Researching sheep (still), and miscellaneous semi-related comments

When Carol Ekarius and I wrote The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, my responsibility focused on the fibers and hers on the animals. While I got into research and writing on some of the species and breeds where I'd already done a lot of digging and thinking (notably Soay, Boreray, and unsnarling a few of the Cheviots right at deadline), for the most part she handled breed definitions and history. We both worked to our strengths and backgrounds. It was an excellent division of labor.

Now that I'm teaching, and don't have the book deadlines pushing me so hard, I'm building into my life opportunities to study additional breed history to increase my understanding of how the fibers we have to work with have been, and are, influenced by social, political, economic, and geographic forces.

At the end of next week, I'm teaching a new two-day workshop at The Spinning Loft, in Howell, Michigan. It's called Three Ls and Three Cs: Two Clusters for Spinners’ Delight and Edification.

Each day will focus on three breeds that are related historically and very different to spin.

The "three Ls" include Leicester Longwool, Border Leicester, and Bluefaced Leicester. These three breeds from the British Isles all have lustrous longwool fleeces that differ from each other in enchanting ways, and examining them will give us an opportunity to look at the shifts that came with early understandings of genetics, along with changes induced by human population growth.

The "three Cs" are Corriedale, Cormo, and Coopworth. These three come from the Pacific nations of New Zealand and Australia. They link to the classic European breeds but take them to different places in the fiber spectrum, again pushed by social and economic forces that are related to, but not at all the same as, those that produced the British wools we have today.

Every time I research a breed, I make amazing discoveries that apply directly to my fiber work and that also compel me to read and think more.

What I'm trying to figure out now is how (other than workshops and classes, because I can only do a few of those each year) to present the material I'm coming up with—and wondering whether (and how many) other fiber folk may be interested in examining the topics at this depth. I know some are. I don't know how they might want to access the information. In the "old days," I would have written another book (although I'm not sure it would ever have gotten finished). In these "new" days, it's tempting in many ways to throw it out on the internet for free, although I have no idea how I could afford to pay the bills if I did that. (I'm not willing to put ads on my blog or elsewhere).

At the moment, I don't need to solve those problems. At the moment, I have a workshop to teach next week and will be able to spend time with people with whom I can share these insights I'm mining and collecting out of a variety of sources. I'm pulling together disparate bits of information with the help of graph paper, pondering, and some computer programs. (Right now, I'm using Illustrator to make timelines and breeding charts and other graphics that pull together what I'm seeing in ways that I can present to others. I've been dipping into Tinderbox for collecting and organizing thoughts while they're still at the "scrap" level. I need to learn to use DevonThink, into which I have been throwing resources for a while but from which I haven't figured out how to retrieve stuff. I need a few months just to learn the basics of the software that I now need to use because the scope of my work has exceeded the previous systems.)

This morning, I spoke with Carol at The Spinning Loft (another Carol) about the wools we'll have to play with while we talk about how the breeds came into being. We'll have in our hands the tangible evidence that goes with the history. It doesn't get better than that.



I bought one of my calendars for next year. I happened across it at the Tattered Cover on a visit a couple of weeks ago, thought about it at length, and purchased it at the Colfax store on Wednesday when I needed to be in Denver again. I was glad to find that a copy had waited for me to return.


It's not a sheep calendar. The only sheep image is this one Suffolk. I looked across the internet for the possibility of getting a print of this piece, and while they exist they're nowhere near affordable for me. Artist Beth Van Hoesen is unfortunately no longer with us, although from her 84 years she left a splendid legacy. I'm captivated by her sense of graphic design as well as her ability to dance between the unique and the universal.

The other images in the calendar also appeal to me, but yes, the Suffolk hooked me. People talk about sheep as stupid. They are not. The relationships between humans and animals are complex, and far from one-sided. Beth Van Hoesen captured that here, and the other art selected for this calendar speaks to the conditions of some other inhabitants of our world. It is, as a whole, a celebration of individuality and diversity.


I can live with that on a daily basis for 2013.


Speaking of 2013, my teaching calendar is penciled in. Because of my mother's stroke, I haven't had time to finalize the arrangements for several events and I need to get on that soon. One of the things that's in the works for late 2013 or some time in 2014 is another trip to the British Isles, for both research and some teaching.


Unexpected postal delivery:

To whoever sent me this surprise package from The Loopy Ewe, thank you! I have not been able to determine, and the elves won't reveal, the source.


Very sweet. A special set of coordinating colors dyed by Lorna's Laces. Something fun and lovely will come of this.


But not until I finish prepping for next week. Well, I could probably wind the yarn into balls. . . .


Note: Because I got 25 spam comments in one day this week, I've notched up the requirements for commenting on this blog. I'm trying to keep them at the minimum reasonable level.


11 thoughts on “Researching sheep (still), and miscellaneous semi-related comments”

  1. Hi Deb, Sounds like you are going to
    have a great class at Beth’s. It’s got to be fun for you also to explore new material.

    There are many ways you could get new material into the world electronically. That would be less rigorous than producing another book. It could be segmented….a series. Lots of fun ways to do it.

