Dreaming of Shetland launches!

In February, friends came up with an amazing and unexpected idea to help me do the next phase of research into sheep and wool, which involves a study of Shetland sheep and their fleeces. Shetlands are really complex, even controversial, and consideration of their development and current situation encompasses many questions relating to fibers, regardless of type or breed. They're a microcosm of the wool world—physically, historically, and culturally. I wrote about "Why Shetlands?" in an earlier blog post, and that piece was initially constructed for and appears in the Dreaming of Shetland e-book that is coming into being through these folks' amazing and unexpected idea.

Their idea: to ask a selection of talented people each to contribute a pattern, an essay, or some other item to what would be combined into an e-book anthology, the sales of which would be used to fund my Shetland inquiries: essentially, a community fundraiser, operated informally (albeit rigorously) and in ongoing fashion. Here's the associated website.

The gist: They asked me to meet with them before lunch one day at an event we were mutually participating in. We sat down in the empty dining room. They told me that they had "an idea" and that all I would need to do was "say yes" and "have a PayPal account." Well, I do have a business PayPal account, which I use mostly to buy fiber and books (about fiber, surprised?).

So they gave me the outline: people within the knitting community who might have an interest in seeing what I would come up with in the way of research would be asked to contribute a pattern each to a collection. The plan was to have the whole project happen quickly, so that patterns that would be included would likely already exist—for example, a neat design that was still in the files because it had never found a public home.* The instigators (more on them both below and in a future post) would assemble, design, and set up an e-book collection through Ravelry (to keep this as simple as such an outrageously ambitious endeavor could be). All proceeds would go to my research.

* It only sort of worked that way. A lot of people got inspired to create original designs.

I was, and am, gobsmacked. I prefer to be stubbornly self-reliant and can be more independent than most cats. Yet I am also obstinate about my research, which was being implemented at about 1/1000 the speed that I envisioned, for lack of resources.

I looked across the table at their inspired faces. I thought about the sheep. I thought about the wool. I thought about knitters and weavers and spinners of the future. I thought about all of us now, and how much we appreciate knowledge that deepens our craft and our appreciation for life. I thought about how I am relatively reserved (yes, I can talk fine in public—when I'm talking about fibers) and that this would put me in a bit of a new spotlight—and I decided that the spotlight would be on the sheep, and I could just be a lens. And I thought that at this point in my life, I'm in a position to ask questions and know how to dig for information, if not answers, and to put together what I discover in ways that others may find interesting and useful. I thought about the sheep again—all the sheep, in addition to the Shetlands—and all of the lovely, dramatically versatile and dissimilar wools they grow, wools that we need to know better. And I envisioned that at the end of it all, lots more people would be connected to, and know the joy of, the sheep and their fleeces. And that it could be fun for everyone involved. (And a lot of work. I had no illusions about that. They didn't, either, although like all good things it has become more than anyone expected.)

I slowly nodded yes, making myself say the word out loud as well. I knew that, because of the people who were already involved and those who might be, this would be a big deal.

Yes.

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For the most part, I was asked to pretty much stay out of it—to, if I had a spare moment, go research sheep and wool. So I was asked to write the "Why Shetlands?" piece and to review the sheep photos that would be on the cover (to determine whether they were of the Shetland breed, or simply sheep of other breeds in Shetland). While I've seen the photography for the projects (both the photos and the designs make me want to pick up my needles, and in one case I already have), the book is as new to me as it will be to those who choose to buy it. 

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The scope: The project got quite a bit bigger and more complicated than the initial intention (doesn't everything?). As matters proceeded, the organizers needed to put a cut-off date on participation in order to actually make it happen within anyone's lifetime. They also decided to release the book in sections, in order to make the logistics (and the file sizes) manageable, although signing up for it once will, over the next several months, yield the whole thirty patterns and associated articles and photographs. 

In the interval between the idea's origin in February and the initial release a few days ago, two things became apparent to me. One was that without some practical help, it would take years, or decades, to accomplish anything toward this research, and the second was that the moral and psychological support of the idea alone has already been hugely beneficial.

A quick note: Even though the release of the e-book has been "soft," without a lot of fanfare and the "announcement" mostly by word-of-mouth so far, the initial proceeds have already enabled me to obtain resources that have previously been very difficult or impossible for me to access.

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Whose idea was this?

The idea came from Donna Druchunas, and Anne Berk immediately stepped in to collaborate, enlisting her husband, Bill Berk, to do the photography. Donna's husband Dominic Cotignola provided invaluable, and mostly unheralded, technical help.

Sarah Jaworowicz supplied creative energy, organizational prowess, and graphic design skills.

Susan Santos coordinated the tech editing and kept everyone centered and optimistic.

But listing those individual responsibilities obscures the closely integrated teamwork that even from a distance I was fully aware of, as they nurtured a spark into a whole series of warm campfires to offer to the fiber world.

