this week has been full of herdwick. quite literally, actually. because the fleece of herdwick sheep is so fluffy that despite hoovering my room every day it looks like i’m keeping a sheep right in there…
i’ve also been doing a lot of things herdwick but mostly spinning and knitting. rachael from my local haberdashery (see below: spinster 1) recommended that as a beginning spinner i start working with herdwick – and i could quickly see why: herdwick fleece is long fibred and fluffy but also sticky, coarse and wiry meaning it doesn’t just keep glissading through my hands in an out of control manner. it also feel very solid and shell like so i was a it curious to find out about it’s previous owner. and found out loads of fascinating things: herdwick sheep are from the lake district. that means they not only have their home on England’s highest mountains but also in the area with the highest levels of rain fall. unsurprisingly, they have developed a life style that earned them them the title “most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep” according to the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association. the same association declares their wool low quality and low value – given the joy that spinning 320g of herdwick has given me so far i’d like to challenge the judgement.
and not to forget that the tough survivors’ wool would have fetched quite a decent price on the market up to the 19th century when wool was a cash crop and troops of horses or donkeys would have carried woolly loads down the Lake District mountains into wool trading towns like Kendal.
today, as the lovely ‘Herdy Blog‘ explains, it costs farmers more to have their herdwick sheep sheared – £1 per sheep – than they’d get in return for selling the herdwick wool – about £0.80 per sheep.
so what i do is in every respect totally absurd: spinning. spinning what’s considered low quality wool. spinning wool from a sheep of which my spinning book says that it’s “not recommended for beginners”… well, here’s to absurdity!