For the love of sheep 2 – working with wool

My deep and abiding love of fleece nearly came unstuck. I’ve been asked to revisit this post as part of Wovember, so I seized the opportunity to update it as well. Things have moved on. In several ways.

Back, in case I needed reminding (and now I really do), to why I love working with fleece. It’s partly the sheer enjoyment of taking something which is walking around in a field up the hill and turning its wool into a something I enjoy wearing. I suppose it’s control of the means of production, or maybe it’s an eco thing – total wool miles? About three.

But that doesn’t explain the stash, if you can call it that. At least the insulation it provides should mean I spend less on heating this winter. I don’t know how it happens, honestly; it’s nothing to do with me. It’s like homing pigeons, except I have homing fleece. I’m sticking to this explanation, by the way, in defiance of the evidence. Evidence like a couple of weeks ago, when a friend (or perhaps that should be ‘enabler’) took me along to a local farm. A local farm with a prize-winning flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep.

(Ignore whatever the cattle are getting up to in the background. That’s cattle for you.)

We went with the express purpose of buying fleeces. No beating around the bush, no protestations that we were ‘just going for a look’. Oh no, we were in the market for woolliness, and we’d got orders from other addicts, too. So we spent time in the sheds looking over the shearling fleeces, getting over-excited and stuffing eight of them into bin liners (they’re not all for me, really). Then we went to look at the sheep living up to their name, being undoubtedly black, Welsh and living in the mountains. It’s so good to see something which is so perfectly in its place.

And they’re attractive sheep anyway, with their deep colouring and longish bare legs. I think it must be the deep blackness of their legs – they’re definitely wearing high-density opaque tights – that makes them look chic even when they’re sliding down a slope and sneaking into the barn in search of something to eat (that would be Paxo, so named because he stuffs himself and once ate the stock book). And this particular flock are so dark in colour.

I’ve seen Black Welsh fleeces that have been almost charcoal grey, I’ve seen some that have been Worcester Sauce brown, but I’ve not come across any that are this deep a black. I’m just learning about fleeces for spinning, but my companion has much more experience, and she tempted me there with this promise (plus I’m a sucker for a coloured fleece). She was right.

Now I need another one. No, I do, because I know what I want to make. Black Welsh Mountains don’t have the softest fleeces in the world, even the shearlings, and you wouldn’t want them next to your skin. But they will make a wonderful outer garment, and I have just the right pattern in mind. It’s a large cardigan / coat / thing, in garter stitch (so I might lose the will to live), by Sally Melville, and I saw it last year on a stand at Wonderwool Wales. It’s called the Einstein coat, but let’s ignore that. All I have to do is:

• acquire another fleece,
• sort that fleece,
• wash both fleeces,
• dry both fleeces (no easy task in October),
• card both fleeces (thank heavens for a drum carder),
• spin both fleeces, making sure I’m spinning to get roughly the right weight,
• ply everything I’ve spun,
• wash the finished skeins, and
• knit them up.

And I got my other fleece, so step 1 is accomplished.

Things fell apart slightly with step 2.

It’s October. It’s cold but it’s sunny, so I seized on the idea of sorting the fleece – so far, so good, and so theoretical. It’s windy, so I weighed down a tarp with rocks. Spread fleece out on tarp…

Fleece blows away. Weigh fleece down with rocks. Which way up is sheep? Poo prevalence no guide – fleece pooey in all directions. Remove edge. This involves lifting rocks. Fleece blows away again. Retrieve fleece from hedge. Weigh fleece down with more rocks. Remove some fleece from middle, most of freed fleece blows away again. Retrieve bits of fleece from hedge, return to find Next Door’s Cat enshrined in fleece, toying with it lightly. Attempt to remove cat from fleece. Cat objects. Get water spray. Water spray cat, fleece and self (owing to wind). Cat runs off, fleece blows away, again. Retrieve fleece from hedge, fence, shrubs, bottom garden. Replace fleece in bag, bit awkward owing to wind. Return fleece to shed. Find gin.

I could just order tops online. I could… but it wouldn’t be the same.


10 thoughts on “For the love of sheep 2 – working with wool

  1. Deb

    That is so visual Kate. I love it. And as I have said before, I can relate completely to the stash situation. I need to find a way to knit faster I guess but something tells me that would not help.

    1. kate Post author

      I tried knitting faster. If the words ‘hand injury’ mean anything to me know, I’d stop knitting / spinning completely…. yeah, that’s really going to happen!

  2. Lydia

    What a wonderful image of the artist fighting the fleece! I just love it. Black welsh mountain are such beautiful timeless sheep and your labours will be well rewarded I have no doubt. Fight the good fleece!

    1. kate Post author

      There’s still fleece in the hedge and one of my friends said it looked as though I’d done ten rounds with Bigfoot. They’re just not used to the idea of black fleece… it will be worth it, it will be worth it. Whimper.

      (Bet I still haven’t got enough for the Einstein jacket, especially now some of it has blown out to sea.)

        1. kate Post author

          Heeeeee hee….

          (I’ve got visions of seals sitting around and knitting, now – Walt Disney has a lot to answer for…)

  3. knitsofacto

    For the love of God woman, get someone to rig you up a skirting table (and a wind break maybe)!

    I reckon you get the same endorphins from your fleecy shenanigans that others get from (searches depths of mind for example of dimly remembered physical exercise) hula hooping!

    1. kate Post author

      It’s the chasing of felines around that really does it for the endorphins….

      I use the huge picnic bench as a table normally, but it was so windy I thought the ground would be less exposed (sheltered by hedges, you see). Takes a finely honed Oxbridge mind to come up with that one. Anyone more sensible – that would be just about everybody – would just have thought ‘It’s a bit windy today, maybe I’ll do it later…’

  4. Elaine

    I just read your entry on Wovember and had to visit your blog. What a hoot!! I laughed myself silly. especially about the cat. When we are possessed by lovely wooly fiber we can never spin or knit fast enough!!

    1. kate Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it – and that cat is on borrowed time, having treated me to a lovely fat rat yesterday. Just by the greenhouse – where the fleece now is. I think she was trying to combine her two passions, wool and rodents.

      At least I don;t feel the same way about small mammals as she does, even if we do share a passion for fleece!


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