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Alanna Nelson New England Textile Artist

Judging fleece at New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival

At my first New Hampshire Sheep and Wool festival with Guido,  I was shocked when he confessed a certain attraction to the idea of raising sheep.  Why on earth would you do that?  Raising livestock reduces your stitching time!

Not one year later, Barb Parry‘s husband told the story of the day his wife  came home with animals to graze in the back yard. Hanging around fiber animals produces a contagious desire to care for them, I gathered. Flockitis?

While I am far from interested in becoming a shepherd, attending Lucy Lee’s FiberCamp 2012 talk made me realize that I did want a fleece.  Now why on earth did I choose to go to that talk?  That’s the fun of FiberCamp… you’ll never know what you’ll learn. No hurry for this fleece, just… when presented with the right situation, I wanted a fleece. Not flockitis, just a fantasy fleece!

The situation presented itself last fall in Wisconsin. I knew that one of my sister’s dear friends, Laura Stremick-Thompson was raising Shetlands on  Blind Faith Farm.  She and her husband acquired their first registered Shetland sheep in 2009. I thought they just planned on hobby farming.  However, Laura and Jim expanded the flock, adding other breeds and crosses.  Clearly, flockitis was in the air, as they witnessed the first lambs born on their farm in 2010.  Their closed spinner’s flock now has 15 sheep, including primitive double coated and single coated Shetland, Shetland cross, Bluefaced Leicester/Icelandic and Clun Mule. As you can imagine by this list of breeds, Laura is careful and dedicated to her flock, hoping not only for quality fiber but high quality of life for her herd.

Blind Faith Farm award winning Shetland Ruper

What a fluff ball, Rupert!

Stella  won won first place in the Double Coat Division and third place overall in the Shetland category at the 2011 WI Sheep and Wool Festival, and placed again in 2012. Also in 2012, Rupert captured first place in the Shetland colored, double coat class. Two others received third place in their categories. Here’s Laura sharing the ribbons with her flock.Laura Stremick-Thompson award winning fleeces at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival

Last October, Laura had 2 Shetland fleeces left. The color ways of Spectacles and Buckaroo sounded good over the phone. Sight unseen, I purchased them and shipped them to Boston. Buying a fantasy fleece was too easy.

Buckaroo Shetland from Blind Faith Farm

Buckaroo as a lamb

Blind Faith Farm Spectacles

Spectacles a few months after shearing.

According to Laura, Spectacles gets his name not only from his dark eye marks, but for the spectacle he makes of himself! The fleeces were much better than my pessimistic, novice fleece processing expectations. So clean, so beautifully skirted and with nary a second cut, the bags of lanolin smelling woolliness waited through the winter. On a hot summer weekend, I put on my swimsuit and washed the fleeces in the bath tub. What a jolly time that was! There was great pleasure watching Specs’ fleece go from beige to fluffy white and the delicate grey patch on his back.  Buckaroo wasn’t nearly as dirty, but carefully swishing the laundry bags filled with fleece was really pleasurable.

Blind Faith Farm Fleece processed by Alanna Nelson

Buckaroo’s fleece, tawny and luscious, before washing

Blind Faith Farm Fleece processed by Alanna Nelson

That’s not a shadow, that’s Spectacle’s grey markings

I took some of Buckaroo’s fleece to wet felt immediately for a quilt I’m making now. Wow, Shetland felts much more slowly than Merino or Silk. His fleece has a lovely depth that will be great for this series on childhood camping experiences.

I haven’t finished carding, but it will happen someday.  Once combed, I have no idea what I will do with the rest of this fleece, but it makes me happy just looking at it around my studio for the time being!

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After processing all of Buckaroo’s fleece, I felted a portion to use in art quilts.

BlindFaithFarm has a shop at Etsy.com. In 2014, they plan to sell roving. If you’re interested in fleeces, catch Laura at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival next weekend, September 6 – 8, 2013, where her flock’s winning traditions will hopefully continue.  Laura can also be reached at  laurast25 at wi.rr.com.  You, too, could have a fantasy fleece!