Last week I met up with someone I haven’t seen for years. We were at college together but our lives have taken different paths – I’ll just say that she works in the City, and leave it at that. After hearing about her perfect life for ages (and mentally adding ‘methinks the lady doth protest too much’) I decided it was time I waxed lyrical about something instead. For some bizarre reason I chose the subject of sheep. I know, I know.
This quickly led to spinning and knitting, of course – when we were at Uni she was a keen knitter, but hasn’t picked up the needles since – and she said something which really surprised me: ‘but sheep are such a boring colour, they’re just cream.’ I’m afraid I just gawped at her, and one of the people on a nearby table turned round too – oh, I should explain we met up in rural Wales, not in some smart City eatery. The fields she had driven past were full of Black Welsh Mountain sheep; I wonder what she thought they were?
Look like sheep to me…
Maybe she thought they were BLack Welsh cattle, just very far away (Father Dougal – or maybe Father Ted – is alive and well, has changed gender and got a job in a bank).
I explained that sheep come in a variety of natural colours, all of which I consider gorgeous, and which are very ancient – in fact, ‘boring cream sheep’ had a lot of variation too, and that their ‘boring cream colour’ was a comparatively late addition to the mix. Then I realised that archaeologist or not, archaeologist who studied domestication for years or not, I didn’t really know that much about coloured sheep. Time to get back to Her Perfect Life before I was exposed. And time to do some research, too.
So the next few posts will be all about coloured sheep and this, below, is why I am so obsessed at the moment. I’ve just turned an unwashed, unsorted heap of not particularly good Shetland moorit fleece into this – er, after about half of it had been consigned to the compost as old, dry and generally unusable,
(and the least said about some of that plying the better; I shall plead my hand problems as an alibi), and then into this:
which I just love. And I even love the fact that I’d failed to spot some colour variation in the one slightly iffy fleece, and that some skeins were darker than others as a result – check out the centre square. It does it on the back, too. But even though the fleece may have been questionable, I still managed to get about 400g of Aran-weight yarn out of it, and no need for a dye pot to get a gorgeous colour. Well, I think it’s gorgeous.
What next? What after I’ve finished spinning up the last of local farmer’s interesting paler brown crossbreed? Afraid I can’t remember what the cross was, but I think BFL was part of it, given the crimp. I’ve got more shades of brown (a chocolatey Manx Loaghtan and a very dark Hebridean), and grey (a BFL/Texel, and some Gotland) and a deep, lustrous black (a Black Welsh Mountain/Gotland cross). And let’s not forget variegated; I’ve a Jacob in the stash too, as well as some obligatory cream fleeces, of course (Llyn, Teeswater, BFL). But I could have got all of these colours from one breed of sheep:
Thanks to the Shetland Sheep Society for proving my point that not all sheep are cream. I’ve got this framed in the workroom, otherwise known as the spare bedroom – and a part of me thinks I ought to try and get every one – hm…