Some of you may remember that last June I posted a short video of HunterGatherer, using old-fashioned hand clippers to shear Tufty’s gorgeous Shetland fleece. Well, the stunning fleece which appeared in that self-same video has been on a rather exciting journey since the day it left The Sparrowholding later that summer in the car boot of a friend of a friend, who just so happens to be a keen spinner and knitter.
As you’ll see from the (many!) photos in this blog post charting the fleece’s progress after leaving us, it was first washed to remove any grubbiness (not that our lovely sheep are particularly unhygienic, you understand, but paddock life isn’t immaculate either!).
Tufty looks a gorgeous milk chocolatey brown colour if you see her in the field, but while being washed and spun, her wool seemed to change hue slightly and in some of the photos K. kindly took, it looks almost grey.
After Tufty’s coat of many colours had been washed and allowed to dry, K. (the ‘spinning lady’) discovered that the fleece was so beautifully fine that she didn’t actually need to card (or ‘comb it out’ to you and me) it and she was able to start spinning it into yarn straight away.
Once K. had spun sufficient yarn for her intended purpose – a shawl – she got out her trusty knitting needles and began to create the gorgeous Shetland shawl which you’ll see in the photos below. HunterGatherer and I were so excited to see the end result. Doesn’t it look fab? Now who wouldn’t want to cosy up in that soft sumptuous woolliness on a chilly evening?
The 'spinning lady' spun the yarn and created the shawl with the intention of exhibiting it at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston near Edinburgh in the summer of 2018. I’ve certainly got the date writ large in my diary and the plan is for HunterGatherer and me to go along and admire it if it is indeed one of the exhibits in the WRI tent. I might even take a photo of it home with me to show the lovely Tufty and her cheeky twins! The process that transforms it from a fluffy fleece to a finely spun yarn is slow and labour-intensive.
However, the end result is absolutely amazing, and perhaps one day either HunterGatherer or I will have to try our hand at spinning so we could create a home-spun yarn here at The Sparrowholding. Time alone will tell...
It's that time of year again, which means that last week saw the big annual haircut (aka sheep shearing) taking place here at the Sparrowholding, with HunterGatherer wielding a pair of old-fashioned hand sheep shears – no fancy electric clippers for him, as we don’t have enough sheep to justify them.
In the olden days, all the wool collected annually during sheep shearing formed a small, but significant, part of the sheep farmer's "harvest", with the fleeces being rolled up after shearing (there is a technique, of course!) and piled into large wool sacks before being collected by the ‘Wool Marketing Board’.
Eventually a cheque, which varied in amount according to the weight of wool, would wing its way to the grateful farmer. However, in the 21st century, the advent of myriad modern synthetic materials such as Lycra, Acrylic and Polyester has gradually depressed the price paid to farmers for fleeces, and in most cases the wool cheque amount no longer forms a significant part of a farm's income.
Nowadays, the cost of sheep shearing in time, money and effort can almost outweigh the value of the wool on some sheep farms, but the job still has to be done for welfare reasons. If the fleeces are not removed, bothersome blowflies can lay their eggs in the wool and the maggots hatch out in these cosy climes and start tucking into the sheep’s flesh. Not a sight you’d ever want to see, I can assure you. So off come the fleeces around the middle of June every year!
With just 15 adult Shetland sheep here on The Sparrowholding, we wouldn’t have enough wool to fill even one of Wool Marketing’s giant wool bags, so we keep our fleeces and use them during the rest of the year for various tasks around the garden, e.g. lining the base of planters to keep moisture in or acting as ‘blanket’ of weed protection between (rows of) plants in the summer, plus keeping plants snug and warm in their pots in the wintertime.
Wool is also very handy for various crafting activities, such as rug or card-making and spinning, so we tend to set the best fleeces aside in our trusty little ‘wool’ shed and sell whole or part fleeces to keen crafters, who love Shetland fleeces because of the 30+ different official 'colourways' they come in (ranging from white through to dark chocolate).
Talking of sheds (please note seamless link here!), you may remember that the Square Sparrow blog was one of the finalists in the Waltons’ smallholder blog competition some months ago. Now Waltons have asked us to be involved in their current competition to win a 5x3 ft mower (or any other garden stuff!) store. The details of their competition appear below, and the closing date is 28th June, so get your entries in soon to be in with a chance of winning yourself a handy garden store. Good luck!