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The following article appeared in The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (Autumn 2012, The Wool Issue 243, page 34). The Journal is produced by the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. You can find out more about the Guild at www.wsd.org.uk and about the Journal at www.thejournalforwsd.org.uk.

I wrote in Journal 238 (Summer 2011) about the background and aims of my collaborative knitting project Give Fleece A Chance. A flock of small knitted sheep has been made from handspun and commercial yarns that use wool sourced in South West England, particularly Devon and Cornwall. I found many farm-branded commercially spun yarns and generous sheep farmers who donated fleeces, often with the challenging words ‘See what you can do with that!’ Greyface Dartmoor, handspun into something resembling coir string, also proved to be a challenge to knit! But it is these ‘low-value’ coarse wools that have made the most charming individual sheep; the commercial yarns pale against them. I have exhibited the flock at country shows and textile fairs and encouraged people into looking again at British wool and appreciating the diversity of texture, handle and colour.

An online Wool Directory (www.wooldirectory.org.uk) has emerged out of this project, a resource giving easier access to local fleeces and yarns, encouraging people to buy from the farm gate and to use wool creatively and commercially. It has already been used by textile and fashion students researching sustainable fibres and so is proving to be of value to those of us that love using the diverse sheep breeds.

In the 18 months since the project began, 250 sheep have been made, representing 70 different fleeces, 118 yarns and 40 breeds (not including crosses). I was helped by 76 knitters, many of whom handspun the yarn too. The project is continuing, so if you have any SW produced wool in a breed I haven’t got, I’d be really grateful for some fleece, even more if it’s ready spun and if it’s ready knitted! The sheep pattern is free for everyone to use for whatever purpose, but if you do make some sheep, please send one for my flock.

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Another great episode of Lambing Live last night including an interesting feature on the history of the wool industry in Britain. I didn’t know about the wool smugglers on Romney Marsh! Though I can understand the value of this fleece; I have some Romney which is beautiful to spin and knit with.
On the BBC website for the programme are a series of short films about some breeds of sheep including Jacob, Shetland and North Ronaldsay. Well worth a look here.
If you’ve found this blog through searching for Lambing Live, I’ll explain what we are doing. Give Fleece A Chance is a project to promote British wool and connect the producers (farmers, smallholders) to the users (knitters, weavers, spinners, people who want to wear British wool). Adam Henson said in last night’s episode that wool prices are rising and The Campaign For Wool are running for five years to really boost the wool industry and get consumers back to this fantastic natural product.
GFAC is doing the same in a small way. If you want to get involved, we are knitting small sheep in as many different breeds of sheep as we can to create an installation art piece to exhibit. I’m running the South West flock and have local wool I can supply you with. If you’re in another part of the country, I’d love to start up regional flocks to promote the local wool in your area. Have a look around this blog, the pattern for the sheep is here, info about me is here, the catalogue of sheep is here. There’s also a short video of the first 50 sheep on youtube here. Thanks for looking.

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This weekend the sheep were at a Textile Fair at Duchy Square in Princetown. I was given a large bag of Devon and Cornwall Longwool which was longer than the fleece I already have. This will make it easier to spin, I hope! The bag also contained some D&C Longwool and Dorset cross which is softer and not so curly. Both fleeces need a good wash so I’m waiting for a sunny day to catch up on fleece washing’ duties. 
I also received a small amount of Herdwick (dark and light), Scottish Blackface, and Welsh Black. And several sheep, including two that have been knitted by the children of a local primary school.
All the fleece was given free of charge which is very generous but also indicative of the value this fleece has (or hasn’t).
The number of sheep is now around 175 with a few on the production line for sewing up and finishing. We’re getting close to 200 which would be a fantastic achievement and down to the hard work of my volunteer knitters.
As soon as we get to 200, I’ll make another video but in the meantime don’t forget the ‘trailer’ of the first 50 sheep here.

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I recently got some yarn that was spun from sheep at Morwellham Quay, Devon. You may have seen Morwellham on BBC tv recently as it was used for The Edwardian Farm programme. One episode featured White Faced Dartmoor sheep, showing the whole story from shearing to spinning and weaving. The industrial spinning process was filmed at Coldharbour Mill, Devon; it’s a working museum and is a fascinating place to visit.

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On 29th and 30th October I will be at a Textile Trade Fair (at Duchy Square Centre for Creativity, Princetown, Dartmoor). As part of the marketing for this, the organisers gave me a fantastic write up for a press release and I added a few lines about GFAC when I was sent a copy to approve. The great news is that it was picked up by a local paper and appeared on Wednesday.

Click here to read the online version under the headline Call for people to flock in support of wool.

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On Sunday I went along to the East Dartmoor Teashop Knitters annual knit event, Ktog4, held this year in Ashburton. I took along some of my books but I was mainly there to promote Give Fleece A Chance. Everyone I spoke to was really enthusiastic about the project and I gave away loads of patterns. During the afternoon, three sheep were made by members of the EDT knitters, so many thanks for those.

Knitted sheep

Sign up for GFAC here.

 

I took along two baskets full of local fleece that I sourced over the last two weeks as well as the sheep. There was a sign up sheet so I can start collecting email addresses of people who want to knit when I get some more yarn. The knitted cover over the table is from my book The Knitter’s Bible and is a variation on the traditional Grandmother’s Garden Square.

local fleece, local yarn, wool, Devon wool, Cornish wool, knitted sheep

Baskets of fleece and handspun yarns

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