Firstly, I am acutely aware that most of this Blog will read to my pals as if I’m teaching them to suck eggs – it will appear to many as pretentious and give an inflated sense of my limited knowledge – shamelessly gleaned from Internet sources as I don’t keep sheep myself – yet……to these generous and lovely people I apologise in advance – xx
Truth is, I started my work with fleece having little knowledge of the fibre I was working with or exactly just what an amazing textile it really is. I didn’t know much about the qualities of wool or what you could coax it to achieve but I knew I loved the tactile feel of it – even in it’s raw state with flecks of lanolin (and worse) hiding in the curls.
I was shamed when talking to my friends – farmers, smallholders, spinners, dyers, other felters who had a real in-depth knowledge of micron counts, scaling, crimp etc and I decided to educate myself – still a long way to go though….
These are a few of my musings for others who are novices like me in the finer points of what exactly fleece/wool is and what it can be persuaded to do.
When we talk about wool we usually think of the sheared coat of a sheep but I’ve since discovered that wool can be sheared from other animals such as cashmere (goats), alpaca, mohair (Angora goat) and angora (rabbit)…..some of these are too fine to be used alone but can be combined with a firmer fibre like wool to produce a fine, delicate yarn.
One of the ways to label wool is to gauge the micron count which measures the diameter of the fibre – lower microns indicate a finer fibre – I prefer to make the body of my pieces with native Breeds with a high micron count to produce a stiffer piece capable of being free-standing and I will use finer ‘tops’ such as Merino for the embellishment.
Wool has been used since at least 6000BC with evidence of selective breeding to produce woollier rather than hairy sheep in Iran. The oldest known European wool textile ca. 1500 BC was discovered well preserved in a Danish bog. In the 12th century the exportation of raw fleece was one of Britain’s biggest industries along with the weaving of fine wool cloth.
There are over 30 million sheep in the UK alone and 90,000 wool producers managing over 40 million kg of wool annually. There is an excellent potted history of wool here
Even today wool is used for an amazing array of purposes – from wall insulation to the inner wear for astronauts. It is durable, showerproof, relatively stainproof, warm, flexibe, elastic – and, for novices like me, a forgiving way to produce little pieces capable of attracting attention……..
What’s not to love……..xx
Here are a couple of experienced woolly ladies:-