Dreaming of Shetland: Thank you!

Friday’s post about my visit to help with shearing a lot of Shetland sheep, like that trip itself, requires an array of thank-yous that would not fit within even my generally overlong post tolerances. Neither that post nor the trip that was its subject would have happened without the Dreaming of Shetland project, which was conceived by Donna Druchunas one morning in February 2013 and has ended up being much larger than she could possibly have imagined—or she would perhaps never have mentioned it out loud, although I’m amazed, glad, and grateful that she did.


Donna was aware that I wanted to continue my research into sheep and wools, following the completion of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, but I didn’t have ideas about how to support that work. While Fleece and Fiber counts as one of the major accomplishments of my life and dedicating four solid years to the project was one of the best decisions I’ve ever been backed into (by myself and others), income to authors from book publishing tends not to do much in the way of covering expenses, except if those authors are, say, folks like Stephen King. I knew what I wanted to do to follow up on that work but not how I would manage it.

I’m also both reserved (except when I’m talking about wool or sheep—as some of you may have discovered) and Midwestern by birth and upbringing (motto: Do Not Ask for Help, Just Work Harder). Thus I have been stunned, delighted, and flummoxed by the outpouring of support embodied in this project.

Here’s some of what the Dreaming of Shetland project has meant, and accomplished, so far:

2013 was a tough year in my life, and included a series of deaths of people and spirits close and important to me.


Places I was able to go and things I was able to do because of Dreaming of Shetland not only furthered  the research project but made the year far more positive and forward-looking than it would otherwise have been.

The first “extra” came in mid-May, when I stayed in the Midwest for a couple of days after teaching at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and took a side trip to Indiana to visit Theresa Gygi’s flock of fine-fleece Shetlands at Under the Son Farm. This was not all that long after lambing, and there were both plenty of bouncing young ones and lots of fleeces to look at and learn about.


Greencastle, Indiana, May 2013


While I was at the farm, I got an emergency phone call from my sister. I flew home, and then to Washington to be with my mother during her final week, and for a while longer with the rest of the family in the aftermath of her death.

One week after Mom died, I was at the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders’ Association (NASSA) annual meeting at the Estes Park Wool Market, looking at and thinking about and talking with people who know Shetland sheep. Mom was a big supporter of my work, even after the dementia removed a lot of her ability to remember the details and the stroke severely limited her ability to talk. She would have liked that I was in good company just then, doing work close to my heart.

Like the Indiana trip, my participation in that event was possible because of the initial purchasers of the Dreaming of Shetland e-book. It was one of the most healing things on the planet that I could have been doing. Thank you.


Estes Park, Colorado, June 2013


In August, my daughter and I were able to take a detour on another trip and visit the Hilger Hereford Ranch in Montana. We got to see some of the sheep up in the mountain area where they work on weed control. I’m fascinated by the adaptability of this breed to different landscapes. The dry mountain western U.S. provides a dramatic contrast to Shetland.


Gates of the Mountains, Montana, August 2013


Last fall, shortly after my friend Ginny’s and my cousin Christie’s deaths, I flew to Scotland, including time in Orkney and Shetland. This trip had been planned long in advance and the ticket and many other arrangements were already covered. What the Dreaming of Shetland project made possible was my gathering of resources to bring home for study: books, videos, and other treasures. It also allowed me to visit historical sites, and helped with lodging and meals. It was like having very specialized and effective wings. Thank you.


Shetland (Mainland), October 2013


Also in 2013, Jeane deCoster of Elemental Affects Yarns asked if I’d like to come to Montana in spring 2014 to help with the shearing of Catherine Campbell’s large flock of Shetlands. Catherine was at Estes Park for the NASSA meeting, but because of a death in her family we didn’t get to meet then—thus the excursion in August. Because of Dreaming of Shetland, I already knew that I could say yes to the invitation extended by Catherine and Jeane with some assurance that when the time came I’d be able to afford the trip. Last month, I did go to Montana and help with shearing—thanks to Dreaming of Shetland.



