Wool Congress Day 2: Supporting Rare Breeds and a Felting Favorite

If I had to pick a theme for today’s sessions it would be that of encouraging the survival of rare breeds through some fantastic programs. So, even though some other topics were covered, I am choosing to focus on this.

I was very impressed by the creativity and passion of the people who spoke today about the breeds they are helping to support and grow the numbers of in their special geographical areas.

Let’s start with the Landes de Bretagne and Belle Ile Sheep Breeds from Brittany in France. Have you ever heard of them? I had not (just part of the fun of going to a meeting like this!)


At the shearing of these sheep on the farms, the wool was discarded. The shearers wouldn’t even buy it is it was not all white. So, a project was started to market the wool. To improve the quality, they gathered the wool “from beneath the feet of the shearer” and then immediately skirted and sorted which really increased their yield of clean product after it was processed as they were sending in better quality wool.

Two other projects involved a German sheep breed: Alpines Steinschaf. One of the most endangered sheep breeds. In the first project, they bring 16 of the rams to a meadow for the summer. The meadow is not completely accessible by vehicle so they have to WALK the rams in for about an hour! AND they don’t use any halters or leads. And did I mention they are RAMS?!



The benefits to the rams were that they gained weight and their hoof and wool quality improved. Also the pastures were grazed appropriately. When they returned, a celebration was held as they walked – again without leads ! – into the village. Producing better rams has increased the numbers of the breed considerably, the total stock having more than doubled in 5 years.

The second project with the breed involves their wool. They are working to both preserve the breed AND the typical wool of the breed.


The breeders meet after shearing and collect and sort their wool at their annual meeting. This collection serves as an education for the breeders as well as they will only accept the wool into this group pooling that is of good quality and not contaminated with vegetable matter (the power of peer pressure!) in the 10 years of the project, they have gone from needing only a small cart to needing a truck to transport the fleeces to processing!


Producing quality wool for appropriate projects has encouraged more breeders to work with this breed and its numbers have grown dramatically.

Switching gears, i now want to share the work and creations of a very talented felt artist/designer, Heidi Greb from The Upper Bavarian region of Germany. Heidi creates garments and decorative items by wet felting raw staples of wool to felt she creates from carded wool. This combination of techniques lets her create striking garments,


and other felted pieces.


After her presentation, I asked her a few questions and she generously demonstrated her technique. Taking a section of raw (unwashed) fleece, she gentle opens up the cut ends


And then turns the piece over to work on carefully separating the tips so they “stand up like trees”.


Adding very hot water she gently works the wool as it starts to felt and when some of the lanolin and dirt is out, she begins to add soap to aid in the felting. She said it is all about doing things at the right time in the process. She can then add the felted base, at the right time in the felting process.


Heidi really enjoys working with the natural colors of the mountain sheep and says their wool is ideal for felting. She uses no seams in her work – individual pieces of a garment are joined by more felting. Simply stunning.

So much more was covered today but I have run out of energy and time. We head out early tomorrow morning to visit sheep near Rambouillet and see presentations of techniques of working with wool. I only hope we see sheep as cute as this one!


Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 9:28 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This looks like a wonderful event, and great detailed post!

  2. Jackie, this is a wonderful account of your trip, thank you so much!

    • Thanks for the feedback! Today’s adventure should give me ideas for a less “static” post (and will be good to not be sitting in a chair all day!)

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