Wool and Water

Our day began with a pre-arranged trip to Jamieson & Smith, a wool broker here in Lerwick.

A wool broker is someone who takes in the raw wool from the crofters (farmers), buys it from them, grades it and sends it off to get made into yarn. Sounds simple, right? Not really. We had a nice hour and a half tour by Jan who works there.



Jamieson & Smith give the crofters the bags to put the fleeces in. Right now, there are lots of bags here as shearing mostly hasn’t begun. Fleeces will start arriving mid-June.


When the fleeces are dropped off they go into the baler. Grading is happening while baling is occurring. Grading is where the fleece is evaluated as to what kind of yarn it can become and they are sorted from super fine to grades 1-4. Two people are grading while one is baling. Graders have 15 seconds per fleece to make their decision! This is the baler.


And they look like this when finished. Weighing about 90 kilos (198 pounds), they are loaded by forklift onto trucks, ferried and trucked to a mill in Bradford, England where it is scoured (washed) and spun into various types of yarn. They process about 260 tons of raw wool each year, about 80% of the wool in Shetland.


Here Jan shows me how she grades the wool. Look how fine this is!




Jan also explained that the Shetland’s have a natural break in their fleece (they call it a rise) between shearings. After the fleece growth is past this rise, it is time to shear. This photo shows the fleece pulled apart at this natural break.


Of course a place with all this wool coming in must sell some yarn! I limited myself to a couple lace scarf patterns and yarn to make them.

We left Jamieson & Smith in the company of the family of one of our Farm Club friends, Stephany. They had generously offered to take us a few places which was nice as we had decided not to try a car hire this time.

One fun place was Burra Bears. It’s founder, Wendy, makes bears out of recycled Fair Isle sweaters and other knitted and fulled materials. They really are adorable.

Our last stop was at St. Ninian’s Isle, a small island tied to the mainland by a tombolo – a gravel bank 500 meters long. It is visible during summer months and can be walked across. Then in the winter, the waves remove all the sand and the tombolo is under water. St. Ninian’s is uninhabited with the last resident leaving in 1796. Viking treasure of 8th century silver was found buried there in 1958.

The area was beautiful and we finally had a sunny day in which to enjoy it.





Hopefully tomorrow we see some more of these!


Published in: on May 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Foula -Not.

We began our day by walking to the Viking Bus Station to catch pre-arranged transport to Tingwall airport to catch our flight to Foula, an island to the west of Shetland that we had hoped to visit to see the Foula Sheep who live there, along with about 30 people.

However, the weather had other ideas. The pilot explained that, although he could get us there, the chance of a return trip to pick us up was iffy. Getting stranded on Foula is not a good option as there is no shop (grocery store) there and very few places to stay.

So, we got to experience what Shetlanders often do: they live, to some extent, governed by the weather. Luckily for us, another couple was also planning to go and so kindly offered to drive us back to Lerwick as they had their car with them. We had an alternate plan of visiting the Shetland Museum, as did they, so that’s where we ended up. Thank you, Katherine and Geoffrey, for baling us out!

You can see in this photo the weather that kept us from Foula.


Fortunately, there are many alternatives for us here. The museum is situated on Hay’s Dock in Lerwick Harbor and has fantastic displays of Shetland history and culture. The Shetland Archives here have written records from the 15th to 21st century.

I was most interested in things related to textiles. A yarn winder, sample cards, and finished garments were just a few of the many things on display.




Education went on even in the bathrooms as stalls contained poems of interest! (Tatties are potatoes).


Outside of the Museum was a fascinating installation. At first I thought it was just a way to broadcast music. It is four speakers set up to broadcast account of historical and contemporary life on Scotland that were recorded in 2006 and sourced from the Archive. The fascinating thing is that wind speed and direction determine the intervals between the broadcasts. This is achieved by an anemometer (an instrument measuring wind speed) continuously feeding live readings to the speakers. So, if the wind is calm the spoken and music recording are long clips but these shorten as wind speeds increase. Gale forces produce short clips which all merge together. The speakers are made from local Shetland materials of serpentine, granite and shell.

No stops would be complete without sampling the local food. The scones were fantastic and the latte art much appreciated!





Even the tables here were creative, each with an inset of interest.


Fortified, we caught a taxi to the Textile Museum, housed in a remodeled fishing station, the Bod of Gramista. Interesting fact: Arthur Anderson, a ship owner and member of Parliament who was born there, became a champion of Shetland textiles and gave Queen Victoria stockings made of fine Shetland lace.



There were some interesting displays inside and handmade things for sale from local makers. One room housed a very large loom and an example of Taatit rugs which are unique to,Shetland and come from Norse tradition. They were often made as wedding presents, with the families of the bride and groom each making half.



Outside and across the street from the museum was a beautiful small flock of Shetland Sheep with their lambs. This was a bonus to the day since we did not make it to Foula (at least on this trip to Shetland!)






