Saturday, 16 June 2012

Fleece on the Hoof


Fleece on the Hoof – the ultimate in traceable wool 

On Sunday 10th June a group of spinners converged on a farm in Perthshire to choose the fleeces for their next projects – while they were still on the sheep!

This novel idea came about when Linda Maitland Gardner and her daughter Sarah learned to spin at one of my spinning workshops. The first part of the workshop focussed on choosing fleeces, sorting and preparing raw fleece for handspinning. It transpired that Linda and husband Colin have about 400 sheep on their farm, and we discussed ways in which their fleeces could be kept in the best possible condition for handspinning, and how spinners and farmers could connect to give wool its proper value.

So, fast forward through six months of planning and preparation, with a lot of help from family and friends, to Fleece on the Hoof Day at Culdees Farm,. The spinners came from Glasgow, Edinburgh and beyond, as well as more locally. We gathered in the morning to spin in the large stable building which had been cleared and cleaned for our use. Spinning wheels and spindles were soon in action.

 As well as the (essential) tea and cake, there were displays of handspun yarns and natural dyeing, a range of different types of fleece available locally and (very popular) some superb quality alpaca fibre, along with information on forthcoming workshops and examples of the Culdees fleeces (either unprocessed or cleaned and carded)  to try.

The wool is open, soft and springy with a good staple length – a real pleasure to spin. The morning passed happily in spinning together, chatting, meeting new and old friends and admiring each other’s work.

While we were tucking in to our packed lunches, Colin brought the carefully selected sheep into pens conveniently close to the stables. They were Texel cross gimmers – that is, young female sheep that have not yet had a lamb, for the un-initiated! Daddy is a Texel, the Mummies are Blue-faced Leicester crosses. Despite the overnight rain and drizzly morning they looked in fine shape. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we went over to the pens for the exciting business of choosing our Fleece on the Hoof.

Colin was kept very busy holding and tagging each sheep once a spinner chose it, while helpers noted the tag numbers against the spinner’s name to ensure that the right fleece would go to the right person. Many of us took photos of ‘our’ sheep, and tried to befriend them (with rather varied success!). So we can trace our wool, not just to the breed or the area, but to the individual sheep.

Shearing took place over the next few days (when the sheep were dry enough!!) - I really enjoyed helping to roll the warm, freshly shorn fleeces and then label them ready for collection.

 As we each spin our Culdees fleece I am sure we will all have unique memories of this most special and unusual day. I’m also sure there will be more exciting woolly events at Culdees, as Linda and Colin have proved themselves warm and generous hosts.

For more information on fleeces and fibres available contact: Linda Gardner (Strathearn Fleece & Fibre: website being developed shortly) e-mail strathearnfleeceandfibre@gmail.com

For more information on workshops on spinning, dyeing and felt-making, contact deborah.gray7@btinternet.com or look at the Workshops tab on my blog at www.perfectweatherforspinningandknitting.blogspot.com


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