Yarn & Fiber

The reaping blades sound click-click-click,
The first small sounds of twisting trip
From beast to wheel to purl and knit,
To blessed warmth and bulky fit.
Anon. – The Shearing

Sometime in late March or early April Jim McRae and his assistant Liz Willis arrive to shear the girls. Respect them for their physical prowess. One time the husband tried it. He managed to do about one-third of a sheep but it was about three days before he could stand up straight again. Shearing sheep is hard work.

To the sheep lady this is the time our little darlings donate their beautiful fleeces to her ministration. The husband’s job is to grab individual sheep and deliver them to the shearer. So for him this is the time he gets kicked, stepped on, thumped, slammed against the barn wall and jeered at by family and friends assembled to watch the show. The magic of shearing time depends a great deal on what point in the process one participates and how motivated the sheep are to impose ignominy on their tormentors.

Jim McRae, by the way, also trains border collies and gives demonstrations of the wonders his dogs perform in herding, moving and separating sheep at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival. He lives in Pittsford, Vermont.

Meet Gigi, who is a moorit. (There is a discussion of Shetland colors and their old English names elsewhere in this site.) Brought up in Massachusetts, she moved here several years ago and has a rather sweet disposition. This photo was taken in the Fall, when she had a good start on the fleece that would be harvested the following Spring.

The next step is called “skirting” the fleece. Here is Gigi’s fleece spread out on a fence-wire skirting table in the barn. We trim the manure tags around the lower sides of the fleece, pick out the major bits of hay, cut out the burdock (if any), and generally tidy it up. The photo, by the way, is taken from the haymow above looking down.

The skirted fleece is stored in a plastic bag until warmer weather arrives, then washed with detergent and multiple rinsings. And we mean multiple. Finally, fluffy and clean, it dries on the terrace while we worry that an odd gust of wind will come and whisk it away from us.

And so we arrive at last on the kitchen counter, the clump at left awaiting carding, the clump on the right already carded but set to be carded again before finally assuming the soft, cloudlike, pouffy delight that is Gigi’s roving.

Thank you, Gigi…

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