It was a hot spring day in 2012 when the four of us set off in the big silver Ute-the F250-to buy two coloured cross breed wethers from the northern wheat and sheep belt in South Australia. The hankering to own a small flock of coloured sheep lay deep within until a family member generously offered that a few sheep could permanently co-habit with their two resident house paddock lawn movers. Seizing the moment, travel plans were laid and a new family agrarian adventure was underway as we headed north through Adelaide and up the Barrier Highway. Over 220 kms later we arrived. Fifty or more 6 month old wethers stood silently, motionless yet hesitantly in the yard. With a racing heart, the combination of heat, excitement and a flutter of nerves, I walked into the yard to commence the selection process. Sheep scattered, turned, propped and scattered again as we hand-picked a multi-coloured flock of five handsome boys. After a complimentary shear and drench, the F250 was loaded with the new cargo and we headed for home. The exceptional colour range and fleece quality of the flock made it impossible to stick to the original plan of two sheep.
My spinning dream was about to come true. Images of, baskets filled with hand spun black, chocolate brown, white, dark steely grey and silver grey skeins of wool, me turning the drum carder and experimenting with blending the fleeces and multiple pots of natural dye, made from foraged botanicals, to dye the white fleece filled my mind. The sense of achievement, reward and fatigue silenced me during the long trip home.
It didn’t take long for the boys to settle in with Star and Gerry, the two resident Border Leicester x Merino lawn movers. Tamed by the constant loving attention and handling by my sister- in- law, a true animal whisper, they have been named Frank, Cheeky, Sammy, Woody and Chocko. Living an idyllic life they reward us with what they do best – beautiful fleece.The cross between Corridale, Romney Marsh and Finn produces as truly magnificent hand spinning fleece. Kept coated except for shearing, their fleeces are clean and free from seeds and general pasture debris. With a consistent staple length of 13 cm of the past four yard and 25- 30 microns, it’s lustrous with a soft handle and is easy to spin. A hand spinner’s delight and perfect for garments that are worn close to the skin and sooooo much easier than spinning fine Merino fleece.
Each year, come September/October the boys are penned overnight for a morning shear and drench. After being shorn, relieved of a full fleece, they run playfully and nudge each other in typically boyish fashion.Sadly, Chocko with his cool surfer-boy dredlocks, passed away last year, but his fleece lives on. I have two precious fleeces left, one of which is currently being spun as a special memento for the sheep whispering shepard, my sister-in-law, their loving protector.
Frank’s fleece has won several agricultural show awards and perhaps 2017 will give me enough time to present a coloured fleece or two in the coloured sheep section at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo. Gerry and Star have also joined the heavenly flock, but Star’s garments continue to keep out the winter chills.
My trusty spinning wheel rests silently, majestically in the lounge room waiting to be summoned into action. Its rhythmic motion and medative power is calming and sooths jaggered nerves from a working week. The strength, luster and the rich lanoline of the fleeces harmonise with the rhythm of the wheel and the steady ease of my hands. The transformational process of sunlight to pasture, pasture to fleece, fleece to yarn and finally spun woollen yarn to hand crafted garments for loved ones is an ancient craft that is as perpetual as the motion of the spinning wheel itself. It’s just another part of the universal jig saw puzzle but it defines me, centre's me and is a joyful expression of love, life and happiness.