Archive for the ‘Sheep’ Category

Wovember 2nd – Merino

November 2, 2011

What’s Wovember? Look here.

By far the most common knitting wool in use today, merino was not always so accessible. Sheep originate from Asia Minor and parts of Europe, but the ancient Phoenicians, in their role as importers and exporters, introduced them to the North African region, and from there they were imported to Spain, Wikipedia suggests as late as the 12th century. Compare this to England, where sheep were introduced by Neolithic settlers around 4000 B.C.E.

Superwash merino dyed by Sundara Yarns

Spain made up for lost time, though, by breeding a fine wool sheep. The Spanish imported English sheep to improve the quality of their stock and between the 12th and 16th centuries they became major wool exporters. The new breed, Merino, had a small body and soft, fine wool with a short staple. The flocks were owned primarily by powerful land owners in Castile who formed a guild known as Honrado Concejo de la Mesta. They formed agreements to allow the nomadic sheep right of way along Cañadas Reales (drover’s roads) still legally protected for sheep to this day, though the laws are no longer strictly followed. Some of the older cañadas may be neolithic in origin, following the paths laid out by migratory herd animals. Sheep can graze in areas too unstable for arable farming, so the sheep moved freely through the no man’s land between Islamic and Christian Spain, moving with the seasons, and making the members of the Mesta, who included many Spanish nobles and Church officials, rich. Members of the Mesta were exempted from military service. Exportation of their precious Merino sheep was punishable by death. Their power and wealth grew and wool money financed much of the Castilian economy. With only Spain and England as the only European wool exporters, it seemed like the wealth was only going to continue growing.

Single ply merino, dyed by Malabrigo Yarns.

Habsburg Spain, however, had become overdependent on the wool money of Castile. The Mesta’s power was too great, the sheep too cossetted. The powerful Mesta began to ignore the cañadas, allowing their sheep to trample farmland without fear of repercussion. The land of Castile became barren. Crops failed, and grain had to be brought in from outside the region at great expense. The price of food staples skyrocketed. The economy was in trouble for other reasons as well. Near constant wars fought largely on credit had brought Spain into difficult straits at a time when it was still recovering from plagues and famines of the previous centuries.

In the 18th century, Spain relaxed its hold on the merino and began exporting small numbers of live sheep to other countries. The first major exportation, though, would come in 1765, when a large number of sheep from the Royal Escurial flock were sent to Saxony. In 1786, King Louis XVI purchased more than three hundred Spanish Merinos, the foundation of what would become the Rambouillet breed, which would in turn be the basis for the Australian Merino. Merinos have served as the basis and backbone for many sheep breeds around the world since they became available as breeding stock. The world at large gained access to the Merino sheep after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, during which time many flocks were killed or destroyed by the invading army.

Undyed Rambouillet yarn, from The Sincere Sheep.

Today, the sheep that once was a protected state valuable is now the most common in the world. Almost all finewool breeds today are at least in part Merino. There are worries that a preference for merino wool may be endangering some of the more rough coated sheep, as the fall prices of wool in favor of synthetic fabrics have made the wool industry a costly and losing business proposition for many sheep producers.

Extreme close up of superwash merino yarn, dyed by Little Red Bicycle.

(Note: Most information in the above post was obtained through specific web searches for information. I did try to find more than one source for much of the above, but there may be inaccuracies. Please let me know if I’m wrong in any specifics.)

What is what

April 16, 2010

Something is blocking.

I think I may need to do something with the button bands.  I’m trying not to be hyper critical of myself, but I’m not the best at picking up stitches, and I think it looks a little odd in parts.  We’ll see what happens when it’s dry!  The buttons, however, make me want to sing.  (And I have seven left, so hooray for red buttony goodness!)  I had imagined wooden buttons at first, but now I feel like I should have known that red was best.  Now to name it.  It looks a bit like blue ice, but who knows!

Another thingy: do you remember the too-big sweater coat I made ages ago?  And then felted to death?  I’ve hung on to the sad remains ever since, hoping to find a purpose for them.  And today I finally found that purpose.  Keep in mind before you look at the picture that I am not a very good seamstress.  And keep in mind that I took a perfectly excellent tutorial and tried to make it in a rather different way because I didn’t have the materials called for.  So with all that in mind, check out this sheep pillow!

I used this tutorial, which, if followed using flat wool felt and not crazy thick felted sweater that makes your sewing machine cry real tears, will result in the most adorable sheepy pillow ever in the history of sheep pillows.  Eleanor’s birthday is Sunday and Eleanor’s headboard has a lamb on it, so this pillow seemed like a fab idea.  Of course, that was before I made the sewing machine cry.  “E1!” it screamed, “E6!  Don’t make me do this!”  (The E’s are error messages.  Since I never seem to know where the English manual for the machine is, these little cries in the dark leave me worried, but mostly perplexed.)