Gates of the Mountains, Montana, March 2014


Since November 2012, Janet Ellison of Fibre-East in the UK and I have been working on the visa situation with regard to US fiber instructors teaching in the British Isles. We’re about 90% finished with that job and it looks about 90% certain that I’ll be teaching at Fibre-East at the end of July. Because I’ll be so close (relatively speaking), I plan to go back to Shetland for more research in conjunction with that trip. Even though I filled every minute of my time there in October 2013 and learned a ton, I barely began to scratch the surface. This year I’ll be able to take my questions to their next level. This is also something that Dreaming of Shetland is making possible. Thank you all yet again.

What you are all accomplishing with this project? It is huge.

What I will do because of this project? More research! And my best to share the results, in as many ways and through as many channels as possible. Right now my head is buzzing with possibilities that aren’t coming together yet—but they will. This is just part of the process, and part of what makes it exciting.


And now to be specific. . . . 


  • the instigators and creators of the Dreaming of Shetland project, without which I could not have done anywhere near as much research as I have already accomplished (with more to come):
  • the contributors of content to the Dreaming of Shetland project (check out one or two links a day and enjoy their abundance of creativity and generosity to the communities of which they are a part, including this fiber one . . . and I sure hope I haven't missed anyone! Let me know if I have . . . ):
  • every individual who has pitched in for a copy of Dreaming of Shetland. Thank you! It's an amazing value for you folks to receive, and it is making an incredible difference to what I can accomplish in learning about sheep and wool, information that I am sharing, and will continue to share, with the fiber community—as thoroughly as I can!
The initial information written about the Dreaming of Shetland project said that it would help me "spend the next year exploring Shetland sheep and Shetland wool.” We’re already over a year out, and I’m still going strong, with a lot of work done and the sense that I’m still just getting started, because it’s such a rich subject to study. I have many topics I want to explore about sheep and wool in general, and the Shetland work is foundational to them all. I thought that would be the case when I started (thus the focus), and the more deeply I go into the interlaced topics the more apparent it becomes that this is true. I’m going to be on this path for a while more.
Right now, I mostly need time: time to process references that I’ve located; to think; to spin; to bring my thoughts together; to write—and to do more research. Thanks to Dreaming of Shetland, those activities are all in the works.
I get notifications when people buy copies of the book. Each time one of those comes into my mailbox, I think two things: first, “Wow! somebody else gets to enjoy this amazing publication and discover the work of these gifted contributors!" and second, “Oh, my, this is another vote of confidence in what I’m doing"—and then I tell myself, “Just take it in—breathe, accept, and go back to work."
The Dreaming of Shetland book got so big (and was so much work for the volunteer editors and designers) that it’s being released in sections. Buy once, get them all. It’s electronic-format only (believe me, in any other format something like this would never have gotten off the ground). It’s almost, but not quite, complete as I write this. And it’s a treasure that will bring joy of many sorts to many people for many years.
So thank you, everyone.
And now I’ll get back to work.
P.S. One of the things I would like to have access to is genetic data (and analysis) from different flocks of Shetland sheep showing their interrelationships, as well as their relationships to other breeds, specifically North Ronaldsay, Soay, and old-style Norwegian short-tails (spaelsaus). If anybody knows where we might get our hands on information of this type—now or in the future—please get in touch with me! We’re working on some leads to generate this kind of resource material, but it’s all in a to-be-developed state and rather complicated to pull off. Which doesn’t mean we won’t figure out how to get it done. But there’s no point in re-doing work that has already been, or is being, undertaken. So far, we don’t know of any. We’d love to hear that it exists. The “we” is me and a bunch of other folks who are traveling parallel paths on this journey of discovery.

2 thoughts on “Dreaming of Shetland: Thank you!”

  1. Hi Deb, I might be able to help with some of the genetics info you’re looking for. I have a small flock of Shetland and Ryeland sheep (in the UK), and I’ve studied their bloodlines in some detail. My OH, a mathametician, has written a software program to analyse their genetic interrelatedness. The program could modified for larger data sets, or for other breeds of sheep. We’d be delighted to share this with you and help out with your research if we can.

  2. Thanks for the update! Well done on the fundraising 🙂 Sounds like you’re having quite the wooly adventure! If you, you know, need someone to carry bales of wool, I’m available, ha ha!

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