The Journal for Weavers, Spinners & Dyers – Wool Issue

posted in: Sheep, Wool, Writing | 7

I'm way behind on blog posts. I love writing them, but have been traveling both for work and for family, and have jotted down notes upon notes that have not turned into the reality of new posts.

Here's a quick item, though.

I arrived home from the airport (again) at midnight last night to find the Autumn 2012 issue of The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, which is a special wool issue celebrating The Campaign for Wool.

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My daughter, who ordinarily does sort my mail while I'm gone but never opens it without checking with me first, confessed that in this instance she couldn't stand the suspense of waiting until I returned from this latest trip to see what had come of the endeavor she'd watched take shape over more than a year. She had opened the plastic wrapper and taken a look. The issue contains an article that I was intrepid enough to undertake writing, called "Tracing the British Sheep Breeds."

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There's a story behind this, of course.

More than a year ago, spinning editor Christina Chisholm contacted me and asked if I could write an article for an upcoming special issue on wool, the subject to be "the history and development of British sheep breeds"—as I mentioned in my reply, a "vast topic." Christina indicated that they were looking for "a central lynch-pin educational feature to the whole special focus issue, which will mean that a huge amount of information will have to be condensed. . . ."

Now here's the problem. I knew right up front that this would be a nearly impossible task. Even (perhaps especially) because I had The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and the Interweave DVD set on spinning rare-breed wools behind me (the reasons Christina had contacted me), I wondered why I'd been chosen for this assignment and whether I really would have the temerity to say yes.

While I have a reasonable amount of common sense in my daily life, I seem to have almost none in determining what jobs I consider too intriguing to decline. I looked at the generous deadline—it was merely July 2011 and they would not need the article until March or April 2012—and considered that I might be able to move forward at a pace that would make it possible to pull off the challenge. I really wanted to dig into "the history and development of British sheep breeds" and see what kind of sense I could make of them. I would simply have to accept that I'd need to do so in a good deal less space than has been devoted to the task by wiser heads before me. The allowable space was 3,000 words (an increase over the journal's regular 2,000-word maximum for a feature).

Well, I was right. It wasn't easy. At the same time, it continued to be irresistible. I had to begin with "what ARE the British sheep breeds?" (a question that led to the chart in the middle photo above) and go from there. This research and writing pursuit is part of why my blog posts were few and far between over the fall, winter, and spring than they might otherwise have been (then, of course, I also need to make a living, so it was time to start traveling to teach workshops, with some family adventures thrown into the mix). 

By April 14, I sent Christina a progress report: "Yes, indeed, I've been working on that article. The BIG problem is that it's an impossible topic, although of course I'm not letting that stop me. I keep wrestling with it, and it keeps growing more arms and legs and throwing me to the ground. I get up again and go back at it." I got a bare-bones version of 6,000 words written, and then went to the mountains for two days of concentration, during which I cinched it down to the requisite 3,000 words, which I transmitted by April 24—at which point we began to work on photos. Over the next two months, we worked out the details.

The result is not definitive, but it's a snapshot of how to approach the basic questions about the history and development of British sheep breeds, and some observations that I came to while diving into those questions.

I just read the piece in print for the first time, and while I think a lot (all?) of the statements would benefit from more depth and elaboration, I think it has value as an overview and that, ultimately, it works.

If you're a sheep-and-wool enthusiast, you might want to check out issue 243 of the journal. If you do, let me know what you think. The publication contains a lot of other interesting articles, including one by Margaret Russell and another by Elizabeth Lovick—and much more. The short news blurbs contribute useful information and links. Also, if you think you might be traveling in the British Isles, Isabella Whitworth has been brave enough to assemble a list of woolly sites and events that can be downloaded from the journal's site until August 2013.

(By the way, those are Ryeland lambs on the front cover.)

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7 Responses

  1. Oh dear. You’re not afraid of huge, challenging tasks… I haven’t got my copy of the Journal yet, but I suppose it’s on it’s way. What a great photo on the front page – a Ryeland fleece will be shipped to me from Wales this week!

  2. Wow! Congratulations. It’s great to see the finished article after hearing about it on and off over the past year. I know you could have said a lot more, and I hope you’ll get the chance to do that in book form one of these days, but I think amassing all of that breed and lineage information and then distilling it into an overview is a huge contribution. I love the photo of the Ryelands on the cover, too!

  3. Susan, you have definitely followed the progress of this. And yes, I have more to say. All I need to do is buy the time to get it written.

  4. As has become normal, you’ve introduced me to yet another publication that I have to subscribe to! I’ve followed, through your comments, the development of this article, and am ecstatic to see it in fruition!
    Off to the “subscribe” page….

  5. Read my Journal yesterday; goodness me, you have stuffed a lot of information in a very limited space, yet stil made it legible and organised. As one would expect! Excellent…

  6. Meg Caulmare

    Welcome home, Deb. I just ordered a copy of the issue, along with one on spinning exotic fibers. I can’t wait to read it. Congratulations also on your review of The Master Weavers in Spin Off! No kidding, a taste for gargantuan tasks. I adore that book, and your advice to grab a copy while I could was the best advice I’ve had in a decade. I treat it like an art textbook: I wash my hands before sitting down with it. No matter where I open it, it takes my breath away.

    Ryeland has been one of my wish-list fleeces since I learned to spin. Perhaps there’ll be a grower listed in one of the issues, someone who would be willing to ship to the US.

    You’re a superb resource for us Deb. Please keep putting new and amazing things in front of us.

  7. Freyalyn, I’m really glad you enjoyed the article. It’s true that the biggest reason I agreed to work on the piece was that it was a challenge I couldn’t turn my back on. There seems to be a theme there. I’m delighted to hear it makes sense and is organized! I left so much out.

    You’ll really like the journal, Meg. Another reason I said okay to the challenge was that I’ve known, and respected, the publication for many years. The current editorial staff, whom I was unacquainted with, is top-notch. Isn’t The Master Weavers something else? It was a huge splurge for me, too, and one I indulged in because some of these things have to be seized when they are available. Or I’ll need to move mountains to get them later.

    Thanks to all for cheering me on. I love this stuff, yet without company on the journey it would be nowhere near as much fun.

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