Before our sheep grow up to be the wonderful sheep they are today, many arrive as orphans or bottle lambs. There is truly nothing sweeter than a baby lamb. Our lives are filled with endless entertainment, love- and silliness- as they run through our lives. We highly recommend them!
The sound of little feet galloping all around the house is my favorite melody. Changing diapers involves a routine chase around tables and chairs. A spirited game to out wiggle my efforts immediately ensues but I eventually win out, turning them loose in a cute diaper decorated with farm animals- of course.
The wild scampering makes it easy to keep track of them, when it is quiet mischief is afoot. OR a good old lamb pile nap snuggled up on their baby blankets in a sunny window that always makes me want to join them.
Gracie ran through, gleefully hopping about until her diapers fell off. Gracie knew when bottles were served, showing up in the kitchen every time the microwave beeped. Even if she found people lunch was the only disappointing choice on the menu.
Piper decided I was ‘his’ and followed me everywhere from day one. He sorted fleeces with me and slept under my loom. Keebler slept under my spinning wheel and loved to sleep on my lap-no matter what I was trying to accomplish. Sonny insisted on napping on the living room recliner.
We have many, many stories and our happy memories will continue to grow with future lambs needing shelter from cold weather, lots of good food and love. They eventually learn how easily they can outrun me on our walks outside. They learn that life in warmer weather is more fun outside making friends. Speeding around with the other sheep and playing endless games of tag.
The day comes when they are convinced they don’t ‘need’ me anymore and stay outside, just out of my reach for a few days. They come back looking for bottles when they need reassurance and as they grow, look to me for hugs. And Fruit Loops. Treasure, Baker and Rudy still think anything I bring out (even medicine) is a bottle even though they are now grown up elegant sheep.
I always cry when my babies move out to the barn. I miss their sweet selves barreling around the house, following my every move. Stealing my knitting or yarn I am trying to knit. Most of all I miss rocking them to sleep in front of the fireplace, snuggling them up to read a bedtime story.
A wise friend consoles me each time the lambs out grow me, reminding me “you’ve done your job, you did a good job and they are now good sheep.”
What is the first thing to look for when choosing yarn? Is it color, weight, feel? Or is it the location that you purchase it from?
There are basically three options if you want instant gratification and want to start your project immediately. You can head to a local farmer’s market, a “big box” craft store – think JoAnn, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart, etc., or a local yarn shop (LYS). What is the difference, really? They all have yarn and a good variety of yarn at that!
So, let’s start with the largest of the options: the craft store. This is a fantastic option if you are trying to a project on a small budget. A ball/skein of yarn can cost anywhere from $2.99 to $10.00 – and that’s the maximum of the range. There are always sales, and usually coupons.
There is a wide variety of acrylics, wools, cottons, sequins, blends, eco-friendly, baby yarns, and sock yarns to choose from. When I started knitting about ten years ago, you could basically get either acrylic or cotton yarns from the craft stores. The stock (and quality of that stock) has improved drastically in the last decade. Some of the latest additions that I’ve noticed have been the “Bamboo Ewe” and “Full o’ Sheep” from Debbie Stoller’s new line of yarns.
The craft stores are a great, economical option – especially if you are trying a new skill, like knitting in the round, or attempting to learn to crochet. The downside of the craft stores is that chances are, there might be one or two employees there that knit or crochet, and they probably won’t be working when you are there. It’s an “on your own” type of experience, and if you’re a novice, should the yarn your pattern calls for isn’t there; substitution might not be a possibility. There is also the environmental factor – these goods are shipped cross country in most cases, made in other countries, and the stores do little to support your local economy.
Next up is the LYS option… awesome choice! I’m a huge proponent of these, even though they are slightly pricier – anywhere from $7.00 all the way to $50. The stores are usually staffed with the owner and a small, select group of employees – who have experience with the product. They are on hand to make recommendations, substitutions, and help with pattern selection.
Often, patterns that your LYS carries won’t be available anywhere else. The variety of yarns might be smaller than at a big box store, but orders are usually possible and only take a few days… most also have websites or email where you can arrange an order a few days in advance.
Many LYS also have knitting space, serve tea or coffee, and are a great place to meet and chat with other knitters and crocheters. These shops are usually arranged by weight as opposed to by brand or type like in a craft store.
