Deb in Shetland
In Shetland, visiting sheep and shepherds. Photo by Mary Macgregor.

When I began spinning in the 1970s, prepared fiber wasn’t available, so I learned by using raw wool and immediately became interested in the different breeds of sheep and the types of fleeces they grew. Not too long after that, I noticed that the breeds of sheep that most handspinners valued above others were listed as “at risk of extinction” by the livestock conservation groups. I became alarmed. It was as if a woodworker had learned that pine, cherry, and oak were endangered (they may be!—instrument-makers have already needed to find substitutes for some classic woods).

I worked as an editor of textile books and magazines, which fed not only my family but my curiosity. My questions about all types of wools intersected with my interest in the rare breeds, and I discovered that the answers I wanted weren’t available. So I started researching. And then researching even more. Lincoln led to Navajo-Churro, which in turn led to Norfolk Horn, which resulted in the Save the Sheep project sponsored by Interweave Press. Then I had questions about mohair and cashmere and yaks and paco-vicuñas and pygoras.

In a fit of brilliance or insanity, I spent four years spinning every fiber-grown-by-an-animal that I could get my hands on, and working with Carol Ekarius to write The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn. Interweave asked me to record a set of instructional DVDs called Handspinning Rare Wools. People started asking me to teach workshops. I went to Scotland and got to spend time with super-wonderful people and meet sheep I’d only seen in photos. Then Storey brought out The Field Guide to Fleece: 100 Sheep Breeds and How to Use Their Fibers. The whole thing has taken off, and I’m going with it because I get to share all the cool stuff I’ve learned, and I get to discover even more questions and some of their answers.

Border collie on a yoga mat
Border collie Ceilidh (kay-lee) warms up my traveling yoga mat. Photo by Deb Robson.

This is not the entirety of my life, although it seems like it’s enough that it could be. I’ve lived in the Midwest, New England, and the Pacific Northwest, and have traveled in 49 of the 50 states (Hawai’i is the missing one). I’ve been a single parent for a lot of years and a freelance editor for even longer, working on both fiction and nonfiction works. I’ve collaborated with two other parents on a book about raising kids who don’t fit the standard school system. I love folk music and contradancing (although I haven’t had much time lately for either). Yoga and meditation keep me focused and relatively flexible, and if I can bike rather than take the car, I do (although a good road trip is one of life’s delights). I keep wanting to have a more successful garden than I have managed so far. The days are too short.

But they are always interesting.

And I keep coming back around to spinning, textiles, and the animals that grow fibers that have been so important to thousands of years of civilization and are nearly invisible to most of today’s humans, especially in technologically advanced parts of the world. I’m all for technology, wisely used. That includes handspindles as well as iPods.

I’ve got plenty of stories to share about my adventures with wool. If you’d like to hear them, and get all the latest information on my public appearances and workshops, sign up for my newsletter.