In which we explore all things Magical and Woolly
Ah, the wonders and delights of WOOL. Where has this marvelous fiber been all my life? For decades I’d had the impression “Wool” was just a sweater from Macy’s. Slightly scratchy. Warm outer wear. Serviceable stuff.
What I didn’t know all those years is that WOOL is can be MAGICAL! It can be astonishing and luxuriously soft. It comes in a vast range of colors and textures, and it is far more fun to work with the wool off the sheep than to limit one’s self to the mere wearing of sweaters.
What if you were given a few dozen baggies of clean wool, in white / gray / brown / black and shades in between? What if you could rummage thru the variety of wool locks to discover enchanting textures like cotton ball puffs / long shiny ringlets / darling tiny curls / or zig zag crimps? What if you could dye this lovely wool into glorious color? Learn to wash / comb / dye / spin / felt or knit all this wool into anything you cared to create?
What if you learned a sheep isn’t just a generic white blob in a field. No, sheep are astonishingly varied in appearance: petite Shetland sheep you could almost carry underarm, to sturdy huge Oxford Down sheep – looking big enough to saddle. Sheep colors, features & names are all fascinating: from black & white polka dot Jacob sheep – with their unlikely 4 horns (sometimes 6!) to the regal Wensleydale and it’s coat of incredibly long ringlet locks! Or how about Zwartbles? Or Welsh Mountain Badger Face? Terrific names & handsome animals! These sheep are subject of entire portrait books (Beautiful Sheep) or books entirely about their wool (Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook).
Until recent years, I hadn’t known these marvels existed. A proverbial suburban gal, I’d not been near a farm. Hadn’t a clue the wonderful fiber world existing just outside my own front door. How I now envy those who discover this wooly magic far earlier in Life.
However, I have arrived, and better late than never. My life is now blessed by the introduction of Wool, and all the varied forms of magic it subsequently brought to my daily existence.
Some fault must be laid at the feet of Yarn producers, who most of my life supplied craft stores with junky yarn. The choices were acrylic or “Wool.” I have read that for generations, wool was gathered from many sources and pooled together into a conglomeration processed at the Mills, spitting out sweaters, or wool yarn for knitters. I never much cared for that early form of sturdy, scratchy wool yarn. Nowadays, I can obtain many types of enchanting wool yarn, or better still, spin my own: Merino / Romney / Coopworth / Border Leicester / Corriedale, to name a few.
In more recent years a change took place wherein WOOL was increasingly identified by it’s original source – the particular breed of sheep – and was newly appreciated for the attributes of that breeds fleece. Was it cottony soft Merino? A strong durable English Leicester? Did it have long, glossy ringlets – from a Wensleydale? Or darling tiny curliques from a Blueface Leicester? At fiber festivals across the U.S, breeders and artisans offered up gorgeous fleece from their sheep. Or dreamy soft mill-prepared fiber ready to dye, spin or felt. Or, finished yarn, either processed or oftentimes…..gloriously unique Hand-Spun yarn.
Introduce YOURSELF to Wool: ~or~ How did I discover the Magical World of Wool?
I attended a local Fiber Festival, just for kicks. The newspaper ad described alpaca, Llama, sheep & goats in the festival’s barn & I went to see them. Look up Fiber Festivals in your area, and spend a day wandering amongst the booths, chatting with the vendors. If possible, check out the barn first, to get a look at the very animals who are the source of lovely wool or other fibers. You can talk to the breeders, sometimes pet the animals , handle fiber samples. Learn what artists are doing with this astonishingly varied abundance of animal fleece and fibers.
Walking amidst the numerous vendor booths across the lawn, I understood the colorful yarn, but thought the bundles of brightly dyed fiber were surely for felting. After all, the bookstores were then stocking books for this increasingly popular craft.
Next, I was stopped in my tracks when I spied a spinning wheel.…in person…..right there…in action. I’d only ever seen a spinning wheel in drawings. Never. Again, WHERE had this magic been hiding all my life? Where does one go to find a spinning wheel? I was full of questions. I not only was rewarded with a multitude of answers, I was also instantly invited to join a local Spinning Guild AND was given loads of information about sources for obtaining the drop spindles / spinning wheels / and wool ~or OTHER fiber~ to spin.
I’ll caution you now: Beware of Spinners. They passionately love their craft. When asked questions, they’ll nearly tie you to a chair in order to inflict knowledge upon you. I know….I am now one of those avid spinners! It was short journey between witnessing the magic, and haunting Craigslist for an affordable used spinning wheel. And, now that I am a contented spinner, was this the end of the journey? Heavens no! There was much Magic to follow on the heels of the initial discovery.
The Magical World of Wool ~ and other fiber ~ has more chapters! (to be continued)
Lesson learned: Once in awhile……Just Get Out of the House. I went to a Fiber Festival. The World contains magic and IF you venture forth, the magic ~whatever it be~ may just find you.
I enjoyed reading your blog, and love this post. I came to wool from the ground up – I raise it! I love keeping sheep and that end of it is where my passion has always been (raising animals). Though I knitted as a youngster, I’ve never been that into wool crafts. Like you, I only remember the scratchy sweaters and cheap acrylic wool of various craft stores. Now that I have three shearings worth of fleeces in my garage and loft (most are in raw condition) and see how gorgeous it is, I need to get busy with using it. My inclination is to felt (not sure I have the patience to spin, then knit) and I look forward to seeing your creations at NW Fiber Fest in two weeks (only a dozen miles away, to add to the treat!) for inspiration.
Thank you! And I’ve long meant to return to that post to add photos. I just keep stalling because I’m always prepping for the next show. However, I’ve got photos of various locks of wool that I’d like to insert in the post. There is such abundant variety it’s worthy of an entire book: The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook.
Cottony puffs of downy wools: Columbia, Merino, Cormo, etc. Some with great names like Rouge de l’Quest.
Sturdy longwools in rippled locks: Lincoln, Border Leicester, etc
Soft wavy locks of: Perendale, Coopworth….
Color variety of: Shetland or Jacob…
Glossy curls of: Cotswold…
…I could go on & on & on. Wool is a fascinating subject, and all the more so with each type of fleece I’ve obtained. Most recently it’s the Teeswater fleece I used to create a large needle felted sculpture. And Gotland: lustrous soft gray that I’m aching to spin so I can knit it into something for my daughter.
You’ll surely LOVE felting! It’s endlessly malleable because wet-felting can be flat or 3-dimensional. Or the “dry method” of needle-felting can add details to your wet felted project, or be used itself to create sculptures. As with my Teeswater sheep ~ you can combine the two methods. If you stop by my booth, I’m sure we’ll have a great time talking all things wooly.
Do tell~ what type of sheep do you raise?
Most recently I received glorious fairylike locks of
Finally replying here! I raise Shetland sheep – two grays, a black, and 3 moorit (brown), and also have three Black Welsh Mountain wethers. I do want to add a Finnsheep to the flock, too. I still haven’t had time to felt, but am hoping to have some extra time over Thanksgiving weekend. I love the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook too – so many sheep, so little room! 🙂