Raw Material: Working Wool in the West

Raw Material: Working Wool in the West

Raw Material: Working Wool in the West is a new book by Stephany Wilkes. Stephany is a certified sheep shearer, wool classer, and author. She had another life before this one and you can read about her transition to her sheep-y career in the book. She lives in San Francisco.

I love this book. I had not heard about it before receiving a copy for Christmas from my resident sociologist and I read the entire thing in a few days. The story starts with Stephany’s experience in shearing school, a journey she undertook on something of a lark because she wanted to figure out why her local California yarn store had no California-made yarn. California is the second largest wool-producing state in the US after Texas and it didn’t make sense that there was no local yarn in the shop. California produces a lot of wool, but almost none of it is processed within the state.

Wool comes from sheep you know.

I have read two marvelous books about sheep lately.

The first is In the Footsteps of Sheep: Tales of a Journey Through Scotland, Walking, Spinning, and Knitting Socks by Debbie Zawinski. I talked about this some in a newsletter recently. (If you missed it, you can see it HERE and make sure to sign up for your own copy!)

I spotted this book in one of my local yarn shops (Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder) and snatched it up almost before it had a price tag on it. This book is one that you must have a non-digital copy of. The photographs are gorgeous and the story kept me reading until the book was finished. Debbie says this in the introduction:
The idea was not a new one; not to me that is. The seed had been sown years previously; a chance remark; a flash of inspiration; I don't remember now. It had taken root without me really being aware that the idea was still there, growing quietly in the corner of my mind: a journey around Scotland spinning and knitting the fleece of the Scottish sheep breeds in their native haunts.
And she does just that. By foot, car, train, or boat, she searches out the native sheep of Scotland and collects their wool. She spins it into fiber that she knits directly into a pair of socks that represent her trip. The book also contains many patterns for socks which she designed for the people she met along the way.

There are many words that I didn't know in this book. Words that are common in Scotland apparently. Fortunately, there is a glossary. After all, it isn't every day that you climb the cleugh back of the croft, crossing bothy and tump searching for henty lags.

The other book I ran across in Barnes and Noble (surprisingly) while waiting for a dinner reservation. It is called The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book also grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.

He divides the books into sections for the seasons of the year. He describes his life in these sections from a small boy learning about farming from his grandfather and father to his current life with the sheep and, surprisingly to him, an Oxford education. His descriptions of the Lakes District in England and the way of life there make you feel like you're on the fell hearing the shepherds calling the dogs as they bring in the herds of Herdwick or Swaledale sheep. He is a masterful writer.

Both of these books are well worth a read. They are about the people of northern England and Scotland with a fair bit about the sheep thrown in. They definitely made me want to learn more about different sheep breeds and gave me a great respect for these farmers.

These books came in handy as I started wondering what these sheep really did look like and why I might want to meet them or their fleece.

Treat yourself to a good read!
No one can be sure, but there is a suspicion that the fell people just go on, beneath the waves of "history" that fill the history of England. It sometimes feels to me like, as the tide of the north receded with the melting ice, it left us in place in the hills, little islands sticking up from an encroaching sea of southern civilization.   
                                                                --James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life
I'm off to read The Shepherd's Life for a second time.
Note: If you were interested in the Vermont 2016 retreat, the newsletter with a link to the information and registration went out Monday, Nov 23rd. If you didn't see it, check your junk mail! The retreat is filling up quickly.

Mighty cold

Last night Alamosa, CO had the distinction of being the coldest place in the nation. This isn't a huge surprise. It happens every year. Still, the fact of the cold is shocking. When we beat out Fairbanks, Alaska and Bismarck, North Dakota, I know it is cold. Minus 33 degrees to be exact. I am still completely amazed my car started at 7:30 this morning. It took a few tries. She was really cranky when I let the clutch out but on the third try she kept running. After 20 minutes of letting her warm up, there was ice on the inside of the windows and no melting at all of the 1/4 inch of ice on the outside of the windshield. Though I parked in the sunshine at work, when I went out to eat my lunch at noon, it was frozen in my lunch bag.

The cold makes me hold myself tight to my bones.
It doesn't let me fly free. It makes me clench against the pressure of it.
This is hunching in your coat cold.
Dog won't walk on the snow because it hurts her feet cold.
I don't care if my hair gets messed up, I'm wearing a hat cold.

Our house is an old farmhouse outside of Alamosa a few miles. It still has single pane windows (which you might remember I complained about being painted shut in the summer...) and no insulation in the floor. My laundry room which is also the storage room, coat room, mud room, and entryway to the house as the real front door is broken, was below freezing yesterday evening. The door hinges scream when you open the door because they are iced together. Needless to say the washer is frozen.

The cold is insidious, insistent, and a little frightening.
The neighbor's sheep, in all their pounds of wooly glory, are huddled together en masse against it.
And that is saying something.