Tuesday, 15 October 2013

North Atlantic Native Sheep & Wool Conference 4

Day 4 of the conference was spent at Shetland Museum and Archive listening to the lectures from the invited speakers.  A very diverse range of speakers and I found the day enthralling.

Jim Nicholson, one of the people who had demonstrated Flock Book points for rams at the Mart on Saturday, introduced the Lecture Programme.  He told us that as late as the mid 20th century Shetland sheep used to be mainly on hills and rooed.  Now there are fewer sheep on the hills and more in fields.  The Shetland Flock Book Trust ensures purity of Shetland Sheep and makes them commercially viable so crofters will keep them..10% of Shetland Crofters are members of the Trust.

Then followed:
Dr Carol Christiansen: Sustainability through the ages
June Hall: Soay Sheep (Ovis aries) - Prehistoric Survivors on Britain's Remote Islands
Deborah Robson: Rare Breeds from North Atlantic Native Sheep: An Important Piece of the Sustainability Puzzle
Ólafur R Dýrmundsson – Icelandic Sheep and Sheep farming in Iceland in the context of sustainability
Dana MacPhee: Cloimh Uibhist – Sustaining the islands through a textile tradition
Panel Discussion: All speakers will take questions from the floor
Conclusions and outcomes of the day summarised by Ronnie Eunson

A wonderful day where I learnt so much.  I've transcribed my notes at the end of this post.
This is a photograph of the speakers just before the start of the Panel Discussion.

June had also brought a wonderful selection of items relating to Soay sheep and St Kilda for us to see.

Lunch time was a chance to share thoughts about everything we were learning, and to persuade Felicity Ford to show us her Baby Layter sweater.  I first saw the original Layter over 3 years ago and I'm very cross with myself that I've not yet knitting one myself.  It's a great way to use wool from several different breeds of sheep.

At the end of the session we heard from Ronnie Eunson about how the Shetland Flock Book was started in 1927.  Up to 40-50 years ago, in Shetland, wool was more important than meat.  Castrated male sheep grew the biggest fleeces and were 'leader sheep' in snow conditions. 
Sheep offer sustainable and beneficial land use and produce.

In the evening we all travelled to Tingwall Hall for a meal together with traditional music and dancing demonstrations.  A really enjoyable evening with good food and great company.

 Towards the end of the evening Felicity performed the Shetland Wool song that she'd written at the beginning of Shetland Wool Week.  It went down very well!

 You can see Felicity performing her song here

For the final morning we started with Jan Hicks presenting details about Wool Clip and how this led to the annual Woolfest event.  Having enjoyed visiting Woolfest for a number of years I was very interested to hear about the story of Wool Clip.

Karin Flatøy Svarstad then gave us a summary of the conference - I can't believe we fitted so much into so few days!

Next was a very exciting presentation by Jóhanna Pálmadóttir introducing the 2014 North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool Conference which will be held in Iceland from 4 - 8 September 2014.  And having enjoyed this conference so much and heard what we'll be doing in Iceland, I'm definitely wanting to go. 

We'll be seeing sheep and wool in different parts of Iceland, travelling through areas of the country away from the usual tourist venues and seeing one of the famous sheep round-ups.  This is one of the places we'll be visiting - the Icelandic Textile Centre - and if you'd like to find out more about joining the 2014 Conference you can contact Jóhanna Pálmadóttir at textilsetur@simnet.is
I can't wait!

These are my personal notes, transcribed from what I scribbled down during the talks, so I may well have made errors in noting something down.  If you're reading them, please bear this in mind, and if anyone spots a glaring error, please let me know.

These notes are a real help for me since I can read them with full memory of the passion and enthusiasm of the speakers, and the wonderful images they all showed us.  I can only encourage people to try and listen to these speakers 'live' if the opportunity arises.

