The following article appeared in The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (Autumn 2012, The Wool Issue 243, page 34). The Journal is produced by the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. You can find out more about the Guild at www.wsd.org.uk and about the Journal at www.thejournalforwsd.org.uk.
I wrote in Journal 238 (Summer 2011) about the background and aims of my collaborative knitting project Give Fleece A Chance. A flock of small knitted sheep has been made from handspun and commercial yarns that use wool sourced in South West England, particularly Devon and Cornwall. I found many farm-branded commercially spun yarns and generous sheep farmers who donated fleeces, often with the challenging words ‘See what you can do with that!’ Greyface Dartmoor, handspun into something resembling coir string, also proved to be a challenge to knit! But it is these ‘low-value’ coarse wools that have made the most charming individual sheep; the commercial yarns pale against them. I have exhibited the flock at country shows and textile fairs and encouraged people into looking again at British wool and appreciating the diversity of texture, handle and colour.
An online Wool Directory has emerged out of this project, a resource giving easier access to local fleeces and yarns, encouraging people to buy from the farm gate and to use wool creatively and commercially. It has already been used by textile and fashion students researching sustainable fibres and so is proving to be of value to those of us that love using the diverse sheep breeds.
In the 18 months since the project began, 250 sheep have been made, representing 70 different fleeces, 118 yarns and 40 breeds (not including crosses). I was helped by 76 knitters, many of whom handspun the yarn too. The project is continuing, so if you have any SW produced wool in a breed I haven’t got, I’d be really grateful for some fleece, even more if it’s ready spun and if it’s ready knitted! The sheep pattern is free for everyone to use for whatever purpose, but if you do make some sheep, please send one for my flock.