Tag Archives: Gulf Coast sheep

A Non-Violent Takeover

Yesterday my fiber flock took it upon itself to spread to a clear area in my house. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister-in-law a few years ago. I was telling her about a blog entry I read about a woman who bought a home with her sister and then made every room a fiber room. I told her how much fun it sounded to me and that I would love to be able to do that (but didn’t think I should because my husband deserves a little non-fiber space.)

She remarked that I already had done it. 🙂 I guess I had. And after yesterday am still working hard toward that goal.

dining room before fiber

The early morning tranquility of the dining room.

fiber approaching

But the fiber is slowly and steadily encroaching.

Fiber takes over

Completed!  No fiber or furniture was harmed in this takeover.

Christine and I are making batts to sell and yesterday I loved having everything around me to pick and choose. More dyed fiber troops did arrive as the day went on and my enthusiasm kept on increasing. If that is possible.

Remember Henna the Gulf Coast before she was dyed?

GC Henna before dyed

Gulf Coast Henna before she was dyed.

Dyed Henna GC Blue Purple

Henna the GC sheep dyed



Below shows her now.

Henna batt

Henna the Gulf Coast blended with other fibers



Colorful Batts and BFL locks

These are the batts made so far. I put Josie the Bluefaced Leicester locks on top of two batts that will go into boxes full of a variety of spinning fibers that we will be selling. I kept it there for the picture because it reminds me of our latest tv obsession, Broadchurch, seen on BBCAmerica. It takes place in today’s Great Britain and in the courtroom scenes the judge and lawyers wear traditional small white wigs on top of their regular hair. Kind of the George Washington style but smaller and perched on the head. Kind of like the locks in my picture.

Which brings me back to the wonderful and adorable Bluefaced Leicester sheep.

Bluefaced Leicester yearling females in wool .

Leicester ewe (female sheep) thanks to Farm-Images.CO.UK

I don’t know a single spinner who isn’t crazy about Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) fiber. The locks are just so darned cute. Here are some lamb locks I dyed. They are short, bouncy and have the sweetest little curls.


BFL Lamb Locks- Millie


Individual BFL lamb locks

I am not going to use these locks for anything except adoration.

BFL sheep typically have fleeces that weigh between 2  1/4 and 4  1/2 pounds. The lock length is 3-6 inches. Mine shown here is shorter as it was a lamb’s fleece. Her adult fleece would be longer. The individual fibers from an adult fleece are measured to be 24 to 28 microns. The reason a non-math spinner like me avidly follows micron counts is because they correlate with scale of soft to coarse feel of the fiber. 21 is considered to be the highest count that many would find comfortable next to the skin. It is a general term because people vary in the way they perceive fiber.  Millie’s lamb fleece is probably softer than 24 microns because lamb’s fleeces are softer. I am not interested in micron count because I always want soft wool. I don’t always. I have lots of uses for coarse wool too. Micron count helps me to better understand the fiber as a whole.

BFL has a nice shine to it (luster) and as pictured above, takes dye well. Since the locks are so bouncy and curly they are best first picked open. I sometimes pick them apart with my fingers but usually give them a few strokes with my hand cards. More on processing/spinning BFL next week.











Onward to Spring

Here are some random thoughts and updates as I move towards spring.

I gasped quietly when I saw in my  yard on April 1st:

crocus April 1 (1)

First Crocuses!

The snow is receding like a glacier and this gives perspective on my excitement at the sight:

crocus April 1 (2)

Crocuses by snow

On Saturday spinning friends gathered at my house and as promised some big scary dangerous equipment came also.  The picker is used to open fiber up for spinning and is the first step to getting rid of any short fibers and vegetation. Short fibers can be the result of what are called second cuts when shearing. The path of the shearing blades is not always exact and they may have to go over an area again- like when a lawn is mowed and a small length remains on the side of the path-that results in some short fibers in the fleece. A few second cuts and some vegetation are not a problem and come out with processing.  If I am choosing fleeces and there are a lot of short cuts and a lot of vegetation I pass it by since a lot of time would be needed to get them out and wouldn’t be worth it.

