Younger versions of myself (left) and Sue skirting fleece at Weatherlea Farm in Lovettesville, Virginia.
I remember when I could NOT keep straight in my mind the difference between woolen and worsted spun yarn. I don't think the explanations way back then were as good as they are now, but none-the-less, I bet I looked it up once every few months for ages. I also remember trying to learn different breeds of sheep and that wouldn’t stick in my memory either. It is just difficult to learn things deep down from words on a page unless you have something real to connect them to; an experience, feeling, memory or...touch.
Sue and I learned things deep down by starting Solitude Wool. Those photos were taken eons ago when we were just starting. We knew about our own sheep (I have Romneys and Sue has Karakuls), but at least for me, that knowledge was tenuous. I was quite insecure, not sure of what was good or average or bad. I remember sending my fleeces off to Ohio Valley Natural Fibers the first time to have them made into roving and asking in a letter if they were any good. I was afraid that they would be rejected. Kent Ferguson (sadly, now deceased) called me and said in his own cheerful way "there's nothing wrong with these fleeces" (that mild reassurance still didn't quite persuade me...).
I really really started to learn about wool and different breeds of sheep and how different their fleece is when we started visiting farms to buy wool, putting our hands on fleeces as they are sheared and then working with the wool to make yarns. The experiences seep in through your fingers, eyes and ears to a deeper place of real knowledge…like how heavy some types of wool are (Leicester Longwool!), how hard it is to scour some types of wool and how the lanolin seems to magically reappear over time (Merino!), how some types of wool want to felt just by sitting in a bin (Icelandic!) and some sheep are friendly and some are just plain crazy (Cheviots!).
After we had been at this a few short years we were confident. We were getting real experience and knowledge this way and wanted to share it with our followers and customers. Going to a farm, seeing the sheep in their home habitat and learning about them from the people who know them personally teaches pretty profoundly. Touching the fleece and especially getting to make something with it (processed or not) lets you really understand it’s character and what it is best at doing.
This is why we started Farm Field Days nearly a decade ago. Beginning at Sue’s farm: RedGate with her Karakuls. One mini-workshop with Karakul yarn and knit-to-felt coasters, tours of the farm and breed talks and Sue’s husband Bill talked about beekeeping and his hives. I hung out in a tent and sold yarn. We were amazed at how many people came (and how far they came) and completely gratified that they really enjoyed it and got to know a new breed in many different ways.
Since then, we have done Cotswold, Romney, Tunis and Merino and our next one on April 19th, 2020 is Clun Forest. Farm Field Days have expanded a bit. Now we have more classes, local wine, cheese and cooking demonstrations and I hang out with big pots and do natural dye demonstrations.
In addition to creating a great experience of sheep and wool, we also want to promote local agriculture and support a small sheep farm. It’s an opportunity for them to showcase and sell their products to an audience that truly appreciates their efforts. And we hope for great attendance because most of the ticket sales go to that farm (we really just want you to buy our yarn or wool, so we give you a coupon equal to our portion of the ticket sales).
We hope you can come to Farm Field Day Clun Forest on April 19th! You will be supporting Blue Heron farm, a heritage breed of sheep, Clun Forest and it’s fun! You might even get to hold a little lamb.
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From concept to sketch to letting loose on the dye tables...wanted to share the process with you of creating our special colorway for Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2021.
A shot in the dark