Starting out the new year was all about sheep shearing for me. Could there be a better start to a new year?!
It started on a moderately cold Friday morning a few weeks ago on my friend’s farm Dream Valley in rural Strum, Wisconsin. The farm has dairy ewes who are ready for lambing and need to be shorn close to January before they’re moved indoors for milking.
It was the first time I had ever been to a full-on sheep shearing. I started at the vaccination and de-lousing end, but as soon as we had some good fleeces coming off of the sheep, I moved over to the skirting table. When the sheep are shorn, some of the fleece that is of a smaller staple and dirtier is collected together and piled into large bags. The best fleeces are kept whole and transferred to the skirting table.
At the skirting table, the fleece is picked over for large vegetable matter, any heavily matted areas, and really dirty areas from the neck and underside. Getting to touch and smell the freshly shorn, lanolin-laden fleece was so cool for me. Seeing the staple length, the crimp, the changes of color, the sun-bleaching effects… it all gave me a new sense of and appreciation for wool. I only went home with about ten pounds of fleece (one dark and one light) which I sent off to the local mill for them to clean and card into roving. Once upon a time, I had ordered a pound of raw fleece online and cleaned and carded it at home… but living in an apartment with no large “work” sink, made the whole process less than pleasurable. So I was relieved and happy to send it off to the mill.
Just this week the shearing continued as I tuned into the 101st Pennsylvania Farm Show. We used to head there as a family when I was younger and a few times as an adult and the last time I reveled in the Alpaca showcase and sitting in at the renowned Sheep-to-Shawl competition. I’ll put some pictures here of the competition from a couple years ago.
This year I had to buy a subscription to the Pennsylvania Cable Network and watch the show from the comfort of my Wisconsin living room. The Sheep-to-Shawl competition lasts about 3 hours and each team has to shear, card, spin, ply, and weave fiber into a large shawl. Most teams come up with a theme, some this year decided on costumes and team outfits, and weave a shawl on a loom in that theme.
It’s so exciting to see the whole process from sheep to shawl… and then on to the auction of the shawls. The grand champion this year – taking its inspiration from the colors of microbrew beer – brought in over $2000 at the auction. It was a stunning shawl, as was the reserve champion in a complicated stitch patterned after the feathers of Canadian geese. Here’s some video of one of the teams and some pictures of this year's competition. If you're able to ever go to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, I definitely recommend it... plus they have a duckling pool... I mean, right?!
I’m becoming very interested in learning more about wool and types of wool. A while ago, the Knit Girllls had worked through a book on fiber and tried to spin through each of the fibers. I’m not sure if they used the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook or the Field Guide but it was tagged as "Expand Your Horizons" assigning a different fiber each month. At the time, it struck me as really interesting and I’m thinking of doing something similar – exposing myself to a variety of fibers and fiber sources and seeing what I learn!