I love the sign that comes with the picker.  I feel so important because of it.  Like I operate heavy construction machinery.

picker front

Wool picker warning

Here is why it works so well, why we wear protective gloves and why I would never have it anywhere no matter how well guarded in a house with children. What a great feature it would make in a murder mystery.

picker with fiber

Picker with fiber

I have some beautiful Cotswold fiber I dyed green in it here. Truth be told I seemed to have felted it a bit so opened it up with the mighty picker jaws that I swing back and forth. Now I will hand comb it to get out any end felted fibers that came off and will be able to use it good as new. Cotswold is a rare breed with long lustrous curly locks. Its shine, or sheen, remains when spun. Some day I will talk more about that breed since it is so beautiful.

My last Gulf Coast fiber from my sheep of the month March  is Fernando. Here is the picture I posted of him as unprocessed washed locks.



Here he is after going twice through the picker:

Fernando picked

Fernando picked

He weighs 22 ounces. Not sure what I will do with him but he’ll be ready when I am.

So, you know you are an out of control spinner when you were on an escalator yesterday at Logan airport and you see on the floor below tiles that create different Massachusetts scenes such as a runner in the Boston Marathon and you are delighted to see a spinner at an old walking spinning wheel pictured so you stop when you get to it and realize it is a fisherman at the wheel of an old sailing ship. Which you love too but not the same. Darn it.

Funny Spinning Fact

It is a scientific fact that every spinner who has a significant other be he or she called husband, boy friend, girl friend, partner has gone through an initial time when this person has tried to get the spinner to limit their fiber stashes, and failed. Supposedly reasonable comments such as “don’t you have enough” “what will you do with it” “where will you put it” are silently  ignored and after a time they give up. It is bigger than they are. But here is a funny story about old time spinners in Iceland that I read in Bette Hochburg’s book Spin Span Spun. It says that after the men finished their work they would card wool for the women and someone would tell stories and lead the group in singing.  I am sitting here enjoying the image of our partners engaging in that together. Especially singing. But I know they won’t go that far!

Last but not least:

Update on discarding fiber paper clutter:

I have been working my way through paper files that I have on fiber and fiber related information. I am happy to announce that I am done and since I like to weigh things I can say I have discarded and recycled 19 pounds of paper and files. Nineteen. Now my home files and my fiber files fit in one file cabinet drawer. Hurray! Can you get rid of some too??  It isn’t mandatory to weigh it, just dig in, do 5 a day like I did!

Happy April and the start of sheep and wool festival season in New England. Saturday April 26th is the Connecticul Sheep, Wool and Fiber Festival  in Vernon Connecticut.  http://www.ctsheep.org/sheep_and_wool_festival

Let the games begin!



Spring Cleaning in the Midst of Snow

Who wouldn’t wake up in the morning and think of spring cleaning after looking out her door at this?

Snow on March 16, 2015

Snow on March 16, 2015

Believe it or not it is starting to melt. Yesterday about another half inch of snow fell around here. I hear people saying that since we have had so much snow this winter they hope we get a little more so we can beat the past highest snowfall record. Snow began to fall yesterday as we were exploring the Mattapoisett/Marion MA towns which are on Buzzards Bay. It started as we came across this 40 foot tall seahorse.


Sea Horse Mattapoisett MA

40 foot tall seahorse in Mattapoisett MA

I love roadside attractions, the hokier the better!

But despite the snow my mind knows it is the middle of March and wants me to spring clean anyway. As usual I have made a much too long to do list for the day- vacuum the car, tidy up not only the hen house but also around it, and more fun, go order some quartz countertops to replace the laminate chipped ones. But of course there are fiber tasks too and I never mind doing them:

1) Continue weeding out fiber files. I have a file cabinet drawer full of fiber information and have been trying to be strict with myself and recycle the items I can find on the internet. I like the feeling that only the most crucial remain and will be used, and won’t just sit there blended in with unnecessary paper clutter. Since I love to weigh fiber so I know what I have, I decided to weigh the papers I am getting rid of and so far have weeded out 8.5 pounds of paper including the file folders. I’m not done yet!

2) Get these fibers ready to take to Sage Yarn in Falmouth MA.

Yarn, Batts, Rolags and Locks

Yarn, Batts, Rolags and Locks

We lived there for two years and now are 45 minutes away so can visit easily. Jen still sells my items there. It is a beautiful store and well worth the visit!
Which brings me to my Gulf Coast sheep of the month activities. Last week I had pictures of the fleece of Henna the sheep both natural color and dyed. Here is Henna on combs:

combing Gulf Coast dyed

Very sharp dangerous looking things, and indeed there is a story that a bishop named Blaise in Armenia in 316 performed miracles and was attacked with wool combs and then beheaded because he would not renounce his faith. He was made a saint, Saint Blaise. What a horrible way to get sainthood!