    Have a great trip. Thanks for sharing the calendar. I, too, love it. Gloria

  2. You’re right, Gloria, that the biggest problem with what to do with new material is how many options there are now. The medium needs to suit the message, and so far I don’t know what that message is. I like to make connections, which is the problem with segments. Although there may be segments first and then something that works with the connections, which, of course, are only revealed after the segments have been lying around for a while. . . .

    I’m glad you like the calendar! And thanks for your encouragement.

  3. Hi, Deb–I’m so looking forward to class this weekend, not just to learn more about these breeds, but also to talk with you about these medium and message issues. It sounds like you are wrestling with some of the same questions I am with respect to my new research on knitters. More soon!


  4. Sasha, I’m so glad you’ll be there! With several trips to Denver lately, I’ve been catching up on your SpinDoctor podcast. (Driving is when I get to listen to anything: it’s a treat.)

    Let’s talk medium and message, too. I *love* books. For me, they are a way to think about and present information that has not been replaced (even by their electronic forms). But they are also not set up to accommodate sharing of the steps along the way, which can be useful to others before the whole vision has time to come together.

    Media like Craftsy (for whom I put together an online class on wool) and Interweave’s DVDs (like the rare-wools one) permit us to do entirely different, and equally valuable, types of presentations. The mixing of media (as on Craftsy and Ruzuku) interests me in particular.

    And, of course, I still love magazine articles and blog posts. And there are hypertext options, about which I know just enough to be intrigued.

    Lots of material to talk about!

  5. I was in a similar situation, with a lot of research I wanted to organize, format, and make available, but certainly no desire to take on physical distribution, or to look for a real publisher. (In my case my information was about nineteenth century Quebec spinning wheel makers – you can see a review, with my name misspelled, in the issue of Spin-Off that just came out.) I used Microsoft Word to create my text and Publisher to make the photo volume, used a free download called PDF Creator to turn them into PDFs, and I distribute it via email with payments by Paypal. Of course my volume is low, but there are probably ways to get document hosting for not too much, and be able to send out download links, the way Ravelry pattern selling works… I would certainly subscribe to a series of PDFs collecting the research you’re doing!

  6. Caroline, thanks for the encouragement about doing a series of PDFs of my research. I think that might be do-able, with the logistics. I have the software for preparing all sorts of publications; the distribution and publicity (i.e., letting people know such a thing exists) are my challenges. It might be a sort of collection of “white papers” on breeds and on topics related to sheep. SO FAR, I am not “getting” an overarching organizational principle for the work I’m doing, although I know there *is* one–which, to me, is a sign that I’m engaged in a large work and that I’ll need a lot of scraps before I can start envisioning what this project wants to be as a whole. It’s like making a patchwork quilt out of real scraps (i.e., leftovers or gleanings from other places). Cut out as many triangles and squares of consistent size as possible from each set of scraps. Then, at some point, spread them out and see what sort(s) of pattern(s) can be formed. Then begin sewing them together, re-evaluating at every step. . . .

    Mwra, I really appreciate your chiming in on Tinderbox. I know about the Timeline function, and will head over to look at your links. I am TRULY new to the program, having finally wrested a few days from my schedule (while on vacation with family) to actually start using the program. I’ve read a lot of The Tinderbox Way, gone through a bunch of tutorials, and browsed around the forum. I am still learning how to put in attributes (i.e., basics). I am only using one linking technique because that’s all I’ve gotten to. I know I will need to figure out how to put in INDEFINITE times (guessed-at, or broadly defined) on a timeline (once I can do a timeline at all). A while ago I downloaded Aeon Timeline, but haven’t yet had time to learn it. YES, your leads do help a great deal with the research, because they assure me that it’s possible to get these tools to work for me. Right now, learning the software feels like an extra mountain range to climb before I get to the peaks I’m aiming for. Or like being at the point in learning to ride a bike where mostly what I do is fall off and need to take time to wash the gravel out of the scrapes and use up more band-aids. Yet the only reason I’m looking into these tools is that the amount of information I have gathered has far exceeded the capacity of the organizational methods that I used for the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, AND I am now working on making more far-flung connections between topics, which presents a whole new set of challenges.

    Thank you ALL for support and encouragement.

  7. Mwra, BeeDocs Timeline 3D *rocks.*

    First I reviewed the timeline info for Tinderbox, which unfortunately has some limitations for BCE dates beyond 2500 BCE, and I will need to go back farther than that.

    I went to re-look at Aeon Timeline, and then at BeeDocs’ Easy Timeline and Timeline 3D. It immediately became apparent that what I need is 3D: I’d run into a need for additional features within 24 hours of starting to use the (less expensive, of course) Easy version, and for what I want to do the BeeDocs products work much better than Aeon (which would be perfect for other projects, of course).

    With luck, I may be using Timeline 3D files for this weekend’s teaching. We’ll see. I’ve been putting together what I need in Illustrator graphics, which has been the best solution at hand but has already become cumbersome.

    On to fall off my software “bike” a few more times and see if I can balance enough to make it around the block.

  8. Devin, it would be great to cross paths again before long. 2013 looks like Wisconsin, rather than Minnesota (which I visited twice in 2012!). With roots in Minnesota, I always enjoy having a chance to be there. But it might not be next year. By the way, Wood and Orel are figuring (lightly) into the class at the Spinning Loft.

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