There are hundreds of sheep breeds across the globe. Each one has it’s own unique characteristics. Sheep breeding, like so many other domesticated animals changes over time. There is a type of created evolution that takes place. As such, older breeds are often lost while newer breeds take the forefront. In addition, there are limitations to what sheep are available regionally. For example, in Western Canada where I live, I can find Shetland and Icelandic, but Blue Faced Leicester and Merino are completely unavailable. Most of the older breeds of sheep are “Landrace” which means they developed naturally to adapt to their environment rather than having traits bred into them. Examples of landrace sheep include Shetland, Icelandic, Finn, Danish, and Soay.
The number of people that spin on drop spindles in the SCA are innumerable, the number of people who go from “sheep to shawl” are very rare. Everyday life for many medieval women (including nobles) involved countless hours of preparing fleece and spinning. Preparing fleece is more than just carding. It includes skirting (removing the exceptionally soiled bits and short fibres), dehairing (in the case of a dual coated fleece like Icelandic) washing, picking (fluffing the fibres), and carding. The yarn was then spun, skeined, possibly dyed, and then put to whatever use it was intended.
My goal for myself is, using fleece from the region of my persona, produce a garment from scratch. The type of fleece differs greatly from breed to breed and I believe that is reflected in the style of clothing produced. I am not an Scadian that is obsessed with authenticity and frowns on those that don’t have the time or inclination to be as medieval as possible, for me I do what I think is fun and interesting.
For future blogging I intend to write mostly about the fibre arts, because that is what I know. I am interested in nature dyeing, fibre, spinning, raising sheep, weaving, and knitting (yes there was knitting in the late medieval-some say as early as 14thC).
I would like to do some demonstrations and workshops on fleece preparation from scratch. Is there anything you think would be interesting to learn about?