FrenzyKnits

life in an artisanal world

The Hand Spinner’s Responsibility

Have you ever noticed how most American hand spinners are not outspoken advocates of the American sheep industry?

We love working with wool but we don’t support the wool industry in our own country.

Many American flockmasters are struggling to keep their sheep, especially since last summer’s drought.  The special care required to keep a spinning flock producing top quality fleece can add up in dollars, sometimes costing more to care for the sheep than the price of the fleece.  Since summer, the cost of feed has fluctuated, making it difficult for flockmasters to project their spending.  As a result, some farmers have had to sell their sheep as market lambs, their fine fleeces of little value when times are tough.

With the Internet, it’s easy to buy wool from overseas, but great wool is being produced right here at affordable prices.  We don’t have to send away to Canada or Australia to discover the world of sheep.

Many American flockmasters are working to preserve rare breeds or different breeds, a treat for any hand spinner who knows sheep and wants to work with great fiber.  These fibers are not hard to come by: you can find them at festivals around the country or over the Internet.  I buy my fleeces direct from sheep farmers because I value what they do and I don’t want a middleman to get money that could go directly back to the farm. Wary of buying a fleece you haven’t seen or inspected yourself?  Most producers are happy to send a sample.

I’ve spun Coopworth, Romney, Corriedale, Jacob and East Fresian-Polypay Cross.  Each fleece taught me more about spinning long wools.  And I’ll tell you this: once you connect directly with the flockmaster who cared for the sheep you’re spinning, you learn so much about your place in the production chain and how much we owe the people who tend these animals.

As I happily spin up my fleeces, I’m reminded that I’m lucky to have them at all this year.  Whenever I see cheap lamb for sale from Australia or a hand spinner who’s willing to get a Merino fleece from New Zealand, I think of all the struggling American flockmasters I’ve met.  There’s not a one who wanted  to sell a sheep due to hard times.  It’s tough out there and American hand spinners have a duty to support the industry that supports them.

If you want to learn more about the American sheep industry, read Sheep!.

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3 thoughts on “The Hand Spinner’s Responsibility

  1. I’m English. I’ve never really thought about it as you have portrayed it. It is always good to support your own country but, as you say, the Internet has opened up the whole world and now we can sit behind our computers and buy from wherever we like.
    When I’ve been in America, I’ve never really seen any sheep. Perhaps where I go (Tennessee) it’s too hot for them, poor things but there are many places where it is colder and more like our climate.

    • As recently as a few years ago, the American sheep industry noted fewer numbers of sheep than in recent years. I don’t have numbers for this year. The American Sheep Industry Association notes that in 2012 Tennessee ranked 30th in number of sheep, so it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t noticed them. They also explain that the large sheep productions tend to be west of the Mississippi.

      Your point about the freedom we gain as consumers through the Internet is well taken. But why buy internationally when you can get the same product of equal or better value locally. As an urbanite, I was surprised to find so many sheep producers within driving distance or at local fiber fairs. From a global vantage point, we were practically neighbors.

      • That’s interesting. I have lived in Tennessee. When I first went there I was amazed at how hot it was. That heat would be excruciating for sheep with their thick woolly fleeces. I can hardly stand it myself and then only for a few minutes at a time. I did miss the sheep though. Here in Wales (next to England) there are sheep everywhere, dotted on the hillsides. The worst thing for the sheep over here is the wet damp weather.

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