Saving the sheep, one fleece at a time

Deb Robson models a vest that Sarah Swett made out of CVM wool for the Save the Sheep exhibit.

Navajo-Churro sheep, one of many rare breeds Deb examines in her DVD. Photo: Bide A Wee Farm.

In pursuit of rare wools

Over ten years ago, Spin-Off ran a series of articles about rare breeds of sheep and their wool and then hosted a contest called, "Save the Sheep."  The contest was so overwhelmingly well-received by the Spin-Off readers that we had to rent office space to look at all the entries and then jury them for the traveling exhibit. The results of the contest were also published in a book (now out-of-print) edited by Deb Robson, Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools: Collected Works from the Save the Sheep Exhibit. Deb was the editor of Spin-Off in those days, and I was the assistant editor.

To say that rare wools are Deb's passion is to put it lightly. Deb's fascination with the vast variety of rare wools has led her to research animals around the world and even caused her to pick up smatterings of a few extra languages in the pursuit of the knowledge she seeks. Traveling out to ranches and farms by letter, e-mail, and (whenever possible) in person, she finds the rare fleeces and meticulously catalogs samples of the fiber, yarn, and knitted, crocheted, or woven swatches.

For the last three years, she's been working on a book project with Carol Ekarius—The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 fibers, from animal to spun yarn. It will be available from Storey Publishing this spring.

But just a few weeks ago, I had the great good fortune to sit in on the first half of filming of her video Handspinning Rare Wools in the Interweave video studio, where the heart of this lifelong project comes to life.

What a treat to sit and listen to Deb talk about these rare breeds of sheep and why their wool is important to us as handspinners. Equipped with photos, maps, locks of fiber, swatches of fabric, and the tools for preparing wool and spinning it, Deb deftly organized and presented volumes of information about rare breeds of sheep and their wool in a fascinating and thorough way—bringing tears to her eyes and ours as she passionately explained the delicate balance between the sheep, shepherds, and landscape. You'll have a chance to experience this, too, when her video is released in early February 2011.

Happy spinning,

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