Teaching classes about rare-breed wools

Start by saying that I love teaching people about the different types of wools, both for people who spin and for people who start their fiber pursuits with yarn.

Within the past six months I've gotten requests both to record the DVD set about spinning rare-breed wools that Interweave recently released and to teach some classes for spinners about rare wools, at the Conference of Northern California Handweavers (CNCH) in May and at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR) in October. These will be survey classes, in which we'll all get our hands on a variety of different types of rare wools.


By definition, these wools are rare. For an individual person looking for wool to spin, finding these fibers is do-able. Yes, you can locate them! Especially if you don't have a deadline. But finding enough to supply a group of people (who are convening at a particular time) is a whole different quest.

Presenting these classes would not be even remotely possible without the help of Beth Smith, at The Spinning Loft, and Jennifer Heverly, at Spirit Trail Fiberworks. They're helping me gather fibers. Because, indeed, we need to obtain (and wash, and package) enough fiber of enough different breeds to supply all the participants in the workshops.

Overall (this is scary), in order to teach the CNCH workshop in May, plus SOAR's three-day and one-day workshops as well as four retreat sessions, we need to come up with 996 spinnable portions of wool representing at least 15 rare breeds of sheep.

There are no typos in that summary.

The workshops and classes have varying numbers of participants, and will include different numbers of types of wool, depending on how much time we have available for our explorations. I want the wool ready to go and easy to divide fairly, so we spend as little time as possible distributing materials and as much time as possible playing with them. Thus the massive prep work.

  • CNCH: Maximum 15 participants x minimum 12 breeds (during 12 class hours) = 180 packets.
  • SOAR three-day workshop: Maximum 16 participants x minimum 15 breeds (during 18 class hours) = 240 packets.
  • SOAR one-day workshop: Maximum 18 participants x minimum 8 breeds (during 5.5 class hours) = 144 packets.
  • SOAR retreat sessions: Maximum 18 participants x minimum 6 breeds (smaller quantities per breed than in workshops) x 4 sessions (of 3 class hours each) = 432 portions.
  • That does add up to 996 portions of wool. I've recalculated three times because I had a hard time believing it.

What we'll accomplish during each class will be modified to fit the time available. Of course, I also want to make sure that we have diverse types of fibers, so each survey really is a survey and people come away with a broad enough perspective to feel comfortable when they encounter the breeds we haven't covered, as well as those we have.

We started this whole process on December 22, as soon as the need became apparent. We do have a few extra months to obtain and prepare the SOAR supplies. For CNCH, we need to jump-start the season. As shearing begins, we are collecting fleeces (that we've already put in requests for) as they come off the sheep.

North Ron_4294

Above: Samples of North Ronaldsay wool.

It's pretty exciting.

It also requires some detailed spreadsheet work, and a lot of e-mails back and forth. As of a few minutes ago, we've almost got the CNCH requirements covered. We need to fill in one more breed. We have lots of possibilities, but no wool-in-hand (or even in transit yet).

The gist? Although I'm likely to be teaching workshops now and then (and here and there) on breed-specific wools, and I will always include rare breeds in a class line-up, I'm not at all sure how often we're going to be able to pull off events that include only rare-breed wools.

Huge thanks to Beth and Jennifer for making these focused workshops possible.

While I'll give an overview of the world of wool at the start of each workshop or class, I'll give provide more detail on the breeds we'll actually be experiencing firsthand. Before I can get ready to do that, I need to know what they are! Now that we're (pretty) certain what eleven of the twelve CNCH breeds will be, I can start preparing my slides.

Happy spring! (Happy shearing season!)

Possible (probable) blog tour

It looks like we're going to be doing a blog tour for the release of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. The publisher, Storey, will be coordinating it, and it will probably start June 1. If you have a blog or podcast and would like to participate, let me know and I'll pass your information along to the folks who will be managing the schedule.

What I'm spinning

It's not a sample. It is a rare breed: Gulf Coast Native roving, sourced, processed, and hand-dyed by Jennifer Heverly, at the previously mentioned Spirit Trail Fiberworks.



