On sheep street.

I've lived in this neighborhood for four years now and I've walked all over it. But it wasn't until about a year ago walking to the grocery store that I really noticed this:

Huh, I thought. That has to be named for the breed of sheep. The most well-known sheep in all the world.

Then right around the corner I saw this:

That is when I knew for sure we were talking about sheep. And maybe there were more sheep streets lurking nearby.

Something clicked in my brain. I turned down some streets I'd never walked on before and realized that the sheep streets went on and on. The neighbors probably thought I was nuts... taking photos of street signs and sometimes standing under one googling it to see if it really was a sheep breed. I might have been muttering to myself a little as well. I found a few breeds I'd never heard of.

Do you recognize all of these or do you need to check my research?

About now you're probably asking yourself, what kind of person wanders around her neighborhood taking bad photos of street signs?
That would be me. The woman who is approaching a solid middle age who no longer cares if she looks like a fiber geek. I am ready to own it. 

My neighbor and tapestry artist friend, Marilyn Martynuk, reminded me that this area used to be Brown Farm--of some relation to Brown Sheep Company now in Mitchell, NE. There were sheep here half a century ago and that is most likely the origin of the sheep street names. THIS page of their website tells you more about Brown Sheep Company though they don't mention Fort Collins. If you have a chance to visit Mitchell and tour the mill, definitely take it. (Hint: their yarn shop on site has vast amounts of seconds yarns for steep steep discounts. My yarn closet can attest to that.)

And you might be hearing a little voice in your head demanding: what do sheep and fleece have to do with tapestry weaving anyway?

I am not a farmer and most likely will never own sheep, but I do love all things fleecy. I love to follow stories of them online. My favorites are Kate Larson's Border Leicesters and James Rebank's (aka The Herdy Shepherd) Herdwick sheep. (Check out Kate's Instagram feed HERE for some cute lamb photos and videos.) Sheep are adorable. They also have babies in the middle of the night and are rather stinky sometimes. Animal husbandry is not for me. But fleece? Give me a newly shorn fleece from a conscientious breeder any day of the week. I'll gladly clean it if I get to spin it (though I'd prefer if someone else skirted it quite frankly).

I love learning about sheep and fleece. The heart of the matter is the material. The art I make starts with wool. Wool doesn't come in just merino. It comes in a fantastic variety of characteristics grown by a large number of sheep breeds.**

As tapestry weavers, many of us are used to just purchasing whatever "tapestry yarn" is available and leaving it at that. I think we can and should look a little more closely at the materials we use. After learning the techniques to weave tapestry, it is important to start thinking about how different materials contribute to the final piece of art.

For example, a wool that has spelsau in it like Frid Vevgarn will have much more sheen to it than one that is made only of merino. The particular breed's fleece that goes into making the yarn does matter especially in a medium like tapestry. Our work is weft-faced and so the look of that weft is important. Does it reflect light and thus look shinier or does it absorb the light and look more matte. Neither is better, it just depends on what you want to depict in your work.

If you're a dyer or spinner, the way the fleece is dyed will impact the resulting yarn. A lot of fun can be had if you have these skills (and if I can learn them so can you)! A long-staple thicker diameter fiber like Lincoln can be dyed so that the dye area is shorter than the staple length. That means that in the spinning the colors blend marvelously. I used that principle when spinning and weaving this little piece for my tapestry diary. (I did not dye this fleece though I have some Lincoln roving waiting for that experiment this summer. The example below came straight from my spinning teacher Maggie Casey.)

Long staple wool dyed in short areas makes the colors blend in a wonderful way in the spinning. Spinning and tapestry by Rebecca Mezoff. Dye done by someone else--source unknown at the moment!

Perhaps I'm so excited about sheep and fleece right now because this weekend is the Estes Park Wool Festival. This is the nearest wool festival to me and I have gone every year I could since I moved to Fort Collins. The best thing? The fleece judging. Maggie Casey suggested that I go and watch the judging and she was right. I have learned more about fleece from those hours listening to the judges talk about them than anywhere else. It is a crash course in wool characteristics!***

Of course not everyone is interested in learning to dye or spin and I'm not suggesting that those are skills you need to have to to weave tapestry. What I am suggesting is that paying attention to how the yarns we use are made is illuminating and can open doors to new materials and better expression of your design ideas.

It is possible to get carried away, NOT that I'm prone to that or anything. This was the pile of fleece I thought I was going to spin for Spinzilla 2017. Not so much--much of this is still unspun. It is fun to learn about different breeds and play with spinning them! This was all commercially dyed roving, much of which I carded by hand or drum carder for different color combinations. In the future I'll be dyeing my own.****

Maggie Casey, owner of Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder,  CO showing us a batt from a drum carder class. She is not fond of those yarn additions and I'd be willing to bet if she spun this, she'd pick them out!

But when you've got the likes of Maggie Casey to teach you, the challenges are fun and frankly, endless.

In my spinning classes, Maggie always says that it is okay if you screw it up. The sheep are growing more fleece as we speak. This is comforting and applies to tapestry yarn also. There is always more wool.

Unfortunately I don't live on a sheep street. But if I ever buy a house in this neighborhood, "Corriedale" is top on my list.

** If you're interested in sheep breeds for fiber art, check out The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. It is a gorgeous book that talks about the different breeds, gives staple length and fiber diameter, and shows you examples of the fleece clean, raw, spun, and knitted.

*** If you're in Colorado, the Estes Park Wool Festival information is HERE. Download the schedule HERE. It looks like I'll be there Saturday at 9 am. Fleece and Fiber Judging. Thank goodness they opened Highway 34 again! May it be a long time before the Big Thompson floods again.

****Just today at lunch I was reading the latest issue of Spin Off magazine. The Summer 2018 issue is all about color and dyeing so of course I was thrilled to find it is full of gems. One article is by one of my favorite spinning teachers, Jillian Moreno. If you want to learn to spin all kinds of yarn, get her book Yarnitecture. Her Spin Off article this month is called Turn up the Heat: Working with Warm Colors. She has great suggestions for carding colors together as well as combining colors to make attractive color combinations. Bring on the color theory Jillian! (Incidentally, I was also thrilled with the article about the effect of water pH on acid wool dyeing by Kimberly Baldwin. That article is gold for a protein fiber dyer.)

Here are a few sheep photos just for fun. Click on the thumbnails for a larger version and a caption.