Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Fiber artist profile: Ginger Briggs

What fiber art(s) do you participate in and for how long have you done each one?
I have been crocheting off and on for 45 years. I started at 7 and like most of us was taught by my grandmother and a neighbor. I still have all my grandmother's hooks and needles. I started loom knitting about 3 years ago. I started weaving just 2 months ago. Because of Shave 'Em to Save 'Em, I have started working with a small loom, am learning how to spin and plan on learning how to make braided rugs.

When did you start working with fiber from rare breeds of sheep?
About 5 years ago, Kelli Carruth Miller of A Sheep Like Faith (she is a Se2Se provider), a friend from high school, introduced me to GCN. She started her flock in Louisiana. I loved the history, never knew Louisiana even had a sheep history but there were a lot of shepherds here providing GCN wool during world wars 1 and 2 for blankets. GCN was the first non-commercial wool I ever used.

What was your biggest surprise when you purchased your first rare breed wool?
The beautiful natural color

Have you had any challenges purchasing wool directly from shepherds?
No, but I am noticing a lot of shepherds selling raw fleece or roving. I hope more yarn will be available this year.

What do you love most about working with rare breeds? 
The different textures and colors

What is your favorite wool from sheep on the Conservation Priority List and why? 
Gulf Coast Native because it was the first wool I used and it was from Louisiana. I have also fallen in love with Leicester Longwool and Jacob.

What bit of advice would you give another fiber artists who is just starting to explore the world of rare breed wools?
Jump right in! I have really enjoyed working with the different wools and have met some wonderful people. The Facebook group is great. I am actually recognizing the different breeds of sheep by the photos the shepherds are posting!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Shepherd Profile: Emily Hartman

Leicester Longwool
This is the fourth in a series of Q&As with shepherds who raise sheep on the Conservation Priority List for wool. The opinions expressed by the shepherds do not necessarily reflect those of The Livestock Conservancy. 

Emily Hartman raises Leicester Longwool sheep on her farm, Mrs. Hartman's Farmhouse Market. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram @mrs.hartmansfarmhousemarket.

Why should a breeder sell the wool from their sheep? 
The real question, is why wouldn't you? Here we have an amazing creature that provides us with not only meat and in many cases, milk... but also a useable, wearable, craftable of some sort, fleece. In my opinion, sheep are the triple threat of livestock and you can win no matter what!

Is it challenging to raise sheep with an eye towards selling their wool? Why or why not? 
Yes it can be. There are so many factors that play into the quality, that when people ARE interested in being put on a waiting list, it's hard to really know how much to expect. Unexpected illnesses can ruin a fleece in an animal that may have had an excellent fleece the year before. Sometimes they get into stuff. For example, my beautiful pure black ewe lamb decided to roll in a bunch of "stickers" on the way down the hill to get shorn. Her fleece was fairly clean up until that point. Also, in the case of Longwools you always ask yourself, should I shear once, or twice a year, because the end product is so different and generally used differently (long locks vs a more "avgerage" staple length). You have to be extremely vigilant to keep the creepy crawls such as lice and mites at bay. Especially when growing out those fleeces for a year. If you don't keep up, it's difficult to treat a sheep in full fleece.

Why have you chosen to sell your wool as raw fleece, roving, yarn, etc rather than in a different form? Or why have you chosen to do all of the above? 
Sort of piggybacking from the previous answer, I am doing my best to offer as wide a range of product as I can. I am attempting to hold a few sheep back from shearing to offer locks, washed and unwashed. I try to offer the unwashed first, and then offer washed and dyed as I get around to it. I think locks offer the largest amount of artistic freedom as there are so many things you can do with them. The great thing about Leicester Longwools is that the lambs fleeces can be next-to-skin soft, while the adults make beautiful lustrous wool perfect for outerwear. I am able to shear 2x a year, so I am trying to even it out so that winter/spring shear gets sent to the mill and summer shear left raw (any leftover summer fleeces get sent in to mill after the next shearing) My mill I send to requires a minimum amount for millspun yarn, but not for roving, and since at this point, I don't have much for lamb wool, that dictates that it gets separated out into roving, while the adult fleeces get combined into millspun. Summer fleeces, as I said, I sell raw. I bring them with me to the farmers markets, and it generates a lot of conversation.

