Kilvaree Croft Ewes

Explorations in Fiber and Weaving History

A few years ago I took a Weavers' Guild of Boston workshop on the rare breed sheep of Britain. I was enchanted and, for the assigned project I made an exhaustive internet search for sources of different breeds. One breed I sought was Soay and their history. In the mid 1900's Britain awoke to the fact that some of their breeds were disappearing and did a census, identifying rare and endangered breeds. Among them was the Soay, remaining in a ferral state on a tiny island in the St Kilda group off the west Scottish coast. This tough, primative breed has molting coats that do not need shearing. The story of their tenacious survival is haunting; many breeds have not made it. The photo above is from a video on Kilvaree Croft. Visit the site and also look at their prehistoric reproduction iron age vases and bowls - spare and beautiful.  For more information:  |
Shawl wraps Gleason Library raven on a winter's day

Rare Breed Sheep Study

The rare breed sheep workshop alluded to above, given by Margaret Russell, required weaving an article in the yarn of a rare British breed.  I chose a blend Teeswater and Wensleydale, both rated "next-to-skin." A vigorous fulling is needed to make this wool that soft.  I elected to full lightly to keep the original character of the wool while still producing a garment that is comfortable over a shirt.  The accent yarn is burgundy-dyed Gotland.  The weave is Crystal, i.e., Dornick Twill diamonds. 

The photo below is of scoured and conditioned skeins drying.  The wool lightened to white touched faintly with gold, crimpy and lusterous.  The resulting shawl has almost the drape and movement of linen.

Teeswater Skeins Drying

From the Mountain, Cashmere Yarn

This Chapel Hill, NC, based organization sources unique, handmade, fair trade goods from around the world. Once upon a time, they recruited Afghan women to spin cashmere yarn from their goats. They used labor-intensive drop spindles. With this skill, the women supported themselves and their children. The two ply yarns came in four natural colors and three weights.

The spinning project was facilitated by a USAID project to teach men and women goat herders to comb the under coat from the animal yielding the coveted soft fiber, without expensive de-hairing equipment. Previously they sheared the coats and lived with coarse hairs mixed with the fine.

In 2018 the Taliban took control of the access road for the spinners. In 2021, the US has withdrawn entirely. FTM hopes for peace sometime in the future.

Two very plush, warm, scarves