For the love of sheep 1 – growing (with) wool

It’s no secret that I like sheep. I have done for years, but I forgot it for a while when I lived in London.

Now I enjoy living around sheep again. I like the noise of the lambs in the spring, and that can get seriously irritating – rather like a dentist’s drill – once it’s gone on for hours and hours and hours.

I like the fact that I’ve just watched – from the office window – a determined ewe square up to a sheepdog trying to do its job, and face the increasingly exasperated collie down. The sheep eventually sauntered off in the direction of the rest of the flock, but at enough of a leisurely pace to make it obvious that she was only going that way because she wanted to, right?

I like the fact that some of the cattle grids round here need gates as well because the sheep have learned how to roll over the grids, and I’m happy that the gate up the hill needs a fence post slung below it because otherwise the lambs squeeze underneath anyway and come and say hello.

I even like the fact that a few days ago I was happily washing up – and I live in the middle of a village, not halfway up a mountain – when I was interrupted by a loud ‘baaaaa’ and found a sheep looking in the side window, the one on the lane. I’m used to children banging on the glass and waving, I’m even used to Duke of Edinburgh’s Award walkers collapsing in exhaustion and staring, but on balance I probably prefer sheep. (This was Bramble, by the way, an elderly ewe and very clever. I won’t have it that sheep are stupid; she certainly isn’t. She gets bored up on the hill and it’s much more interesting wandering down into the village, so she’s shown several generations of lambs the way to go.)

So I do like the fact that sheep can be surprising. People who don’t know sheep – like some of my friends, for example – often fall into the trap of thinking lambs are soft and pretty and cutesy and fluffy-wuffy, It’s something of a shock when they encounter the real thing. This pet lamb, for instance, was a strong as a small ox. Late with the bottle? She’d seek you out and knock you over, given half a chance. I was about 12 and could hold my own, but she’d drag my little brother around in circles pulling on the teat. Feeding her went on far too long (she wasn’t a pet, oh noooooo, of course not), resulting in a somewhat confused animal who thought she was a collie. Used to drive the dogs demented.

But now we come to it.

Above all, there’s the fact that, as a spinner and knitter, there’s another reason why I like sheep. A reason that has taken over the spare room and is rapidly filling the old outside loo, the one that passes as a garden shed. Fleece. And more fleece. Black Welsh Mountain fleece, to be exact

11 thoughts on “For the love of sheep 1 – growing (with) wool

    1. kate Post author

      That looks interesting – I can certainly do with knowing a whole lot more.

      One really valuable thing I learned was from a much more experienced spinner a couple of weeks ago. She said that the older she gets, the more fleece she throws away. I’d been saving everything (or almost everything), working away at it as though there was no tomorrow and – as often as not – ending up with something which wasn’t very good. Not because I’d screwed up, though I do that too, but because it wasn’t that good in the first place…

      1. ohdebs

        I tend to do that with the fabric stash. Because you never know when you will need a piece of irridescent lamé for a doll outfit for a beloved granddaughter. Needless to say I have a lot of weird scraps too.

        1. kate Post author

          You have an excuse. Can you tell me why I am keeping the fabric from an umbrella I bought in Paris last time I was over, which blew out when I used it? (It’s black i=on the outside and deep lime green on the inside, too stylish to work. What on earth do I think I will do with it?)

    1. kate Post author

      Never tried that one – maybe it’s the dried poo (you know, on the same principle as desert herders using camel dung, only the Welsh equivalent).

      Hee hee hee – spinnings gonna get ya, spinning’s gonna get ya…. you can run but you can’t hide, and I was got by a dead person – at least your enabler is still alive for you to beat up when you can’t move for fleece. (I wasn’t ‘got’ by a zombie, for anyone reading these comments who doesn’t know. My neighbour. I’d always said I wasn’t spinning, then when she died I inherited her wheel. Obviously I had to use it.)

  1. Robin

    Kate, congratulations on your Black Welsh fleeces. They sound lovely — as is the coat pattern you’ve chosen! We have a flock of just under forty purebred Black Welsh Mountain sheep out here in Washington State. I also love to spin and knit our flock’s beautiful Black Welsh wool (as well as the wool from other local rare breed flocks), and can completely empathize with the challenge of drying washed wool in mid October weather! It can be done, though — and all that lovely black wool is definitely worth it! Your blog posts are great, Kate — and I love your photos as well. Congratulations on a beautiful and really well-put-together site!

    P.S. I second OhDebs recommendation to sign up for Deb Robson’s *free!* Craftsy online workshop, and also recommend the wonderful “Fleece and Fiber Sourcesbook” that Deb co-authored with Carol Ekarius. It’s a terrific reference!

    1. kate Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comments, and congratulations on having a flock of some of the most gorgeous sheep around. They look so good and (like all sheep, IMO) have such personalities. Sheeponalities.

      I’ve just completed part 2 of my plan, in that I’ve got hold of another yummy fleece. Now, if it would just stop raining for 5 minutes… isn’t the wool wonderful? I know it’s not soft as anything, but the colour, oh, the colour! I think the F&F Sourcebook is wonderful, so I must sign up for those Craftsy workshops. I just need a break in the workload…

      1. Robin

        Kate, for the past several years, we’ve been getting some exceptionally black, wonderfully soft fleeces from our flock. Much softer fibre than is ordinarily typical for the breed. Many of our lambs’ fleeces I wouldn’t hesitate to wear next-to-skin. I have a double-wide motorized drum carder, but have been doing a lot of combing (rather than carding) of our Black Welsh fibre. It’s quite lovely combed — and is a dream to spin. Of course, it doesn’t have the same loft as does the carded version, but I’ve found that both woolen and worsted preparation have their place, depending on the project at-hand. I do love that coat pattern you’re about to undertake!

        1. kate Post author

          That sounds fantastic – the second fleece I’ve got is definitely softer than the first, and I think I’ll give combing it a try and see where I get (they’re both shearlings, and notably softer than any Black Welsh I’ve encountered, though that isn’t a lot). I can’t wait to get my hands on it, but I just need the weather to clear up a bit so I can prep it. Round here we have a traditional last flowering of summer – it’s called ‘haf bach Mihangel’ or [St] Michael’s little summer – so I’m hoping we get that this year. Instead of more rain. I am absolutely determined to do that coat!

        2. kate Post author

          I’ve split this post up as there have been developments. I got another fleece…. surprise, surprise. Addicted? No – I can stop any time I want to.

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