Smaller, more intimate, and based in your community, your local LYS usually participates in things like school fundraisers or “First Friday” events, and offers special discounts on classes and yarns depending on the month or season. These stores also tend to stock local products, and occasionally spun yarn from the employees themselves!
Finally, there is the option of the Farmer’s Market. Talk about choosing to support directly from the source! Many markets have farmers that also have sheep, and they will bring the wool (from sheep, alpacas, llamas!) as a side product – this is usually already spun, but you can find bags of straight wool. One of the farmers I’ve seen even puts the name of the sheep it came from on the label.
So when you name your sweater ‘The Maybelle Sweater’ on Ravelry, it actually came from Maybelle! A quick word about online shopping – yes, this is a great way to go if you already know the product or are prepared to make a large purchase so that your dye lot is consistent. Shopping via the internet – or trading too, is perfect if you are in the planning stages of a project and have time to wait.
No matter which store you choose, as craft stores are improving their selections, the LYS becomes more endangered. Support them! Go to a knitting night, escape from the house and go chat and sip tea and make new, knitty (or crochet-y) friends!
Have you ever wondered where a wool path less traveled may lead you? What elusive fiber and fleece awaits? Today’s journey finds us heading to Scotland and a majestic, elegant sheep known as the Scottish Black Face.
A few years back I got know Graham & Margaret Phillipson who tend a beautiful flock of Scottish sheep. The sheep are well loved and spend their lives happily romping acres and acres of pasture in a secluded scenic valley. The Phillipsons travel to back home to Scotland and England each year, returning with genetics from long established native flocks. They are very dedicated to the preservation of the noble sheep included in their flock of North Country Cheviot, English Suffolk, Mule Sheep – and Scottish Black Face sheep.
I go out each spring to help on shearing day, scooping up beautiful fleeces while plotting my next projects and offerings for our Website. What a day! There is a lot to know about the ‘Scotties’ but I am going to concentrate on my own experiences with the sheep and the fiber they produce.
Scotties are a traditional breed raised in Scotland and much of Europe. They are known as very hardy sheep, resistant to disease and parasites. Their babies hop right up after birth and the mamas protect them like lions. Their fleeces have been used for centuries as the main wool in Europe’s famed weaving industry. Carpets, tweed fabric and any durable item a suitable match for such long strong locks.
The average fleece features locks from four-to-10 inches long, is dual coated, coarse in texture and even has a bit of shine to it. The sheep are sheared once a year and our own Scottie Devlyn’s fleece almost drags the ground by March. The locks have a very defined structure with a wavy crimp.
While you might wonder ‘why try’ this coarse wool, here is what I have found. The wool is very easy to wash, often I find a bit of silver threaded through the entire fleece, sometimes only spots. Locks are easily separated for use in doll hair, primitive Santa beards and embellishing.
If you blend a small amount of fiber into softer wool it creates durable sock yarn for the entire sock, or just heels. They are comfy and you do not have to darn them often. Knitting or crochet projects may find the wool in hats, mittens and outerwear items.
The fiber takes dye like a champ, but maintains a mind of its own, at times resulting in slightly secretive to very creative variegations in color. It is an adventure to rinse out the dye pots. It cards easily into batts or roving.
It is also an easy felting fiber. Again, durable, stylish when used for trim or entire projects. One of the first projects I created after meeting these lovely sheep was a knit then wet felted tote. The fiber felted quickly and I still carry the tote bag with knitting stashed inside- it looks like it was just felted last week. I have also enjoyed using this wool as a needle felting embellishment.
Weaving is another fantastic use, I have not tried it out yet but history indicates enough bounce in the wool to avoid path wear or wear under heavy furniture. I intend to try this out soon, maybe with a bulky bulky single ply- I cannot wait! (Just have to get that loom warped up- my patience needs more work!)
Customers who have tried this wool have given satisfied feedback for all uses mentioned above. They added that when spun into a fine yarn, it has many of the same characteristics of linen (flax) fiber and softens with use/wear.
Over the years part of the Phillipson flock has made its way to a very historical setting in nearby Milwaukee- roaming a golf course designed after the rugged terrain of Ireland. Whistling Straits will host the 2010 PGA Championship in August. You can be sure the Phillipson sheep will be wowing golfers and keeping tabs on their scores- from afar.