Dr Carol Christiansen, Curator and Community Museums Officer at Shetland Museum and Archives.  She is a textile archaeologist whose research includes the use of Scottish and Scandinavian landrace sheep breeds for textile production.  Her talk was titled, 'Sustainability through the ages'

She spoke about how people in Shetland made the most of what they had in textiles by adapting to change and using opportunities.
The 16th century saw the change from weaving to knitting.
The 19th century saw the development of lace knitting.
Maintaining the tradition of hand knitting has been the focus of the 20th century.

A very interesting photograph of loom and spindle weights before and after the Norse entered Shetland.  They got bigger - does this reflect a change in the length and weight of fleece staples?  Were new sheep introduced?

For the 200 years after Shetland was pledged to Scotland in 1469 rentals were paid in a cloth called Vadmal - a heavy, dense twill that used a lot of wool.  In 1627 there was 7,400m of cloth used for rentals.

The introduction of knitting was a most significant change to life in Shetland.  Did this change Shetland sheep since a softer wool without hairy tips is needed for knitting?  Another change from weaving to knitting is that instead of combing the wool for spinning they were carded for the woollen spinning more suitable for knitting yarn.

Common garments that were knitted were stockings, caps and underclothes which were sold to fishermen.  When this market declined in the early 19th century there was the introduction of lace knitting (1830).  When the young Queen Victoria was gifted a pair of Shetland lace stockings which she very much liked, a fashion was started leading to exports even to New York.
A benefit of lace knitting is that it requires little wool but a great deal of skill is needed in the spinning of the fine yarn and the knitting of the lace.

In the 20th century hand working of knitted garments continued in Shetland even when the rest of the UK fully mechanised.  This has become part of the modern Shetland knitting brand and remains part of Shetland knitting even as new products are developed in the 21st century.

Next June Hall spoke on Soay Sheep (Ovis Aries): Prehistoric survivors on Britain's remote islands.
The Soay sheep came to St Kilda with Bronze Age People from southern Europe, so they have been on the island for 3,500 years.  They have evolved in equilibrium with their environment.  The abandoned stone built cleats where the islanders used to store turf, feathers & catches of seabirds are now used by the sheep as shelter.
The population of Soays on Hirta varies between 600 - 1300.  The last two years has seen steep declines in population, mostly in spring around lambing time and the recent wet winters are thought to blame. (I've found more information about this here)
The Soay sheep on Hirta are the most studied in the world, the research currently being done by National Trust for Scotland, University of Edinburgh and Imperial College.
When St Kilda was evacuated in 1930 all the crossbred sheep on Hirta were evacuated and later around 100 Soay sheep were brought from Soay Island to repopulate Hirta with sheep.  This has appropriately managed the vegetation on Hirta.
? Difference between Hirta and Soay Island feral flocks and managed Soay flocks in the UK.
An 1896 photograph of a Soay lamb seems to show it having white colouring on its head.

Soay sheep are the oldest and most primitive sheep in Europe.
85% of the rams are horned, as are many ewes.  There is also a scurred form of the horn which is mostly found in ewes.
The Soay sheep on St Kilda are either dark brown or light brown in colour - known as Dark Phase or Light Phase.  Both colours can be solid or show mouflon marking.

Two more things that June mentioned - that she has a book nearing publication (that's sorted a Christmas present for me this year or next!) and that the National Trust for Scotland is seeking applicants for a PhD to research whether Soay sheep on St Kilda are under threat.

And for anyone wanting to learn more about Soay sheep the 2014 World Congress on Coloured Sheep is in Rambouillet, France in May 2014

This is an interesting piece about the evolution of the two colours of Soay sheep that I found while googling for the links above.

Deborah Robson: Rare Breeds from North Atlantic Native Sheep: An Important Piece of the Sustainability Puzzle
Restoring wool to its rightful place as a central part of everyone's life.
Wool instead of synthetics leads to global sustainability.
Is wool: trash, second crop or primary income source?

It has been and can become a primary income source.
Ancient - meat + wool
Medieval - WOOL + meat
18th - 20th centuries - MEAT + wool
? Future - wool + meat.

