Talking about Hog Island Sheep

Wow, its’ been about two years since I’ve written anything on this blog. I like to write and I had the best of intentions when I started this blog. But I think I fell victim to a combination of not having enough time and having nothing significant to say. Now, 5 months into COVID 19 lockdown, I still don’t have enough time, but I do have some things to say. I want to talk about Hog Island sheep and their wool. I’m a registered fiber supplier with the Livestock Conservancy’s Shave ’em to Save ’em program and I’ve noticed lots of questions about Hog Island wool on the SE2SE’s various social media groups.

I’m going to skip the essay on the history of HI sheep for now. The Livestock Conservancy and Deborah Robson’s Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook cover that topic pretty well. We know that Hog Island sheep are one of the few American breeds of sheep, that they’re critically endangered, and that they’re considered a feral breed. These facts got me interested in HI sheep to begin with, and I came to like them so much that last year my husband and I purchased a pair of non-breeding ewes from Mount Vernon estate to add to our little hand spinner’s flock. Their registered names are [Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association] MVLA Olga and MVLA Anita. I’ll be talking about them a lot.

Olga

Anyway, the purpose of these posts will be to explore what we do with this charming historical breed and their wool going forward. What is the future of Hog Island sheep and how can we use their wool in our every day lives? In which of the fiber arts applications does this wool really shine? Well, it’s a bit matte so won’t actually shine at all, but you know what I mean. How does it take dye, can you felt with it, weave with it, knit sweaters with it? What’s best way to prepare it for spinning and what are the best ways to spin it? Worsted, woolen, 2 ply, 3 ply, etc. If things go well I may even post a few videos of me working with Hog Island and demonstrating ways you can deal with the short staple length that so many HI sheep seem to have.

I’m going to spend most of the next post exploring the wool itself. I currently have five Hog Island fleeces in my studio and I’m going to pull locks from each of them to find how many characteristics they share and how they all differ. I will note that while HI wool has a reputation for being non next-to-skin soft, I’ve found plenty that is delightfully fine. I’ve also found plenty that is of a moderate softness and would be great for hats and mittens or even a sturdy shawl or wrap. I already have several projects planned for the future but I’m open to suggestions if there are things you’d really like to see covered. You can leave me a comment here, DM me on Instagram @baltimorewoolcompany, or send me an email at baltimorewoolcompany@gmail.com.

I’m off to spin more Olga wool. Look for my next post in early September!

Pair of Pears

pairofpears

For the last week or so I’ve been experimenting with framing some of my textile art. I don’t like it in every case, but am quite happy with the results for 100% needle felted pieces. This pair of pears above didn’t look half as nice without the frames. They’ve been donated to a charity silent auction being held this Spring. I made these two about a year and a half ago and seeing them framed has renewed my interest in needle felted still life work.

Needle Felting with Yarn

 

yarndaphne

Yarn was my entry into the world of fiber art. Before I learned to weave or knit, I learned how to spin yarn. It gave me an deep connection with the animals who produce my wool, and it allowed me to make the kind of yarn I wanted (but couldn’t find) for my projects.

Over the years I have produced a lot of yarn. I’ve knitted with it, woven cloth and tapestries with it, used it to accent my mixed media textile art, given it to friends, and I’ve sold the vast majority of it. So, I thought I had a handle on all of the novel ways you could use yarn, especially in art.

Last month I was prepping to teach my usual monthly program, Fast and Easy Fiber Arts, at the Hereford Library. I’d decided that my January program would be “yarn painting.’ I was loosely basing this on the amazing yarn art produced by the Huichol people of Mexico. They use very fine yarn and beeswax to produce images. But my program is an hour and a half so there was no way we could try the authentic way to do this. After experimenting with glue and MDF board, I had the sudden inspiration (Thank you, Barbara!) to try needle felting the yarn onto a linen fabric. It worked!

Most of my programs are based on based on needle felting. My participants just love it, and I love the effects you can produce with just a needle and a bit of wool. As I mentioned, I do use yarn accents in my mixed media art, but it’s almost always a single ply. The 2-4 ply yarns I used in the piece above add texture and movement and I can see a lot of possibilities for use in future art work. The piece above is based on a photo of Daphne, one of my Jacob ewes, and made entirely from commercial yarn. I’ve already started sketching for another, larger piece that will be created entirely from my handspun yarn. Yes, it will probably be another of my critters. 🙂

I’ll post some WIP pics once I’ve made some progress.