Annie The Sheep

Annie, the Hebridean sheep lives in Stoke-On-Trent. Her dark chocolate fleece has loosely curled locks that blend into patches of frizz. Matted and oily in places, dry and knotted in others, is has an ombre effect blending into sun bleached tan ends of much dryer textures. Carefully picking the specks of green hedgerow from amongst the fuzzy fibres, and brushing them lightly to preserve their crimp, the potential of this natural material became truly apparent.

Connecting Annie the sheep with her fleece had an affect that put me in mind of Roland Barthes' theory of the ‘Punctum’. He describes this as a moment which pricks and effects, where, rather than only seeing something, one is taken over by an over whelming sense that a moment of a special nature has occurred. The moment will never be forgotten. The animal from which the fibre came, her face surrounded by the fleece that would soon be treated with great care to felt into garments, was intriguing. An opportunity to entice inquisition into materials and their origins lies here.

Consumers on average know very little about the materials contained within the textiles they buy. Petrochemical based, non-biodegradable fibres make up the majority of textiles made and purchased. With over 60 breeds of British Sheep adorned in a great variety of fleece types, British Wool is an under-used resource. Should wool be championed over synthetic fibres, the adaptable properties of this super smart fibre could be appreciated and utilised.

Could a focus on the narrative of these woolly material origins be the key to inspiring more radical change, and a new-found appreciated for British Wool?

Guest blog post by Beth Ranson

Beth Ranson is a knitted textile designer and fibre researcher. Her collections of research can be found on her website / Instagram @beth.ranson.knits. 

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  • Julia Desch on

    I loved reading your posts, especially as I am an ertwhile pedigree Black Wensleydale flock owner. The comment about the theory of the Punctum is fascinating. I have seen many moments like this when someone puts a hand on a wensleydale sheep, touches the fleece, rubs a sheepskin against their cheek or picks up a skein of yarn. Children who have particular challenges often gather round and want to weave, or just play with the locks wensleydale and feel its softness and lustre.

  • Rebecca Pritchard on

    This is a great article & resonates with what I am trying to do. We live in the Outer Hebrides & I have Hebridean sheep, also Scot. Blackface, a couple of Shetlands & Hebridean cross lambs this year. I have my sheep for their fleeces to produce knitting yarn to use & sell. I find customers fall into very clear groups, those who love natural wool, understand my aims & want to know about our sheep, those who pull a face when they realise that it isn’t acrylic & that they can’t tumble dry it & tell me how itchy & terrible “real” wool is & a large group in the middle who often aren’t really sure about wool, how it gets from the sheep to a ball and how to care for it etc. Often when you explain the processes & show samples people are fascinated & surprised by how much effort goes into their ball of wool.
    I am also buying fleeces from other local crofters this year, dark fleeces are worth very little if they send them to the wool board & Scot Blackface is very undervalued, often they are just dumped at the bottom of the crofts, not worth the time spent packing them, on the whole they are sheared for welfare reasons not because of the payment they will get back for the fleeces. I think all wool has a use, you just have to be creative & realistic about how you use it, you wouldn’t use a jumper made from Blackface next to your skin, however it makes lovely cushion covers etc & really warm gloves. Hebridean is much softer & can be used for lots of projects, it isn’t just brown, as Beth points out in her post, it is made up of many shades & knitted up on its own or with a strand of plant dyed yarn it is beautiful.

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