Thursday, May 31, 2012

More lamb photos from Shetland...

Here are several more wonderful photos of Shetland lambs taken by Elizabeth Johnston on Mainland, Shetland in the last few weeks.

Elizabeth wrote, "The white ewe and lamb spotted the open garden gate and got in for a nibble before being chase out."
  If you look carefully, the moorit ewe to the right is horned.
These lambs have some really nice markings.
A moorit ewe with two black lambs.
 I always love seeing these photos, in part because of what these Shetland sheep from Shetland look like, but also for the scenery.  I suspect that the edge of this pasture is fenced due to a rather sharp drop off down to the sea.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lamb Photos From Shetland

Elizabeth Johnston finally had the chance to send me some photos of the new colored lambs that she's seeing in the pastures around her area on Mainland, Shetland.  Between the wind, rain and heavy mist, it's not been good weather to take photos in - for her or the photos.

This ewe was seen while Elizabeth and some students made a local farm visit in search of some fleece.

Elizabeth noted, "The ewe in these was not well after she had her lambs so they have been giving the lambs some bottles for extra feeding, so 2 of my visitors got to feed them. There is one ewe and one ram lamb and they are both all black except for one which has a grey nose. Last year she had 3 lambs and was fine."

And finally, my favorite photo with the lovely old stone wall in the background... 

Elizabeth commented -"In the dull photo with the one twin standing on the mothers back - the lambs were playing, climbing on the ewes back and jumping off again. A few times they were both standing on her back but they move so fast I could not get the photo taken in time. So one on at a time was the best I got."

More lamb photos coming soon...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A matter of blocking...

I started knitting when I was about 9 years old and until recently I never made the effort to block my work. Although I'm not old enough to retire, I am old enough to get solicitations to join that's a fairly long time.  Blocking has always seemed like too much of a bother...

As a former professional weaver, it never would have occurred to me not to finish my weaving once it came off of the loom.  I can't remember how many times I've told students that your work it not done until it's been washed, fulled and ironed. Somehow this just never seemed to apply to my knitting hobby...until a few years ago when I was listening to Elizabeth Johnston giving essentially the same comments regarding knitting as I used to give regarding weaving.  The light bulb finally went off!

Elizabeth's hat and lace shawls in the background
During the class on knitting Fair Isle in 2010 held at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard, WA, Elizabeth showed us some techniques for blocking a hat she had knit.  She used a plastic colander to get the shape of a head and later, after it had dried she steamed the hat edge back into shape so that it fit more snugly onto the head.  It turns out that blocking was all about getting your knitting to look good and do what you wanted it to do.  Another light bulb went off...

Several years ago, I knit a wool sweater for my husband.  He had tried it on several times and kept asking me to knit it a bit longer each time.  I was getting close to the end of this project and was getting anxious to be done with the whole thing, so I decided that it was indeed long enough - for me.  Unfortunately he never wore it much after that was too short for him.

After Elizabeth's blocking demonstration I went home and dug out his sweater from the back of the closet.  Next I found my wooly board or 'jumper board'.

'Jumper boards' in Shetland - Photo #P05489 taken in 1952 from the Shetland Museum Photo Archives

I washed up his sweater, spun the water out and put it on the wooly board. To stretch the sweater lengthwise, I then laced a long piece of yarn through both sides of the bottom of the sweater and then around the bottom of the board.  I did this several times to create an even tension along the bottom of the sweater.  At this point I started to tighten my yarn and stretch down the bottom of the sweater.  I managed to stretch the sweater almost four inches longer than it had been originally.

The sweater sat in the corner for a few days drying.  As I impatiently unlaced my piece of yarn to see if this 'experiment' had actually worked, I was thrilled to find out that my husband's 'too short' sweater was now just right!  And best of all it stayed this way, at least until the next time I washed it.  He's even taken to wearing it again!  Now I can't imagine knitting anything without blocking it after it's finished and washed.  I wonder what took me so long...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ram photos from Shetland

Elizabeth Johnston was out earlier this week taking photos of sheep.  It's always a treat to see the sheep that form the beginning of the Fair Isle knitting experience.

It's lambing time in Shetland and the rams have been separated from the rest of the sheep. They have formed their own little flock. Here are some of the photos Elizabeth sent me and a few of her comments:

"It was a really windy day when I got them all in the same place to take a photo so I sat in the car and zoomed the camera. I was blown all over the place if I got outside."    

"I love the photo of the one with the black eyes. He looks as if he has a good fleece."

"The black ram - the old style one - has a real rough fleece but good for rug wool. I wouldn't want to go in to the park with him either. His temperament is probably as bad as his fleece. His face is beautiful though and those horns..."
Because I raise Shetlands here in the US, I'm always interested in how a real Shetlander defines terms like 'old style' in relation to the fleece description.  Here is what Elizabeth had to say:

"OK, old style, I probably mean real primitive, unaltered. Those huge horns, and it is a small animal, if you saw it next to those other rams, he is visibly smaller. The size is small, but mostly it is the fleece. That white front is long and hairy, similar to the strip down the middle of the back. The fleece has an outer guard hair. The fleece might have some soft wool but most of it will be rough. This type of fleece would be used for outer wear, not to wear near the skin. The garment will be quite waterproof and will probably not felt and so not shrink. And temperament is as rough as the fleece. They can be real nasty to work with...He is gorgeous, but his fleece is fairly useless for us nowadays."

The last photo in the group got me really excited.  It turns out that one to the rams in the group Elizabeth was photographing had four horns!  I've never seen any four horned Shetlands in the US, but do know that they exist.  Here is the photo and her comments about this rare style of ram:

"They are rare, but when one arrives sometimes they are kept, just because they have arrived. I don't think anyone is breeding for them. And in fact I don't think they produce 4 horned lambs. I did say to Oliver at the Wool Brokers that I had seen one and he could name about 6 or 7 others he knew of lately. They don't have a particular type of fleece.
They are not really an animal that you want. The rams need a strong skull for rutting and these do not have strong skulls. The weight of the 4 horns can pull at the skull joins and they are prone to fractured skulls."

When the rain stops, Elizabeth has promised to go out and photograph some of the new colored Shetland lambs.  I can't wait!!!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

 More of Martha's Shetland travels...

In April, Martha sent me this photo with the following commentary:

"I taught a class that Elizabeth organized for me in Shetland about 3 years ago!  Here is Hazel Tindall, the fastest knitter in the world spinning on an old spinney that came to her from her Auntie Ellen.  Auntie Ellen got the wheel when she was about 14, after leaving school (around 1900) and she perhaps spun on it up until the war years.  I thnk that in the end this fast knitter thinks she will just keep on knitting and maybe will not spin!  Look at her lovely all over!"

For those of you who have not heard of Hazel, here is a video that is from STV Scotland that is about her:


I love listening to the sound of the clicking of her needles in the background of this video...but I can't even imagine knitting that fast!