Can anyone stand another post regarding my fibre obsessions?
Connor came down this weekend, and we went to the textile festival at Lang Pioneer Village out in Keene. The cornerstone event was the opening of the new weaving centre, but there were lots of other things going on as well, not the least of which was – sheep shearing.
Not only did I watch Ms. Geraldine Heffernan shear one sheep, I hung around for two hours for the next show so I could watch her do another.
She was – awesome. She’s not so very tall, and has lovely curly sheepy hair herself. She has a scottish accent and flashes gold teeth when she talks, and is altogether charming. Her son Fred shears with her. They work as a pair, because the clippers they were using at the village are powered by a hand crank. They have electric clippers as well, but the hand clippers allow them to go more places. She sometimes shears on Amish farms.
She has her own farm, and says shearing is just her “hobby-job”. It took about three minutes to shear a 150 lb. sheep, and she said she slows it down when she’s showing people, normally it takes about a minute and a half. Amazing!
The sheep she had on hand were Suffolk and the fleeces are mostly used for carpets. It’s not a soft, next-to-the-skin fleece. She asked all of the audience to take some if they wanted, so I picked a handful of both the white and the dark. About five or six pounds of wool come off a sheep, and they’re normally shorn once a year. They looked so much more comfortable afterwards! They’re shorn for health reasons, regardless of the quality of fleece, because the wool just continues to grow, and mat, and collect debris and vermin if they’re just left to their own devices. It was a hot day, and I was feeling it myself, and I’m not covered in fuzz (well, mostly). After shearing, the naked sheep has a greasy feeling, from the lanolin in the wool. Fred said that he also works construction, and because the lanolin makes his hands so soft, he gets a lot of blisters.
It took five or six washings until the water began running clear – quite a nasty proposition! I’d never want to do a whole fleece, and certainly wouldn’t ever try to do one inside – that would definitely be an outdoor job. There was quite a lot of straw and other vegetation in the fleece, together with – well – you know…poo. It carded up quite nicely though (well, the white nicer than the dark, for some reason) and I spun it up this morning.
Holding the tiny skeins of yarn in my hand, I’m amazed that this was on a sheep just yesterday. It’s magical, it is, a real connection with our past.
Next, I’d like to try dying with natural dyes. They had many skeins spun and dyed on the premises on display. I was “fleeced” for seven dollars for the Village’s booklet on the subject. The range of colours is dazzling. I want to be a Rainbow Sparkle Pioneer, please. I always think of them as being drab, greyish people, but I think life was more colourful than that!
Certainly the greens and clear blue sky made for a perfect day. There were a couple of small stages, both with musicians playing the old music on the old instruments. Nothing – nothing – is better than sitting under a shady tree watching little girls twirling and dancing to fiddle music on a sunny day. Nothing.