A couple purchases from the museum found their way into my bag: a beautiful pair of fingerless mitts created by a local craftsperson and, because we could not get to Foula, a set of coasters made from Foula wool.

On to a full day of adventures tomorrow -some of which involve wool (that will be a surprise to none of you following this blog!)




Published in: on May 10, 2017 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

One Train, Three planes and a Kind Host

This year’s adventure in Scotland has begun!

After taking BART train to the airport, a flight to Newark (where I met Dona, recovering from her trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Show), a flight to Glasgow, another flight to Shetland, and a car ride provided by our host at the flat we are letting in Lerwick, Shetland’s capitol, and we are here!

Here we are in Glasgow airport, awaiting our flight to Sumburgh airport at the southern tip of Shetland, while Dona sorts her 600+ photos from the sheep show!



Flying from Glasgow to Sumburgh, our plane holds about 50-60 people. Hard to get good photos as I am near the wing but it is very pretty as we fly over mainland Scotland and then approach Shetland.



Cold, overcast and a little rainy, we are welcomed by our landlord who has kindly offered to pick us up at the airport and drive us the approximately 45 minutes to our flat in the center of Lerwick. Along the way we saw many sheep and lambs – and a new born Shetland pony foal (!) but were not close enough to get any good photos. Interesting fact: on Shetland, you are never more than 3 miles from the sea – either the Atlantic or the North Sea.

We love our flat here and, after settling in a little we explore Commercial Street. For any fans of the BBC series “Shetland” – which Dona and I are – it was amazing to walk this little area which is the setting for many of the episodes. We saw shops we will explore later…..





But this one demanded to be explored now – a short stop for tea and cakes!



The day ended with probably the best fish, chips, and mushy peas i have ever had!


Our flat here is perfect. Lots of light and everything we need to continue our exploration of these islands. Our hosts welcomed us and even set the table for our first tea here at the flat.


On to our next adventure tomorrow, which, yes, involves another plane ride as we head out for a day on the tiny island of Foula!

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Spring Shearing

It was that time again! The whole flock gets sheared in the spring and about half again in the fall, depending on how their wool grows. We lucked out with really nice weather and a good group of friends to help it all go very smoothly.

The flock was a little suspicious as to why I was not letting them out of the barn. Simple. I wanted help getting them into the shearing stall! With me in the lead and friends following flock it was quickly done with very little of the “rodeo” aspect to it.

They packed in well to the shearing stall. Last chance for awhile to see in full fleece.

Frieda “Can you guys move away a bit? I am feeling squished back here in the corner!”

Frieda, “Thanks. That’s a little better!”

The English Leicesters came to us last summer as yearlings and had been sheared in Michigan in April. We opted not to shear in the fall but now I think they will move into twice a year shearing group.

Lessie, “It will be nice to see again! Wonder what I’ve been missing?!”

Diamond, “I know I have a messy nose but look at my FLEECE. Pretty good for a 15 year old, right?!”

We decided to do the two camelids first. John, the shearer, ties up Paridot’s head to keep him still. Paridot is a good boy but you don’t need him moving around with electric blades nearby! Luckily, John is very athletic!

When we started on the sheep, Robin offered to feed them to John, speeding things up.

Carol and Mary get to work. Right now, I think Carol is admiring fleeces (!) but she helped in the bagging and weighing, along with Colleen. Mary was in charge of getting syringes filled as John also gave them their annual vaccination and wormed them.

The fleeces were, of course, beautiful. Part of that, thanks to Janis who carefully swept between each fleece and kept the area very neat.

The animals always look so very different after shearing.

Hazel, “Hey, I didn’t know I had that spot!”

Most of these great photos were taken by Dona but I had to get this shot – Evangeline just wants to know if she can borrow Dona’s camera, but Dona isn’t so sure about her intentions!

A beautiful day, thanks to good friends, a fantastic shearer, and some pretty cooperative animals!

Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wind Adaptations

It was really windy here today. 15-25 mph with gusts to 40 mph. The animals dealt with it in different ways.

Some took shelter up against the barn to block the wind.

Some lowered their profiles (to not get blown over?!)

The chooks decided to head for the high grass in a covered stall.

And the guineas, you ask? The guineas decide the best wind break – is an open fence panel! Silly guineas.

Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 5:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Chooks Big Day

…well, sort of.

We always meant to have these new chickens be free range during the day. The question was – when?

They arrived in July of 2016 and started laying mid-December. Someone suggested they should be laying well before free-ranging so they knew where to go home to. Then came the rains. And more rain. And more rain – even through last week. So, we waited.

We finally decided it was time to give it a try. As with our previous chickens, we started gradually. There is always a trade-off. They are safe in their house and run and it is a pretty nice run.