Wool is a severely underrated, misunderstood income source with significant potential
Value of breed-specific wool eg Suffolk - sturdy sock wool, machine washable.  Merino is a nice wool but not for socks.
Users today evaluate yarn on dyed colour and softness NOT suitability for purpose, durability etc.
Need best materials for purpose for highest level of crafting. (lustre, length, natural colour, strength)

Wool is environmentally sound
aesthetically pleasing, diverse & versatile, durable & functional.
Using different wools in complement with each other.

Need to capture and guide the imagination of users of these wools.

Overview to see what we're already accomplishing - need to use social media appropriately.
As producers we need to: reach, tantalise & inspire, guide & educate.

Finding the audience (consumers) for:
fleece (raw)
fleece (clean) + processed fibre
finished goods - functional &/or artistic

Top 4 resources for reaching people:  Ravelry, Etsy, Ebay, Own Website

Tantalise and inspire - tell stories.
Who you are, why you're doing what you're doing.  The more individual the better.

Stories: History (personal), Current culture, Making individual lives better, Making the world better.  Third of these is a big sell point.

Guide and educate - why and how to use non-generic fibres (breed-specific)
Why it's important to maintain diversity - genetics

Individualise - tell stories.
Not all wool is the same (not common knowledge)
Different wools suit different purposes
Life is better with knowledge and use of specialised wools (satisfaction, skills, legacy)

See Clara Parkes - Knitters Review
FFSB now into 2nd printing.
Pattern support for breed-specific yarns - Ann Kingstone, Sue Blacker, Kate Davies etc

Other ideas - The Great White Bale project - Clara Parkes - selling memberships & subscriptions including Armchair Travellers
Shepherd & the Shearer 

Making connections between people, animals, places & stories

Ólafur R Dýrmundsson – Icelandic Sheep and Sheep farming in Iceland in the context of sustainability

Last importation of sheep into Iceland was in 1946 - rams from Scotland which got foot rot during their 2 mths of isolation so not allowed out of isolation.  There is no foot rot or liver fluke in Iceland. 
Farming - 4000 farms around coast.  2400 flocks including hobby flocks.

Farmers Association of Iceland 
pdf with detailed information about Icelandic farming - in English

Great genetic diversity in Icelandic breed of sheep - the only breed within Iceland
Have horned & polled, white & coloured.  Some are mouflon

Tri colour is rare.  A few have 4 horns
Icelandic leadership gene - more info here in this online article by Ólafur R Dýrmundsson

Sheep used to be winter grazed but now kept inside during winter.
Rangeland is natural unimproved grazing.
The sheep are shorn before housing in November - except for shearling lambs which are shorn after going into winter housing.  This gives the best fleece.
They are shorn again in Feb/March

Importance of quality control - product quality, traceability of individual sheep, welfare & sound management, sustainable rangeland use.

Quality products
Local integrity
Cultural Heritage

Dana MacPhee: Cloimh Uibhist – Sustaining the islands through a textile tradition
All Uist wool used to go off the island to BWMB Evanton for processing and returning little to the island.  To address this planned to open a mill in Uist - Uist Wool - as a community benefit society

Got old mill equipment from Argyll.

Creating something of the local fleece that has value and worth.

Blog post about the opening of the mill earlier this year

Jan Hicks:  Wool Clip
In late 1990s there was European funding for underprivileged areas which financed Rural Women's Network.
In late 2001 after Foot & Mouth disaster a retail outlet for selling textile crafts was opened at Priest's Mill, Caldbeck.  Focus on something with a provenance.  Short runs & unrepeatable important.

Selling online didn't work for them because of work updating website for one-offs. 
Set up co-operative.
Working together:
Creates business oppportunities
Spreads risks/costs
Spreads workload
Moral support
Pool of skills/expertise to draw on

1 comment:

  1. Jane, your posts are fabulous! I have been reading them all week. I would have loved to have been there for wool week and the conference, but since I wasn't, I was really happy to read your blog and look at all of the great photos. I don't know how you found the time, but thank you very much for sharing.