the many delights of having these diverse and mysterious little sheep is their colors!  Lerwick was born very black, here on our farm.  As his wool grew out, he stayed black, but the tips weathered a bit to a light brown...sun fading I suppose.  When visitors looked at him, they called him the "brown" sheep.  But when I sheared him Saturday, I was delighted to see he is starting to lighten now as a two year old!  His fleece is turning a lovely shade of light grey!  That sets his very black face and horns off so nicely.  It's truly a delight to watch these color changes, and to work with this wool!

Lerwick is one of Wooly Bear's sons.  Wooly Bear has outstanding horns, an outstanding personality, and very, very fine, dense wool with a long, wavy staple.  He has passed these qualities on to all his ram lambs.  In fact, Lerwick is the hardest sheep to shear in my whole flock, because his wool is incredibly fine and DENSE!  That density makes me sweat every year!  It's slow going with lots of smaller snips to get the blades into his wool.   I snip and snip and snip, and the wool just keeps coming with little forward progress. The blows are much shorter.  (His rise has come at a good time this year.) Wilbur (a BFL cross), for instance, takes full blows as long as the blades.  I can shear him in less than 20 minutes because density is not in Wilbur's vocabulary!  Lerwick is the other end of the spectrum, and he takes me a good hour to shear.  When I'm done shearing Lerwick, his fleece is extremely volumnous, yet it only weighs just over two pounds.  The yardage I get in yarn is outstanding.  Lerwick has proven to be an outstanding ram in our flock!

Other things to know about Lerwick:  when I shear him, I put a halter on him and tie him up to a wooden fence panel we made.  He stands there and chews his cud while I shear.  There is no flipping until the end, when the good wool is off and up on the skirting table nearby.  That's when I flip the rams to clean off the mess on their bellies from laying down in the snow or wet grass.  Tip:  be sure to check your rams from time to time in winter if they sleep outside on snow every night.  Their belly wool can mat, preventing their urine from falling clean away from their body, creating a problem.  I check my rams every few weeks.  Also to know about Lerwick, his wool sold extremely fast at the market, and he's covered every ewe given to him, which means he has lambs on the ground.  Splash, the little fellow in the feeder on the right side of my blog, is Lerwick's son.  Splash is a blue ribbon ram (well, so is Lerwick!!!).  His wool, just like his father, is extremely fine and dense.  Both have outstanding personalities and are very easy keepers, both are halter trained, both are friendly.  And both of their baas end on an upnote!...the only two in my flock like that.

These are the qualities Wooly Bear has passed on in my flock.  He has been a dream foundation ram.  As we enter phase two of our long range breeding plan, I go back to the anxiety I felt in picking a foundation ram a few years ago.  There are LOTS of rams out there, but very very few of them will take your flock forward and give you all you are hoping for.  Wooly Bear not only did that for me, but he's given me sons to be very proud of!

Hope you enjoyed seeing how Lerwick looks, freshly sheared! 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sunny Spring Yarns from Claire

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It's a beautiful, bright, sunshiny day here on Wheely Wooly Farm so I just can't resist showing you some of Claire's bright, sunny spring yarns!  Claire is such a sweetie, with a personality as sunny as her bright yarns.  I sheared her about three weeks ago.  She gave me a bountious seven pounds of wool, not counting the stuff I never add to the keep pile after shearing.  (The yucky stuff never makes it to the skirting table.)

I can't show you a picture of her now, though!  Claire is such a sweetie, she's letting the little lambs play on her!  When she lays down to chew her cud, her ears bounce gently up and down, in rhythm to her jaw motion. As she's doing this, little Fair Isle and Starlight pretend she's a rock, leaping on and off her back.  Since Claire is much larger than a Shetland ewe, she makes for a wonderfully big rock, and little Shetlands are rock hoppers!  I am amazed, as I sit and watch this going on (with HUGE relief she's sheared!!!) that Claire is so tolerant and gentle with little lambs that aren't even hers.  As they teter on her back, butting each other off and leaping back on, she'll occassionally look back at them with gentleness in her eyes.  She doesn't seem to nose them off or try to get up, so I guess she's ok with all the goofiness.  She's a great ewe to have in the flock!

