Monday, August 1, 2011

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds sheep has what I think is a rich looking fleece with long, lustrous locks of curly ringlets. It is classified as a coarse fibre, but that just means it has a larger diameter than, say, Merino which is a fine fibre. But coarse is a description, not a comment on quality. A better description is that it is a longwool, and that, it is, measuring 6 - 12" in staple length. The locks are often sold as Santa Claus beard.  If you are making something that needs to be hard wearing, a rug, or a tough outdoorsy jacket, then you want a fibre like a Cotswold. But other, more, interesting things can be made. According to Wikipedia, the fibre was often a substitute for linen and was spun and woven very finely along with strands of gold to make rich garments for priests and Kings. And check out this wedding dress done by this shepherdess in an article by the Daily Mirror.
[PhotoWedding dress of Cotswold locks.
Photo by  Jon Corken of the Daily Mirror]
Cotswold is also known as poor mans mohair because of it's luster. So let's forget the 'coarse' description.
If the locks are prepared in true worsted fashion, that is: hand combed so that all the fibres are parallel and any nips, noils (tangles), and short fibres removed; and then spun carefully also in worsted fashion by smoothing down the fibres and making sure you spin from the cut end to the tip end so that all the tips point in the same direction, then the lustre will be maximized and those who suffer itchiness from wool will find this preparation much nicer to wear.  A woman I know who teaches spinning and who did her Master Spinners research project on spinning for tapestry yarns, found that just by altering the tips to ends or end to tip or plying one with the other or plying all tips to end, the fibre could produce a variety of lustre or yarns that reflect light differently, hence one colour, say blue, spun in various preparations gave her enough reflection variation that she could use it for the ocean and have it showing different patterns of reflected light, just like water will do.
So there we were in the Cotswolds, coming back from an unsucessful trip to Oxford Pit River Museum where the Coast Salish Blanket I had hoped to see had been removed from display for an unknown period but I digress. So there we were on our way back to my brother's place, when we saw the sign for The Wool Church in Northleach, and did a quick detour.
When the British economy was built on wool, it was the Cotswold sheep that provided riches to the wool merchants and tax revenues to the King..
Baa Baa black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the Master,
one for the Dame,
and one for the little boy 
who lives down the lane.
Children s nursery rhyme from mid 1700's, and was also the first song
 to be digitally recorded and played on a computer.
[PhotoJohn Fortey, Died 1458]
And it was here in this church that some of the wealthy merchants and their families are buried  with brass plaques memorials, with their image, some with their wive and some including small pictures of their children.
Take John Fortey, woolman of Northleach who died in 1458 and left $300 pounds, a magnificent sum in those days, to the church. His brass, which is five feet long depicts his image and tells you who and what he is: with one foot on a Cotswold sheep and the other resting on a bag of wool.
But that was then, now, sheep are being raised mostly for their meat and that does not bode well for the many rare breeds of sheep found around the world...although:  on Saltspring Island, where a friend raised sheep for meat and some wool for herself, now has switched to wool sheep since the new abattoir laws in BC which means it is now more expensive to take sheep off the island to officially approved and licensed abattoirs .
[PhotoJohn Fortey's feet: one on a
Cotswold sheep and the other on a bag of wool]
So while the slow local food movement takes a step back on Saltspring Island, on one farm at least, the wool sheep gains.  And on the Shetland islands where Shetland sheep are raised, they have lately been left to 'rue' that is to naturally shed their fleece.  Since paying for shearing cost more than they could get for their fleece, it wasn't worth shearing.  But lately, the price of wool has risen and now the sheep are getting shorn and the farmers are making some money on wool.
So maybe the wool fortunes will return to the Cotswolds.
[PhotoSmall brass of a sheep and a bag of wool]

No comments:

Post a Comment