Explore Corriedale Wool with Andrea Mielke Schroer

Andrea Mielke Schroer will be among the mentors once again at SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat). Join her in St. Charles, IL, on October 20-26, 2013 to learn more about a breed of sheep beloved by many handspinners—Corriedale. Here she shares a bit of the fascinating history of the breed. —Kate

Corriedale is an incredibly versatile wool. Andrea will help you explore the possibilities in One Fiber—Three WaysSeven Days.

In the late 1800s, most sheep breeders were not just skeptical, they were sure that you could not cross a longwool breed with a Merino and get the cross to breed true. "Sure, you might see an improvement in the first breeding," they argued, "but it will go downhill quickly from there, and revert to either longwool or Merino characteristics. It can't be done."

James Little, the herdsman at the Corriedale Estate in Otago, New Zealand, didn't believe them. From what he knew from his years as a shepherd, he thought it could be done. And he wanted a chance to try it. After Little proved his ability to raise Romney Marsh sheep on the estate, Dr. Webster, the owner, gave him permission to try his half-bred experiment. Soon, it was apparent that James Little had created an improved sheep, both in wool, and body formation. At the beginning, he called them "inbred half-breds."

Fast forward several decades, and various ups and downs inherent in farming. By 1911, the Corriedale had became a recognized breed, named after the estate where the idea of the sheep had first been conceived.* By 1917, Little was concerned that the story of the beginning of the breed was becoming lost or blurred in the details, and set about to record it in his own words, writing a little book called "The Story of the Corriedale" which contains this statement: "Let us give honour to whom honour is due. It is evident that had the experiment proved a failure, Dr. Webster stood alone to bear the loss, consequently, his name should be handed down to posterity as having financed what in those days was thought by one and all without exception, to be an absurd and disastrous innovation."

A Corriedale flock enjoying the spring grass. Photo: Observatory Hill Farm. 

Washed and unwashed fleece, courtesy of Zirconia the Corriedale. Photo: Andrea Mielke Schroer.

This so-called impossible breed now boasts the second highest sheep breed population (behind Merino), with an estimated one hundred-million sheep, world-wide. Now the phrase used to describe Corriedale wool is "impossible to resist." And all this happened within less than a century from its much maligned start in New Zealandthat's pretty impressive! They have since been used as one of the parents for the Targhee breed in the United States (which is close to my heart, as I learned to spin with Targhee-cross wool) and the Australian-based Gromark.

Corriedale fleece is especially appealing to the handspinner. With compact locks that have even crimp, the fleeces can range from fine to medium, depending on the sheep. It is a pleasure to work with this wool. It is bouncy and lofty, it dyes well, and has just enough luster to look lively in the skein or fabric. I hope you'll join me at SOAR this October in St. Charles, Illinois, to take A Closer Look at Corriedalehow to prepare and spin it, and the myriad uses this versatile wool has for the fiber artist. 

Keeping in mind, of course, these words of wisdom from James Little: "All things considered I found life too short to get to the bottom of everything. I thought I had learned a good deal in my time, but I also found to my chagrin that the more I learned the more plainly I found out how little I did know." From The Story of the Corriedale, Willis and Aiken Ltd.: Christchurch, 1917.

*Minor trivia bit that I found interestingCorrie is a Scotch word for a amphitheater-like valley head. Dale is widely known to be another word for a valley. I would like to know if Corriedale Estate got its name from the landscape on the property.

Andrea Mielke Schroer spins, knits, weaves, and throws discs in Central Wisconsin. She would be delighted to have you join her in exploring Corriedale wool in the Friday retreat at SOAR in St. Charles, IL on October 25th, 2013.



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