Here is Henna combed.

Combed Gulf Coast

Here is the rest of  fiber after combing.  It is called “waste” because it is not good spinning material. The fibers combed out are very short and any vegetation in the original fiber has come out here. I don’t like to waste anything anywhere so I save it for stuffing the pillows I weave, felt for cat toys, and more.

stuffing from Henna March 2015 (1)
I will blend Henna with something not yet decided and make a lovely one ounce batt.

Here is my last Gulf Coast fiber, a washed pound of Fernando. I have used parts of his fiber for other things and now plan to put the rest through the picker when it visits at the end of the month. Wool combs look benign compared to the picker. You will see!



I don’t remember how much I had initially. If I did it wouldn’t sound like much compared to a whole fleece which before washed can weigh 3 to 8 pounds and much more. My spinning friends and I  buy fleeces together at fiber festivals and then split them up. Choosing together and sharing are fun. It gets each of us more variety of fiber, and relieves some guilt over buying more which we don’t need but can’t live without.

So, off to spring clean. Who cares if it still looks like winter? It feels right and that is what counts. I will also day dream of gardens lying under the snow. In Mid-January when we had no snow my friend Sandy and I started to plan co-operative gardening. We now live an hour apart so it won’t be a shared plot but we will help each other with the spring tasks of getting them up and running. I got my Fedco seed catalogue and started a list, and then the snow began. I’ll put reading it today on my to do list!


People sometimes ask me what made me first think about learning to spin. I used to ask myself that and then gave up trying to figure it out long ago.  It didn’t come from any  life experiences. I didn’t even know any spinners. Maybe some deep genetic influence rising from the past? I try to tell people the truth- that it came from within me-almost welled up- and some are satisfied, others still don’t understand and I don’t worry about that. I am too busy doing what I am happily driven to do!

What I do know is that I

1) can’t imagine my life without the inner fulfillment that it gives me and the friends I have made because they share the love of it

2)  understand the infatuation people have with their interests even when I have no personal interest whatsoever in what they enjoy. I know how it feels to them and I respect that.

3)  feel a bit sorry for people who don’t have a grand passion whatever that might be. In addition to creating wonderful communities for ourselves these passions are always there just waiting for us to make time to indulge in them. They are also very therapeutic. But maybe even though I don’t understand it, many people are happy without a grand passion. That’s fine.

But then how did I learn? Spinners have never been found in the yellow pages and the internet was not a source of information then. I will write more about that next time because I’m dying to get back to fiber itself which this month is Gulf Coast Native sheep wool!

My previous post had pictures of them and information about them and their fiber. I currently have Gulf Coast fiber from three sheep. For fun and to distinguish our vast amounts of fiber we often name the fiber for the sheep it came from. The creamy fiber below is Sophie. She has moved but then lived on Cape Cod. Here I am with her son Boone a few years ago.

Me with Boone

I have 8 oz. of her springy fiber left which I combed and then carded into batts which are seen below. I  used the rest of her fiber for outer socks for her shepherd and wove some of it into coasters after dyeing it green. Her strong textured yarn was used for both part of the warp and the weft. It is a coarse yarn, lovely in its own way, not to be spurned because it can’t be worn next to the skin. Another form of respect I guess because I aim to use all my fiber in ways that fit its basic nature and not try to make it into something it isn’t.

Sophie with coaster

Next I have fiber from two Gulf Coast sheep from the same farm. They live on Iris Creek Farm in Scotland CT and their shepherd, Keri, also raises the rare Leicester Longwools. Her fleeces are huge and gorgeous and always sell right away at the CT Sheep Festival- https://www.ctsheep.org/sheep_and_wool_festival    which is always the last Saturday in April. Keri has a Facebook page called Iris Creek Farm which has pictures of her sheep and darling lambs.