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It says "for Deborah Robson," but I'm just the conduit here. Although yes, I have a dream that this research and our mutually growing efforts and knowledge will have a long-lasting and positive effect on our fiber activities and on communities' and individuals' and several landscapes' health.

Whose work is featured?

The designers and researchers and creative souls who have graciously and enthusiastically come forward to make Dreaming of Shetland a reality include:

Take a look at the kinds of work they've packed into the e-book here.

I'm looking forward to seeing and reading it myself! One of the reasons it took me a few days to put this post together was that when I got the preview section last week, I read Donna's dedication and had to compose myself. I always see the shortfalls of what I do: I want to do more than any day permits, and I want to raise all of our boats together. Donna's words let me see that even when my reach exceeds my grasp, I may be getting a handle on some things in a way that's helpful.

So if you are inclined (with all those incredibly talented people involved, I don't know how anyone could resist, even if this were "just" a regular book), there's information on the website (of course they put together a website {wry grin}).

Meanwhile, I need to get back to the quest. As soon as my eyes quit misting up and I can see clearly again.

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Thanks, all. I'll bring back sheepy and woolly information and share it.

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Photos © Deborah Robson

Dreaming of Shetland cover design by Sarah Jaworowicz


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9 Responses

  1. How exciting. Best wishes for the research.
    Cheers
    Laura

  2. “Donna’s words let me see that even when my reach exceeds my grasp, I may be getting a handle on some things in a way that’s helpful.”
    Yes, Deb. Yes, you certainly do. 🙂
    Best of luck with the research! Now I’m off to read through the first patterns and make plans for a whole winters worth of knitting. 🙂

  3. I purchased the book yesterday as soon as I read it was available. It is such a great idea and a way to learn more about about this breed. I look forward to knitting the patterns and reading about Shetland sheep.

  4. Vicariously, like many others, going to enjoy the daylights out of reading the adventures and joys and learnings of your dreams. Waiting not very patiently for the next “installment”….

  5. Well, now that I have a real job (finally!), as soon as I get paid, I know what I’ll be spending some of it on. Grateful as everyone else that you said “yes” Deb, and looking forward to the result.

  6. Hi Deb,

    Just got the book from the library and I know that I need my very own copy! I is absolutely lovely! I have a question…is there a difference between hill breeds and mountain breeds? So hill sheep come to lower elevations in winter and mountain sheep don’t?

    Thanks!

    Wendy
    spinsjal.blogspot.com

  7. Hi, Wendy:

    Hill breeds and mountain breeds are a little complicated, and I need to spend more time with the topic of how they're defined to be really comfortable answering your question.

    The names are used to group or classify British sheep breeds, for the most part, and refer to the terrain in which the sheep normally live. Hill breeds and mountain breeds are hardy and independent and don't require as much direct human care as lowland breeds.

    Here's where I'm going out on a limb. In my understanding at this point, mountain breeds more often have ruggeder (is that a word {grin}?), more obviously double-coated fleeces and can handle more severe weather (I'm thinking of, say, Herdwicks). Hill breeds more often have single-coated fleeces (although there may be some kemp) and can handle a lot of weather, but not the truly dramatic extremes. Now, it gets complicated in one way because I think that some breeds have "mountain" in their name although through breeding choices they may have evolved to have more characteristics of what I'd think of as "hill" breeds (Black Welsh Mountain, I'm looking at you {grin}–developed in the Welsh mountains, but the fleece types have changed through selection). Yet there's still that heritage, and you can feel it in the wool, as well as the name.

    When I see Dalesbred and Swaledale described as hill breeds, I think I need to look into the topic more! I'd think of them as mountain breeds. And even in Michael Ryder's massive Sheep and Man, the index says "hill farming, British (see also mountain sheep)." 

    This question is like "What is a Down breed?", which it took me quite a while to come to a comfortable personal definition of. Then, in even deeper research, I learned that some other people had historically come to the same conclusion. But I had to go very deep to find that confirmation.

    GREAT question. I hope I haven't said anything truly out of line, which is the risk. But you get the idea of what factors are involved in finding an answer.

  8. What luck that today I was catching up on your blog! I grabbed Dreaming of Shetland immediately. This is a terrific idea, and I’m glad you agreed to it. Somehow I missed the news about the Field Guide to Fleece, but I’ve pre-ordered now and look forward to having it in hand. Everything of yours I read casts new light on the subjects of fleece, sheep, history, evolution, human migration and what we take with us (and why), how to do what we love even better, and the perfect pleasure of working with one’s intelligence and hands. Keep up teh good work. Best wishes in your research.

  9. I am so glad I have been popping in regularly to check your blog. I nabbed my copy immediately, before I finished reading the first paragraph of your post.
    I am pleased and proud to help keep you out there gathering a body of knowledge whose affects will stretch into the future.
    Yay!!!

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