Maybe you will wait to try this fiber or file info away for a future time. Add it to your fiber bucket list, try something new and get to know a Scottish Black Face sheep. For more extensive information about Scotties please visit our friends at http://littledalefarm.com and lots of info and pictures can be found at http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/sheep
Read about the Kohler/Whistling Straights Scotties here http://www.golfti.com/kohler/irish/
My favorite part of shearing day is the joy of a newly sheared sheep. The look on their faces as they step off the shearing floor is so priceless. Imagine being 15 to 20 pounds lighter in an instant. They seem to forget how to walk then take off bouncing and hopping like lambs to join their friends at the ‘salad bar’ for breakfast.
There are many viewpoints about whether sheep should be sheared- is it humane? We believe there are many reasons to shear sheep besides being able to work with their beautiful fleeces. Sheared sheep are less prone to health problems such as fly strike, wool blindness and other equally distressing issues that a sheep should not have to endure. Imagine not washing or combing your own hair for over a year- that alone makes me glad they get that haircut!
Our sheep’s shearing day comfort is our utmost concern and there are many things that contribute to the calmness of shearing day.
Since sheep do like to be sneaky little stinkers, having the sheep locked up in the barn the night before is crucial. Otherwise you can be assured of day at the races with too much time convincing them to go inside. That is not great for keeping any of the sheeps’ people from pulling their own hair out. (Wouldn’t it be nice though if we COULD shave and lose a quick 15 pounds or so?)
The sheep spend the night inside and while we do offer them water, they are not fed hay or grain that night. Shearing is not very comfortable if they have a big meal before hand. As soon as they have a haircut, they happily head out for a breakfast salad.
The most important part of shearing day is an excellent shearer who is kind to our sheep and takes his time. He shows up early in the morning clippers in hand, ready for another big day. The shearing floor (several sheets of thick plywood that is not too slick) is set up just outside the sheep’s gate in the barn. One sheep at a time is carefully handed out to the shearer and the next sheep waits inside.
The actual shearing is over quickly. The sheep is gently set on its hinder, cradled by the shearer and the clippers start to hum. Our sheep are used to shearing so are very calm, allowing shearing to be completed in less than 5 minutes. A young sheep may not be so happy to be sheared. They tend to struggle but a good shearer takes the extra time to create a good experience for the sheep.
The sheep is then handed to my hubby. He holds the sheep while I administer vaccines, wormer and check feet and horns to be sure they are trimmed properly.
Another big job on shearing day is scooping up fleeces. The wonderful piles of wooly fluff are picked up after discarding very dirty wool, belly and neck wool. The fleece is marked with the sheeps’ name and stored in an unclosed bag, allowing the fleece to ‘breathe’ until it is sorted completely.
Our day begins very early and is wrapped up early evening. We take a break around noon for a good lunch. We only see our shearer in the spring so we have lots to catch up on. His travels are fascinating and we learn a lot about sheep from him.
This is shearing day at our farm. Just as there are many sheep farms, there are just as many ways to handle a shearing day. What works for one farm may not work for another, but the basics are the same.
Now our sheep are ready for another summer spent happily grazing their days away – until next year when we gather them up and shear their beautiful fleeces all over again.
Jim & Sandy Ryan operate Homested Wool & Gift Farm located in Wisconsin.
Their slogan: “Animal friendly wool?? You bet!”. You can find their wool, yarn and other items on Etsy.
My fifth birthday was quickly approaching. He kept calling them “knitting needles.” Some were brown and tan. Others, gray, black and very long. But the only needles I knew were the ones from the Dr.’s office which hurt.
Ah, Grandpap was my hero! What fond memories I have. My family called me a toe-head who was energetic, highly motivated and self-driven. For several years, I had watched Grandpap sit by the hour and move those hands so fast using roving and yarn from the sheep he raised on the farm. Being the eager little kid who always was curious and wanting to learn new things, I begged him to teach me to knit. It was one of those eye opening moments. He looked at me and just smiled in delight.
He grew up in Germany where all the boys and girls in elementary school were taught to knit as part of the normal curriculum. “Well,” he said. “I learned to knit when I was a boy so there’s no reason you shouldn’t learn how to do it too. It’s something that’ll help you and that you can do for the rest of your life. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. So, let’s go do some whittling!”
At the time, I obviously didn’t get the full gist of what he was saying — five year olds aren’t fully aware of stereotypes. I just knew Grandpap could do no wrong in my eyes. If he taught me how to milk cows, ‘slop’ the pigs, herd sheep, gather eggs and pull weeds, then knitting was no different.