Other random stuff to know:

I joined Twitter.  I don’t get it, and most of my (I am NOT going to use their cutesy little lingo) posts are just random stuff I’ve thought of, but there will be occasional knitting content.  If you have Twitter, and you think you’d like to see more of the contents of my brain, you can follow me here.  KnittingKninja was taken, so I’m KHanleyCardozo.  Hanley Cardozo, by the way, does not fit in their surname box, so I’m Kristen Hanley on there.  My name is too much for Twitter.  Too much for a lot of people, if I’m honest.  I did the double barreled surname when I got married, but since I did it without a hyphen, people constantly think that one name or the other is optional.  But yeah, I’m on there, and I feel old because it confuses me.  Doesn’t stop me from trying to use it, but I’m constantly bewildered.

Also, also, I am very, very bad at keeping content new and exciting in my Ravelry group.  I love participating in active forums, but I’m not good at being in charge of one.  If you’re someone who’s on Ravelry a lot, and who likes to be in charge of things, let me know if you’re interested in being a mod.  I’d be very happy to have some help!   On a similar note, I’m having a lot of trouble keeping up with the other group I started, Color Coordinated, and think it would be better led by someone who is not me.  I’d be happy to hand over the admin reins to anyone who thinks loves color and who is better at starting threads and keeping them active than I am.

If my speed picks up at all on pattern production, I may start a Facebook group as well.  However, since, as mentioned, I’m not very good at keeping content fresh and fun in a group setting, I’m putting this off as long as possible.


May 11, 2009

On April 26th, we went to Sheep Shearing Day at Ardenwood Historic Farm.

We arrived after the shearing itself was over, but still in time to see plenty of formerly woolly ruminants looking svelte and wary after their haircuts.  The sheep in this photo are keeping a close eye on the border collie crouched at the edge of the field.  She herded them all into a trailer for travel to another field shortly after I snapped a few pictures.

The Ardenwood sheep are a mix of breeds, and unfortunately, I didn’t write down which ones, though I think some are Corriedale.  Whatever the case, while there were some fleeces that were not as appealing, many were long staple with a heavy lanolin scent and a beautiful hand.

Ardenwood is run as a Victorian era California farm, with a working horse drawn railroad, a variety of animals, and crops in regular rotation.  It’s a lovely weekend destination for Bay Area families, and it was a real pleasure to go there again.  We hadn’t been in over a year, and it was nice to see so much going on.  The costumed park attendants were hard at work sorting, combing, carding, and spinning the wool, and the kids got right in on the action.

Gabriel found the looms fascinating and spent a little time learning to weave.  The little loom had a very simple cloth pattern on it, but there was a more complex one further down the table.

Liam and Eleanor were more excited by the carding, which was being done on a hand cranked machine.

In the barnyard, we arrived just in time to feed the newly shorn sheep.  While the adult animals looked a little eerie with their short cuts and alien eyes, the lambs were as charming as only lambs can be, and all were only too glad to accept handfuls of timothy and alfalfa from the children.  The Ardenwood staff make it clear that you are to drop the food where they can reach it, but several times an overzealous sheep pulled it from an outstretched hand before it was let drop.  Eleanor was accidentally kissed by a sheep and was made very happy by it.

All in all, it was a delightful day.  The weather was perfect, and the outdoors and the animals and the space and the children all conspired to make a perfect time out.  It was hard to ignore the fact of work, though, in this family outing.  While we missed the vigorous act of sheep shearing, the outspread fleeces and heaps of wool bespoke a long and arduous journey from sheep to cloth.  The woman I spoke to told me it would take the entirety of the coming year to spin all the wool.

Because Ardenwood is a living museum of times past, all this work is and will be done by hand.  And while for most of these days, handiwork is a luxury, for the Ardenwood staff it’s a job.  The woman I spoke to was a spinner.  She told me that she’d done it for pleasure for many years, but that working at Ardenwood had dulled her pleasure and that after she left, she’d actually given it up for a time.  She’d only returned to spinning after a break of several years, and only returned to the farm last year for the shearing.

This, to me, is an interesting part of the history of handiwork.  It’s a very enjoyable activity only when it’s not an intensive daily slog.  As a small child reading Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie, I remember being struck by how much Anne and Laura hated sewing, an activity that sounded interesting, fun, and relaxing to me.  But it wasn’t as though I had to sew a stitch if I didn’t want to.  Any sewing I did was unskilled and done solely for the pleasure of doing it.  Anne and Laura both achieved competence and even mastery in the craft, but neither enjoyed it because it was something they had to do even though they had no real interest in it.  This is much how I feel about vacuuming or cleaning the kitchen.  I might even enjoy the results of my labor, but the labor itself is not something I want to think about.

Ardenwood is beautiful this time of year, and for idle adventurers like me and mine, paying a small fee to go and harvest corn or card wool or feed livestock is a joy.  For others, it’s work.