Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Weekends, Birthdays and Shetland Sheep

Another weekend, another road trip. This weekend it was down to VA for Granddaughter Miranda's second Birthday. What a wonderful weekend for traveling it was too. The weather was good despite minor showers on the way home that only served to increase the humidity to "DENSE". Miranda's mom wisely planned an outdoor water party for the gaggle of young'uns so for them the weather couldn't have been better. If she made any mistake at all it was the classic rookie error of serving the cake AFTER the water activities. tsk, tsk..... She'll learn...we all do. :) It was a great party with lots of laughter, visiting and pranks involving a certain Arctic Blaster water cannon that shoots ICE WATER. Payback is a bitch boys, remember that.
I did manage to finish a pair of socks on the trip though. I've been having the hardest time finishing things lately. I have a certain pair of socks on the needles - ok, sock...singular - since last MAY! That's not entirely like me and it's made me a little antsy. So I made concerted efforts to get stuff moving this past month or so. I finished my friend's prayer shawl out of VERY fuzzy mohair and ladder ribbon yarns in pastel colors. No photo, sorry. This one stunned everyone who knows me because I don't knit with fuzzy mohair yarn, I don't knit with novelty ribbon 'yarn', I don't knit with pastels and I don't knit with size 13 telephone poles (at least they are AddiTurbos). It's just because I love my friend dearly and it was yarn of her choosing. I am happy to have it done though. I also passed to that same very dear friend a circular shawl that had grown into a black and lilac albatross. I loved the center flower motif with it's never repeating lace rows but towards the outside when it keeps growing and growing in nothing but knit stitches.....knitting purgatory for me, knitting heaven for her. So she took that project over and is happily knitting away. But this project was for me. I saw this roving in an etsy store about 3 weeks ago and just loved the colors. So I spun it up into what I call a winter weight sock yarn, allowing the colors to do whatever they like, then knit a simple cuff to toe sock with just a scalloped edge at the cuff. Love it. The colors are very Trekking like and that suits me perfectly. These will be fantastic as the weather cools.....IF the weather ever cools.

While I was down in VA I received a call from a dear friend, made all the more dear by his opening question: "What is your favorite color of Shetland?" Knowing he has been planning to add sheep to his livestock made that question all the more stimulating. I knew he'd been planning to work with another rarebreed sheep but I've also expressed in no uncertain terms that my favorite sheep/wool/yarn is Shetland. Now he wants to know a favorite color? Ah come on! Why not ask which of my sons is my favorite? Which of my rabbits is my favorite? There is no good answer to those questions and never will be. So, in lieu of answering his question (short of saying 'one of each') I'll present some photos and a link to the most amazing Shetland sheep site I've ever run across. (thank you to another good friend who raises Shetties for reminding me of this site).

First of all, here's the link to the site http://www.shetlandsheepinfo.com/ Now, once you click over there, you'll spend all day reading the many fantastic articles on fleece, history, colors and multiple uses of Shetland sheep so hold off just a minute, ok?
Late Edit: Said kindly breeder sent me this second link which has articles which explain the three distinct styles of fleece extremely well http://www.shetland-sheep.org/ This is information that is WELL worth reading if you have any interest in buying shetland sheep or fleeces.

I could never begin to cover the history or qualities of Shetland sheep and do justice the way that site can so I won't even try. What I will mention is why I prefer them over any other fleece / sheep. If I could choose one breed to raise, this would be it.

Shetland sheep are versatile. They can be used for Fleece, Meat, Milk and cheese, Vegetation control and by products such as horn.

Shetland sheep are thrifty. They are primitive enough to be efficient foragers only needing supplementation when kept in small lots and over winter and even then require significantly less feed and water than other breeds.

Shetland sheep are good breeders. Again their primitive nature makes them un-fussy lambers and good mothers. They often twin, sometimes triplet and are willing to breed right back again (especially if that wasn't your plan to begin with).

Shetland fleece will do anything I want it to do. I make no secret of the fact that my ultimate measure of any fiber is how much of a control freak it allows me to be. The finest fiber on earth is meaningless to me if it doesn't bow to my demands. I want a fiber that allows me to spin it into a strong rug wool for dense warm outerwear garments AND lets me spin a fine lace for next to the sensitive parts accessories. I want fiber that doesn't require me to bend over backward or spend gobs of money to process it. Fine fiber is great but if it takes too much time and effort to wash out the waxy lanolin, I'm annoyed already.

Good Shetland wool is

  • fine enough to be soft,
  • dense enough to keep out the dirt and vegetation and
  • has a light lanolin that is pleasant to spin raw or easy to wash out.

Shetland wool/sheep comes in an amazing array of natural colors. I have never learned to really enjoy dying. I do know how, I even know some cool tricks to make great yarns. I even teach a class in coordinating fabric colors and patterns for quilts...but I don't enjoy dying wool and yarn. I discovered a long time ago that natural colors NEVER clash. There is no such thing as natural colors that don't work together. Natural colors don't bleed, fade or rub off. There are 11 main colors with many modified varieties and many more patterns! Shetland knitting is known for it's color work. Most of that wasn't even done with dyes! You can achieve everything from the blackest black to orange-red to sparkling white and every shade in between with just the natural colors of Shetland wool. What's not to love about that?

White, Charcoal/Pewter, Black, Mioget, Light Moorit

Now, if you are inclined to enjoy the dying arts, how many colors can you achieve with 3 primary dyes and 30 some natural wool colors to overdye? It boggles the mind.

Shetland sheep also come in a variety of color patterns. Now, from a handspinner's point of view, a patterned animal can be amusing. I didn't say great, I said amusing. The different color areas are very often of distinctly different textures. That can be good...or not. White areas are often much more soft and fine than dark. If I plan to blend or use the fleece together, this might cause quite an issue. Patterned animals in a commercial venture are almost useless. Since there is no consistency of color, the patterned fleece can only be used to overdye black or navy. Remember what I said about limiting my choices? there ya go. For my own handspinning uses, I do enjoy the black variety badger-faced fleeces. In Shetlands this is known as Katmoget. They have a soft range of color from very dark to lightest silver and I enjoy playing with those colors. Aesthetically, patterned animals are pleasing to many people and let's face it, if you look at the critter every day, you might as well enjoy it.

So there is my treatise on why I love Shetland sheep and fleece. If you have interest in working with or learning about these amazing little critters, please do check out the site I mentioned. It includes everything from wool qualities, history, husbandry and breed standards.

Shetland Wool, taking all its properties together, is perhaps the completest
article of the kind in the universe, possessing at the same time, the gloss and
softness of silk, the strength of cotton, the whiteness of linen, and the warmth
of wool.
Sir John Sinclair
September 22, 1790

1 comment:

Christine said...

Sounds like you had a great time!
Cool socks! But do you have authorization from Risa for using her patent pending dashboard shot? :)
Aaah! Shetland! Because of you I am addicted to it! I see that I am not the only one who is not too big on fine fibers that are a pain to process.