Meanwhile, I'm spinning her fleece right now and wow!  I'm amazed!  Living with a Shetland flock has been a good thing for Claire I guess!  Her wool is graded as a medium grade, nice but not the softest, yet that is not what I'm experiencing so far.  I thought her second fleece would be more like a medium grade, but it's much finer than that.  It's been a very pleasant spinning experience so far!

Hope you are enjoying this spring, sunshiny day!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Pretty Spring Shetland Shawl

Well, this is certainly not a professional picture, but here is the shawl I had worked on lately.  The wool is from my favorite Shetland ewe, Iris.  I had hand sheared her, spun up her nicest wool, and put it out for sale.  It sold really fast, which is a good thing, because one of the things about this job is that it's VERY tempting to take wool back off the sale tables to knit up myself!

The rest of the wool, near her britch, was saved for my own use at another time.  This winter, I spun it up into a worsted 2-ply, wound it into balls, and placed it all in a basket.  After pondering for a bit, I decided to try a new start knitting like I do when making cotton dishclothes, and see where that lead me!  I had no sense of direction, just that I wanted to knit.  

As the piece grew, I switched to a larger circular needle.  The cold winds howled outside as I quietly worked.  The warmth of the wool was very cozy as it grew larger and larger, filling my lap.  I even took it along with me when I traveled, as it folded up nicely for each trip.  When it was large enough, I simply cast off along the neck edge, and left it just as it is...simple, plain, pretty.

After washing it nice to block the yarn, I made three lovely crocheted flowers from leftover yarn.  I hand sewed them on, then used green wool from a Shetland wether that was dyed in Kool Aid for the stems.  The stems are hard to see here, but in real life, they are bright and pop out in a lovely way, giving more balance to the design.  Then, I embroidered my initials on the lower right.  Unfortunately, you cannot see that in the picture!  In real life, it looks like a lovely spring bouquet, set off by Iris's beautiful soft grey fleece.

The piece is very warm to wear, and looks so pretty hanging on a chair!  I once had read that Tasha Tudor had a shawl hanging on the back of nearly every chair in her house for anyone who happened to sit in that chair to use if chilled.  I thought that was a great idea, and my sheep provide lovely wool for the task! 

I'm going to make another one to display this summer.  It's going to be from a ewe named Esther.  Esther's wool is black with some white in it, very lively, very soft.  I can't WAIT to knit this shawl!  Esther's yarn is so lovely with a variety of crocheted flower colors, that I'm sure I'll have trouble deciding which ones to pick.  Such problems!

In the meantime, I'm trying to knit up a pair of socks for a neighbor!  He helped us recently when we needed it, and in asking what we could do for him, he surprised us with a very rapid chirp for Shetland wool socks, and even gave the size he needed right away!  We are very grateful for the help he's given us recently, and in times before that, so I'm more than happy to knit those socks!  That's what I'm knitting now...AND I'm knitting on something else that's special!  You'll have to wait for the blog on that one though to find out what it is!  Please be patient...for I need size 5 double points to finish it, and I don't have any!  The ones I want will have to be ordered, so it might take time for those needles to get here.

Back to my knitting!...

Monday, May 7, 2012

How'd we get our name?

Our farm name, Wheely Wooly Farm, comes from the fact that I absolutely LOVE spinning fiber.  I've spun a ton of fiber over the years, and I knit it up as fast as I can spin it.  Back when I was a new spinner years ago, I spun fleeces and fiber from all kinds of animals, synthetics, and plants.  I always came back to one sheep, though.  Shetlands!  Their fiber is my absolute favorite to spin.  It's light, easy to draft, and so super soft on my fingers that I could easily spend the whole day spinning, which I often do.  That's where the "Wheely" comes from.

The other reason for the name Wheely Wooly is for the Shetland sheep themselves.  Shetlands are a very woolly (as some would spell it) breed.  Our breed standard demands longish and wavy fiber.  Shetlands have historically been producers of very dense fleeces that drape over their bodies so that after a year's time wearing such a lovely fleece, it hangs over their bodies in such a unique and lovely way!  Shetlands really stand out in their lovely, long fleeces.  They just are very, very woolly.  That's where the word "Wooly" comes from.

Put the two words together, and you have my two favorite things...spinning, and very special, very woolly little sheep!!

Hope you enjoyed learning how our farm got it's name. Coming up, more photos of knitting!  Can't wait to show you what I've been up to....