Lizzy - our shearing victim
Wool animals aren’t part of my family’s farming history. So when I think of wool, I think of my childhood when winter coats, sewn by my grandmother, made my neck itch. Or I remember my dad’s wool WWII blanket my mom used as batting sewn between two quilt covers. And since my ancestors came from Ireland, I’m thinking there just might be some sheep somewhere way back there in my family line.
My first exposure to wool - still residing on the animal - came when I began working at the farm with Angora goats. What fascinated me was the fact that they didn’t need shearing. Their wool voluntarily deciding to part ways with their owners, hanging like a fluffy blanket kicked off the bed when the nights get too warm. The wool departure always announces the animal way smaller than her padding previously declared her. Then each summer during farm camp we invite a spinner of wool to show us how it’s done. We let the children card and then spin the fluffy mass on drop spindles and then the wool disappears again until the next camp. However brief, this exposure began a spark of interest. I wanted to know more and learn more and maybe even buy an animal that wore wool.
One of our farm's Angora goats
So my first step was to add it to my homestead goals – but buying sheep and learning to spin fell into year 5, so I guess I got ahead of myself. And the reason I fast forwarded was because I stumbled across information about a class called “Sheep to Shawl.” The ad announced that in a one-day workshop we would begin with a sheep and end up making a small shawl on a triangle loom. I was sold! But then I got sick and stayed that way for a very long time. As the day approached I kept lying in bed thinking about the money I’d spent and the fact that I’d have to wait another six months before the workshop was offered again…so I got up before the sun and drove two hours to meet Lizzy, the sheep. Poor Lizzy. Since she’s sheared only twice a year, she was already skittish when she was dragged onto the stand and locked into the hold. Her rectangle pupils turned into large round circles as she eyed the women surrounding her. The expert began the lesson by shearing a wide strip right down the middle of her back. It actually looked like Lizzy was having a bad hair day! But not near as bad as when we got finished with her! As the lesson continued, we were told that the electric shears we were using cost $800 dollars and that’s when I decided that I’d buy either Soay sheep (from Britain) or stick with Angora goats because they both share their wool without the use of shears.
Shearing poor Lizzy
From shearing we moved on to sorting, washing, dyeing, picking, carding, and spinning wool.
Dyeing, Washing and Preparing the Wool for Picking and Carding
Then we wove our little shawls, said goodbye to Lizzy, who gave us sidelong glances in her short coat, and we drove home to collapse into bed only to count sheep.
Lizzy Post Shear
That’s when I started pondering the fact that women used to do this – every bit of it – so they and their families could wear warm clothes. The very thought of such an arduous task seemed overwhelming and exhausting. Maybe it was because spinning looked way easier than it was, or the fact that we spent an entire day with wool up to our elbows without actually making enough thread to create even part of a garment, or it’s possible that the real reason was that I was sick and extremely tired after such a long day. So whatever the reason, I think I’ll just keep the sheep in my year-5 plan. In the meantime, I might do a bit of practicing with a drop spindle the next time one of our farm Angoras decides to share a bit of wool.
My first woven piece made on a triangle weaving loom