For several years now I have been busy getting to know other shepherds in the area and learning about why they don’t want their annual wool clips.
As a wool addict, I cannot fathom such a thing, but it’s true, there is more wool going to waste here in Central N.Y. that is being put to use and in my eyes, that is just ……wrong.
Most of you know that I also shepherd a flock of 25 registered, purebred Finnsheep, so it’s not like I ” need ” more wool, but the fact is – there is never enough.
I began both my weaving and hand spinning careers simultaneously, way back in the ’90s, and spun whatever came my way or I purchased, going with what was recommended or popular at the time.
When we left that life behind to move to a rural area of NY to raise sheep and follow my dream of creating handwoven textiles on period looms with period wheels, I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as ” breed specific” markets for wool and wool products.
Border Leicester, Icelandic, Corriedale, were the breeds I was familiar with spinning but what was being raised around me were; Clun, Dorset, Suffolk, Jacob, Hampshire, and crossbreds.
These breeds yield fleeces but they are generally disparaged by the embryo newbie 21st-century spinners because they are meat sheep and not Leicester Long Wools. Their loss.
What most don’t realize is along with other ” meat ” sheep breeds, they yield wonderful, lofty, strong, beautiful and resilient wool, useful for a myriad of textiles. Early on I realized this and decided to take advantage of it. My goal was to aid the shepherd in developing a market for their wool while benefitting from the wool myself as well, so I offered to process some of their clips if they gave me the wool, and make them a saleable product. They were game as was I and a friendship was born.
What I realized is, is that the life of a shepherd is busy enough without them having to manage and market their wool clips. Most were simply selling to the yearly wool pool for 20 cents per pound and considering themselves ahead of the game even though it cost them $5 a head to have a shearer come each year and shear the sheep.
The fleeces were awful at first. Loaded with VM, matted and filthy but as I explained over time how to maximize the useful parts of the fleece, they got better and better.
I processed the fleeces for a 50/50 split, they got 50 % and I got the same. At first, I sent the wool out to a mill. Organically raised wool, to an organic mill, non-organic to a regular mill. Spendy. Way. Way spendy. Then my mill decided to shut down and I was left to my own devices. Not finding a mill or arrangement I liked, I began processing hundreds of pounds of wool by hand, at home. Over 3 years, I learned a lot but stopped due to illness and arthritis that didn’t allow me to continue combing which was my preferred method. Yes, I have drum carders. 2 of them, but don’t like the results as much as I liked combing so…..I was at a fork in the road.
My vision has always been to use what was available, taking the raw material ( fleece ) and turning into a beautiful handwoven textile to be sold, but without a mill, I could a) weave using commercial yarn or b) find a mill and create a yarn. Being spendy, I put the mill on hold while I got the weaving off of the ground. This involved finding a place to set up the looms ( yes, 7 barn looms ) and wheels ( 20 or so ) so that I could educate, produce a product for income, and restore the tools as they came to me, for use in the weaving center.
Now it’s 18 months later, the weaving center is on its own 2 legs and I can divert some attention to the matter of wool processing.
My choice was to choose a full mill, not a mini-mill, and have a small batch of prototype yarn spun for the purpose of weaving period textiles of different types.
When I was on FaceBook I started a fundraiser to help with the expense and was generously donated $110 which helped pay the first $200 to drop of 10 pounds. It’s a start. I’ve opted to take things one-day-at-a-time. We drove 6 hours round trip to see the mill, meet with the owner, discuss my needs and concerns and return home – for 10 pounds of wool.
I wonder why I am compelled to go through all this trouble when a simple internet site can get me what I need for weaving with a fraction of the cost, but I will lose the ” locally -grown, slow textile ” nature of the sustainable, unwanted, cast-off, by-product of the ” meat ” sheep industry and my conscience simply won’t allow that.
And so, the wool project is underway. The fleece has been dropped off, the yarn has been chosen and we’ll see what the future holds.