But we feel the other chickens really enjoy that time out which has grown from just a couple hours at the end of the day to all day, getting put away at night. The trade-off is that they are less safe out in the world. The two chickens we have lost from the old group that were not natural causes were to predators during the daytime. One possibly a raccoon or possum and the other one probably a hawk.

Weighing these options we let them out, putting them away at night. And so it came the day to try a brief outing. With the door open, one Buff is willing to try the grass. And then another sticks her head through the fence, perhaps inspired by her friend.

They venture out further, as far as we are willing to let them go on their first outing.

Then, with the encouragement provided by a little scratch grain, they were back in. Will do longer gradually!

Published in: on April 10, 2017 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

First Shearing of the Year

At the end of January I headed to Barinaga Ranch with a couple friends to gather fleeces fresh from the East Friesian Sheep. Now, if you remember from an earlier blog this year, I do have a whole small room dedicated to the fleeces of East Friesian Sheep. However, it is such a great wool for the type of products that I make that I want to make sure I always have enough. I keep finding new things to make with it so it is important to keep this room full. It looked pretty full before the shearing….


…but there usually seems to be room for more!

Our favorite shearer, John, is the shearer here, too.


These sheep have the most beautiful heads!


And they have several guardian dogs, always watchful.


The fleeces, as usual, were gorgeous.


Some fit in my van and the rest in my friend, Carol’s.


and they all fit into the East Friesian room!


Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Deep Litter

I was reading a book about life in the Scottish Highlands in the 1950s and 1960s and the author (Katherine Stewart) mentioned using the deep litter system for their chickens. Of course, I had to look it up, thinking it was only a Scottish system. Not true – I found current Google links to people using this system in the U.S as well. You rake up the floor of bedding and add fresh bedding – wood chips in our case – letting the chickens mix it up scratching for grain. A way to keep things fresh and then clean out when it gets quite deep.

Sounded good to me. Here is the process:

  1. Buy wood chips


2. Survey current floor. Yup, needs fresh bedding.


3. Gather equipment, which, of course, attract helpers.




Hazel, “Does this involve food for us?”

4. Spread wood chips.


5. A Buff checks it out a little tentatively.


6. Elizabeth is glad I put her swing back down!


7. Chooks do their scratching and nicely mix and spread the bedding,

Teamwork – Makes it all work!


Published in: on February 4, 2017 at 5:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Hay Delivery

It had been so wet and muddy lately (yes, a common refrain here!) that we were close to running out of hay.


Finally, we decided a delivery could be made. The sheep were happy to hear that, even though I made them stay in the upper pasture to avoid their “help”.


New alfalfa on right and new mountain grass on left, all neatly stacked.


The only casualty, the truck got stuck in the mud on the way out and needed a little tow. I guess it still was a little too muddy!


The flock didn’t really care about that. They just wanted to come down for supper!

"If we had metal utensils we would be banging them on this gate!"

“If we had metal utensils we would be banging them on this gate!”





Published in: on January 30, 2017 at 12:38 am  Leave a Comment  

A True and Very Wooly Adventure

I may take some kidding for going public with this, but here goes.


Last week six VERY good friends came over for a planned fleece sorting day. Not sure how I convinced all of them to do this but I think some of them may have offered! The goal – take all of my fleeces out of the wool shed, storage shed, back patio and front porch and sort them by breed before replacing all in the wool shed (used to be the garage).


Colleen brought us all some very colorful gloves. Dona suggested a pool to guess how many fleeces there were.


And we got to work. There was no clear and consistent labelling system for fleeces collected over several years so my job was to listen for people calling out sheep names or other codes to determine in which pile on the drive way to place the bags and boxes. “Kate?” “Karakul”. “Ingrid?” “Churro”. “JF” “Joshua Farm which means it goes in the Shetland pile!” And so forth. Breed names were placed in spots for sorting purposes.




Some additional sorting was sometimes required and Krystle was also able to collect some samples for some upcoming Fibershed related events.



People hand carried or used whatever they could find to move all these fleeces around.




At last – everything out. Empty shelves – a rare sighting here!


After lunch and some chatting, we reversed the process and everything went back in, only in better order! Turns out the East Friesians needed their own room. Everything else fit on shelves, sometimes high on shelves. (Well, ok, there are still a few on the back patio but they are organized!)

Doesn't Dona look happy that we are on the putting away part?!

Doesn’t Dona look happy that we are on the putting away part?!

East Friesian room

East Friesian room



And the answer to how many fleeces? 457!!! And Dona won the pool with her closest guess of over 500. I think she is pretty good at guessing!


Five hours and six friends to organize all this wool so that I can more easily find it when planning projects and preparing orders. Many, many thanks to Carol, Colleen, Dona, Krystle, Mary and Robin for all their help.

Hazel, "Hey, I eat all this good food and it just keeps growing!"

Hazel, “Hey, I eat all this good food and the wool just keeps growing!”

Published in: on January 26, 2017 at 12:04 am  Comments (2)