12 thoughts on “Teaching classes about rare-breed wools”

  1. Blog tours are a lot of fun. It would be great to have you be part of this!

    The tour happens over set a number of days, often two to three weeks. Each participating blogger (or podcaster) has a specific day on which to post (or podcast) something about the topic of the tour (in this case, the book: yes, participants will have access to a copy). Each individual gets to choose what they want to do, and whether they want to work on their own (i.e., provide their own commentary on the topic) or to have other folks (like the authors) involved by providing a guest post, responding (ahead of time) to interview questions, or whatever makes them happy.

    Each participating "stop" in the tour links from the previous stop and to the next one. There's also a central page that links to all of the stops.

    When we did a blog tour for Donna Druchunas's Ethnic Knitting Discovery, I made up a page that included links to all of the selections. I'm not sure they're all still "live," because it's been several years, but I know a bunch of them are! http://independentstitch.typepad.com/the_independent_stitch/blog-tour-ethnic-knitting.html
    We also did a great tour for Donna's Arctic Lace, although I haven't had time to collect the links, and since it was almost six years ago I know some of the pieces have vanished.

    What I love about blog tours is the variety of perspectives, the connections made between different communities, and, well, the general stirring up of energy in interesting ways.

  2. Blog tours are awesome and normally I’d jump on the bandwagon–but I’m expecting a blog blackout over here about that time as I cater to two non-woolly lambs. 🙂 Get back to me if the tour extends to the fall, ‘kay?!

    I really understand what you’re saying about the wool sourcing. I do not have to do rare breed sourcing for my classes, but I’ve sourced wool 4 times in the last year for my classes and it is a lot of work. I’m embarrassed to say most of the wool has come from my stash–(yup, up to a lb a student straight from my stash!) but what that means is that I have to keep buying more fleeces with the future in mind. Then I have to have them processed and ready just in case a class fills. It can be a real challenge.

    My students always leave with practice wool and are excited by what I’ve offered them–but I don’t think they really have a grip on the time I take to get those resources to them! (and these aren’t particularly exotic fleeces most of the time!)

  3. The rare breed sample collecting is quite a project, and if it’s any comfort, you would be in the top of my most-likely-to-succeed list for such an endeavor! I don’t think my blog is going to be the best place for a tour stop for the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, but I’d love to review it for Story Circle Book Reviews if Storey’s amenable. It is the largest site reviewing books for and by women on the internet, and as nature/environment editor, I do author interviews too, and I’d *love* to interview you for SCBR…

  4. I will not get my book in time so I can’t go on the blog tour, but I will most certainly follow it! I have the video, I love it 🙂 It’s a video to return to every time I get a new fiber to spin. Thank you so much Deb! Good luck with all your work! I’m trying to imagine the heap of samples for your classes…

  5. Joanne, I’d already thought of you–and that you will be a bit busy about then! I’ll add you to the list for any possible fall work, and will be sending you energy for the kiddo-tending. Thanks for sharing the empathy about collecting supplies. I *don’t* think participants understand what’s involved, which is generally just fine {grin}. They shouldn’t have to. A general wool supply would be possible to maintain at a minimal level. The rare breeds? Not so easy!

    Susan, I’d be ecstatic to do an interview with you for Story Circle. It would be great fun, and you have seen this project at some critical moments and sometimes have more faith in my ability to pull things off than I do {grin}.

    Barbro, if you’d like to be part of the tour we can do something about that “will not get my book in time.” I’m SO glad you like the video! We had fun together with some of the real wools, didn’t we? For the classes in Scotland, Sue Blacker, at Blacker Designs, was the facilitating angel who made sure we had most of what we used. I filled in a couple of gaps, as did a couple of people I’d connected with through conversations online. I have here, too, some absolutely delightful wool you sent me. Thanks yet again.

  6. I’d love to be part of the blog tour for your book! I’ve eagerly followed its journey here, and I’ve enjoyed the blog tours I’ve participated in over the last few years. I’m also planning for fiber arts to have a larger presence on my blog, soon.

  7. I’d be very happy to go on tour! :))) I pre-ordered the book from Amazon and they wrote it will be delivered in July. I suppose I’d do fine with a copy of a couple of pages about a specific wool or whatever you choose for me. Yes, we had fun with the real wools, and for me your class started a process that I don’t know where it will take me, but in my mind I see a loom… I’m totally hooked and happy 🙂

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