A sheep farmer in Wiltshire left a message for me here, and when I contacted her privately, she gave me a bit more info about the sheep she raises. I hope we can continue our correspondence because I would love to know more specifics about her own sheep and the situation in the UK in general. It made my day be able to contact her!
The sheep on Margaret’s farm are related to the Wiltshire Horn breed which she told me are natural shedders. Her flock have been crossed now to shed more so that they don’t need to be sheared.
This is such a revelation to me. The earliest sheep were shedders. Women learned to spin wool by collecting the bits of discarded wool that might cling to things where the sheep had grazed. Fast forward many, many millennia to a time still in the distant past, where humans have been breeding sheep NOT to shed, to have many different kinds of fibers to be used by humans for many different products. Now look where we’ve gone–back to wanting sheep that lose their fleeces naturally. Margaret said that shearing her flock would cost three times what the fleece would bring at market. She also said that the cross she raises has coarse fibers which work well in the climate of Wiltshire. That surprised me. I can’t imagine a climate much worse than the remote islands off the coast of Scotland, where those sheep (Shetland and Ronaldsay come to mind) have wonderfully soft fibers for cold weather. There’s a lot to this that I clearly don’t understand. Margaret also told me that this fall has been exceptionally wet in her part of the world–cold and wet. Her sheep need their coarse coats in order to stay dry and warm. I am fascinated by this. If I learn more I’ll share it.
Meanwhile, if you want to read a bit about this history of Wiltshire Horn sheep, you can look here. I didn’t see anything about shearing vs. shedding there, but I intend to keep searching. I found that I could buy a little Wiltshire Horn stuffed sheep here. Tempting.
Meanwhile, my weaving feels like it is moving at a snail’s pace. On the bright side, just a few minutes ago I finally cut off 6 yards of cotton and linen blend fabric that is going to become six towels. The woven structure is in Carol Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of Eight-Shaft Patterns. It’s #314. I used Jane Stafford’s cotton boucle for the warp and much of the weft. By the time I was truly bored with weaving, and my color options of the cotton boucle were dwindling, I switched to weaving with Gist’s cotton/linen called “Duet.” Maybe I was just so bored with the boucle, but the Duet cotton/linen seems a better look to me. I will keep that towel for myself. I don’t really know why I wove all of these! I don’t know anyone who has a kitchen that calls for out the colors I chose.
I was deeply in need of weaving when I returned home from a long winter away, locked down for months in foreign countries and feeling very much an outsider–an outsider not wanted due to the fear of pandemic we might bring to the small islands we visit each year on our sailboat. When I got home I couldn’t wait to just mindlessly sit at my small loom and weave. I wove off the napkin warp that did not get finished before leaving on the long voyage last November. Then I wove two linen warps dyed with indigo for waffle weave face cloths. Then came the warp for nine (yikes! nine!) kitchen towels with JST cotton boucle. Who will want these somewhat odd colored towels? I’ll keep two, but that leaves another four! Ah well, I needed to make them for sanity, for therapy. Now I can move on.
Next on my list is a variation of the popular turned taquete circles that Sue Poague developed and showcased in Handwoven in one of the issues from 2019. I actually bought a set of placemats from her because I was so intrigued with this weave structure and yet would not be home to weave any for myself. They cheered me up every night at dinner on our boat while we were in far away places. Back home I wanted to plan a blanket for my older granddaughter in this structure, but I wanted the circles to be bigger. I have a larger loom with 16 shafts, so I started trying to expand the pattern to more harnesses. I think I have it sorted and hope to start winding the warp soon. I’ll share the pattern when I can determine that it weaves well. I’ve bought a large selection of 6/2 cotton in eight colors so the threads will be thicker for blanket weight. I’m excited to get started! I have spent more time than I care to admit on color arrangement. I have seven colors for the circles, and the background warp and all the weft will be a medium grey. I need 19 color stripes across my warp and I’m having a devil of time arranging them in what I hope will be a pleasing order. Ugh! Isn’t it the smallest details that cause the greatest delays? I’ve taken multiple photos on my phone of color arrangements, and then I’ve edited those photos to be black and white so I can assess the values of the circles going across the warp. I’m not happy yet.
Looks like summer, right? I now use these when eat outside at home. Well, I hope my blanket will look as pretty as these placemats. I’d better get to making that warp!