This white fiber is her Henna before I dyed her. It was the last ounce of her and had some vegetation in it. Most of her fleece was free of it but there is always a bit since after all they are animals who are outside most of the time. Again, I was not going to spurn her because of some vegetation so I decided to dye it and I will comb it to get out the vegetation and then card it into a batt maybe with some other color and some sparkle. I won’t know what I want to combine her with until I sit down to do it. I’ll post about it when it is done. Here she is now:

GC Henna before dyedDyed Henna GC Blue Purple

A funny story about Henna: I was so taken with her fleece that I got a few years ago that I e-mailed Keri before the next CT Sheep Festival to see if I could have her latest fleece. She told me that Henna had so well  evaded people trying to catch her for shearing that she didn’t get shorn. Perhaps some of her primitive feral ancestry was coming out (see my last post for details). As aggravating as it must have been for those trying to catch her, you have to admire her. At least I do! She hasn’t had such luck since then.

Next time I will write about Fernando. He also lives on Iris Creek Farm. Lest you think spinning is all sweetness and light be prepared later on to see some pretty scary fiber processing tools that could double as medieval torture instruments. Definitely could figure in murder mysteries.

I would love to hear anyone else’s experiences with Gulf Coast Native sheep. Also how others explain their love of spinning to people who can’t believe anyone wants to do this. Maybe like me, just a shrug of the shoulders which are covered in a handspun sweater named Inez?









Hardy Souls

I have decided to focus this month on Gulf Coast Sheep rather than Bluefaced Leicester because of a pleasant ovine encounter that I had on Sunday. My husband and I visited the small but mighty Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol Rhode Island. This living history museum is set in the year 1799 and depicts a small tenant farm. The house is  the original house that was there and has furniture, period kitchen items, hearth cooking, and workshop activities that reflect the goings on in the  lives of ordinary people of that time. Coggeshall farmhouse

We were there on a cold late morning when snow was about to arrive and had the three friendly and knowledgeable interpreters to ourselves. I was bundled up in my handspun hat, cowl and mittens and my LL Bean coat and was not cold at all. None of the animals were shivering either. We enjoy visiting house museums and those with barns are my favorites. My top interests are always wool spinning and any animals of course. This place has all of that and the animals and poultry  are heritage breeds that would have been found on this farm in 1799. Here is a little of what I found in the house.

Wool to be carded at Coggeshall Farmwalking wheel at Coggeshall Farm

Let me at them!                 But even better was who came out of the barn.

More sheep at Coggeshall FarmSheep at Coggeshall Farm

Gulf Coast Sheep!  One of my favorite breeds-let me at them!  So as not to be neglectful I should add that the heritage chickens, turkeys and cows are also wonderful. This is a Devon cow which is a very old breed used for both milking and meat.

Devon cow at Coggeshall Farm

For that fun reason of just having seen them I decided to change my fiber focus this month to the rare breed Gulf Coast Native Sheep. I’ll get back to the BFL later on for sure. Gulf Coast sheep ancestors were brought to the southeast of North America by French and Spanish explorers. Many were later abandoned, became feral and were able to survive on their own due to good foraging skills, toleration of heat and cold, resistance to parasites and resistance to foot rot. All are domesticated now yet they retain these hardy qualities,  instinctively are good mothers and their wool and meat (yikes) can both be used. They are considered to be one of the few uniquely North American breeds and are not found elsewhere in the world.

The breed’s wool staple length is 2.5” to 4” which means that is the length their fleeces grow in one year. The micron count of the fleece, which refers to the diameter of individual fibers and determines softness/coarseness is 26-32 microns. Lower micron counts correspond with softest fleece. A count of 21 or below is often considered the range of fiber that will be comfortable next to the skin for most people although many can tolerate higher counts. I don’t know the micron count for my Gulf Coast fiber which comes from three unrelated sheep- Sophie, Fernando and Henna-  however I subjectively think two would be on the lower and softer end and one is on the coarser. The softer wool can be used for mittens or outer socks and all the fiber can be used for many other items such as bags, or in weaving or rug hooking. It takes dye beautifully.

Okay, enough history and facts for now although I myself can never get enough of either. Next post will show you my lovely Gulf Coast fiber and tell you where it came from and some of my plans for it. Even I don’t know what the plans are right now. Until then I would love to hear about others experiences with these fantastic sheep and their fiber! This is truly a rare breed that needs to be preserved both for its tenacious place in history and for its hardy qualities that make it an animal with fewer health needs than many.  Coggeshall Farm Museum is definitely a place that deserves a visit and helps us at this time of year to remember the tenacity of the human spirit in the winter of 1799, and the winters that followed, as well!