Whittling? It all started to make sense. Grandpap whittled a lot. But Grandma said I was too young to be playing with a knife. I have vague memories of watching him whittle but never paid too much attention to it. Wow! When he said, “Let’s go do some whittling,” it all clicked!!!! All that time he was making his own wooden knitting needles. Not from dowels, but from wood, sticks, branches, etc. I still have that vivid image of us going to look for some wood to make me my own pair of knitting needles. He said he would have to make them bigger than his so that I could learn better. Since, I wanted to have the same ones which he had, I threw a little temper tantrum…..yuk! He was so loving and patient. “You’ll understand some day but it’ll be harder for you to wrap that sheep hair around the needle if it is too small.” And right he was!
Initially, Grandpap taught me to knit using the “throw” or English technique with very large needles in order to learn the mechanics and physics of knitting. Shortly, thereafter, I switched to Continental knitting so I could go “as fast as he could.” I remember the thrill of staying up late night after night practicing the long tail cast on for hours. I now laugh whenever I think of how frayed that precious yarn became after unraveling for the 10th time.
Funny. I could relate to “sheep hair” as a kid. Roving and wool as more abstract terms came later. I had watched Grandma clean, card and spin the ‘sheep hair’ many times but it wasn’t all that exciting to me as a kid. Now I long for those peaceful, loving moments spent with two wonderful people. Working with nature. Watching the lambs grow to adulthood. Shearing. Preparing the wool. Then using it to complete a garment to wear.
Fifty six years later I am still passionately knitting every day. I’ve weathered through some of those awkward years of being teased as a young man knitting. That stopped rather quickly after the bullies learned that I could do other “guy” things. Eventually, some of them asked me to teach them. Be true to yourself!
I’ve gone through the gamut of knitting throughout the years. Except for lace. Over the past several months, I’ve finally decided to go for it. Now I’m addicted to it. I didn’t know any better when I learned to knit and ended up cutting my own hair and trying to spin it. Guess I just figured that if it can be done with sheep hair then any hair will do! Sadly, though, I must say that after repeated attempts at learning to spin, I have never been able to do it. And it bugs me trying to figure out why! It looks so simple and smooth. Grandpap used to say, “Now just don’t worry about it. God will give you other gifts down the road.” How right he was.
It feels like Elizabeth Zimmerman and I were brother and sister. Having said that, “Knit on!”
What’s so addictive about yarn? Everything – With so many choices and uses, it’s the perfect collectible.
Yarns today are being made from so many fibers-natural and synthetic. Natural fibers include sheep, llama, goats, buffalo, alpaca, angora, musk ox, possum, cotton, silk, corn, soy, bamboo, and milk fibers.
Our yarn supply is a truly global economy: Italy, Australia, South America, Turkey, China, USA. Many US distributors work with small cooperatives in developing countries helping regions to become self-sustaining.
Today’s synthetic fibers like modal, viscose, tencel, courtelle, nylon, and acrylic are spun using high tech spinning equipment to produce yarns far removed from the acrylic yarns of the 50’s and 60’s. Many acrylics feel like natural fibers and are wonderful to knit with.
Hand spinners are turning out artful yarns in small quantities and hand dyers produce rich, deep or delicate colors using many natural fibers as their canvas.
You can knit, crochet, weave, felt, embellish and craft with yarns. You can put them in a basket like a bouquet of flowers and just admire them.
Yarns are spun finer than human hair and as thick as your finger. Yarns can be a single strand or ply and many plies twisted together. Sometime they are even constructed of plies of plies twisted clockwise and counterclockwise (for a Z twist or an S twist). Some are smooth while others are highly textured.
You can make a collection of yarn from a particular designer, fiber, color, gauge, or even collect yarns as a souvenir from your travels. You can swap yarn like trading cards, buy on ebay and yard sales or make donations to worthy causes.
People buy yarn who have no earthly idea what they are going to do with it, some don’t even knit or crochet. They are seduced by the color, the feel. It might remind them of a place or a person. The texture might be soothing and calming to the touch. The colors may brighten your spirits. You just know that if you don’t buy this yarn, it may not be there the next visit. That if you don’t buy this yarn, you will think about it for days. That life is full of regrets and this shouldn’t be one of them.