What is one important thing you learned about sheep management as it relates to selling their wool? 
Sheep health is key. Nutrition, pest management, the whole works. A few sheep may require a little extra attention. If you don't have healthy sheep, you can't expect good wool.

Emily shears her own sheep so she can keep a closer watch on their health.

What is one surprising thing you learned about coating your sheep -- or having sheep that are not coated?
Mine are not coated. And although I don't think I'd attempt an uncoated sheep of fine wool breeds, the Leicester Longwools (and I'm sure other longwool breeds) tend to actually stay fairly clean. You can shake them out a bit and you're in business. I think this also depends on the way you feed them as well, since overhead feeders will leave your sheep a mess. Mine are fed on the ground, and in their natural grazing position, they keep fairly clean. They're even cleaner in the summer when they can roam the pasture. If the pen was smaller, and not well maintained, they would be a mess in no time, no doubt.

What is one important thing you learned about selling your wool?
People love to get to know your animals as you do. They love the story that goes with them. Since I don't have a brick and mortar store, it is important to put yourself out there. Since I don't have a store to present to people, my boxes arrive at their doorstep to represent me, so I always make sure my packaging is nicely presented. I think every little detail helps. When I'm at farmers markets, even if I don't sell the wool that day, people love to generate conversation about it and the sheep. Overall it's a LOT of work and also A LOT of fun.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Fiber Artist Profile: Fran Stafford

This is the first in a series of posts profiling fiber artists who are participating in Shave 'Em to Save 'Em. Fran Stafford is one of only two people who have already spun at least 15 of the wools on the Conservation Priority List. You can find her online at her blog.

What fiber art(s) do you participate in and for how long have you done each one?
Crochet, started about 57 years ago and now only use it rarely.
Knitting, started about 58 years ago, made one sweater poorly, quit until 15 years ago and took it up again, knitting mill spun yarn.
Spinning with a drop spindle about 10 years ago, added a wheel, then more wheels beginning about 6 years ago. My preferred fiber art.
Weaving on a small rigid heddle loom about 3 years ago, did not like it and sold it, but started Revolutionary War reenactment and built and weave on a box/tape loom, got a 5' tri-loom for Christmas and have made two shawls.

Fran spinning at her village's
centennial celebration of its
covered bridge
When did you start working with fiber from rare breeds of sheep?
Without knowing they were rare breeds, I have been using Jacob, Shetland, and Leicester Longwool since I started spinning.

What was your biggest surprise when you purchased your first rare breed wool? 
No real surprises until I started SE2SE and realized how different the micron count, staple length, and softness or lack of there was.

Have you had any challenges purchasing wool directly from shepherds? 
Most have been prompt and very courteous about responding to either let me know how to order from them directly or where their online shop was, but there have been a couple that were private messaged on FB and never received a response.

What do you love most about working with rare breeds?
The difference in texture requiring me to up my spinning skills to accommodate.

Hap shawl in progress using the 15 breeds already spun

What is your favorite wool from sheep on the Conservation Priority List and why?
I really, really love Jacob for its color variation on each fleece and it's crisp texture spinning and knitting, but Shetland is a close second.

What bit of advice would you give another fiber artists who is just starting to explore the world of rare breed wools?
Don't feel like you have to do an entire raw fleece from each breed, try a few ounces from a couple of breeders as they will be different. Use undyed wool, it feels entirely different than dyed wools. This is an experiment to try different ones. A blanket or large shawl will allow you to use the single skeins you purchase or spin. I am indebted to my friend and shepherd, Gail Groot who told me about this challenge last summer and let me know when it was about to actually start.