Several Fridays ago (more Fridays than I am comfortable admitting- or even able to name without resorting to the weekly planner that now rules my life) the weather and the schedules of all concerned parties converged, and the sheep of Buckwheat Blossom Farm were shorn of their winter growth.
While Jeff sheared Amy, Amy's friend Jackie, and I skirted fleeces and plotted which would be bought by whom and turned into what. My workroom is now filled with gorgeous fleece and in between stints away working on assorted ferries (I have spent more of April working on the Vinalhaven, Islesboro and Swans Island ferries than I have at home) I find myself losing hours pondering which will be combined with which and spun how, and then, content that I have worked it all out and will send the fleeces out for spinning after my next hitch, return to find that I have changed my mind. The potential represented by those lovely, lovely fleeces is a bit overwhelming and I am terrible at making decisions. I am planning to have some of it spun up as gansey yarn, and some as sanquhar yarn (also suitable for socks) and a bit done up as a three ply sport weight. The question is which fleeces will work best as what, and, as they are colored fleeces, which are best grouped together. I go up to my work space for an entirely unrelated reason and find myself instead moving individual fleeces around the room grouping them together in different ways, patting them and studying individual locks, all the while muttering to myself. I suspect that I sound a bit too much like Gollum for comfort in these instances (no my precious, I shall not put you with that fleece, I shall put you with this fleece and make gansey yarn of you my precious...). I need to send them out to be spun, if only to get a bit of my sanity back.
On a related note, Sam and I had our own opportunity to shear last weekend during a class in beginning sheep shearing held through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Program at North Star Farm. Lessons learned: Jeff makes shearing sheep look easy, but it really really isn't.
After a bit of instruction about the shears themselves, we divided into smaller groups to work more closely with individual shearers. Jeff happened to be one of the instructors and so Sam and I found ourselves naturally in his group as he sheared a sheep very slowly, talking us through the bits we needed to be extra careful with and showing us the shearing pattern. And then it was our turn. Somehow, and I'm still not sure how this happened as generally I ascribe to the stand-at-the-back-until-enough-people-have-tried-something-that-the-novelty-has-worn-off-and-the-group-is-no-longer-paying-attention school of thought regarding activities that involve and audience, I ended up going first. North Star Farm raises Hampshires, which, from some brief googling should apparently weigh 200 pounds (the rams should weigh 275 pounds). On the one hand, they were great beginning shearing sheep as their fleece is not particularly valuable, so if a bunch of utter novices butchered the shearing (which we did) we were not causing any real harm. On the other hand, shearing is awkward enough without also having to wrestle what Sam described as "the biggest g*d d*** sheep I ever saw".
The theory of shearing makes perfect sense: shear in a specific order, keeping the tips of the shears against the skin of the sheep, following the sheep's contours and doing your best not to cut a few very anatomically important bits. I went into the stall, grabbed the closest sheep, brought it to the cutting floor ( a large piece of plywood) wrestled it down so that it was sitting on its haunches on my feet, and then realized that the rest was far more complicated than I had suspected.
Confronted with an actual sheep with four inches of fleece I realized that I couldn't remember any part of the shearing pattern and I couldn't find its skin, let alone follow the contour of its body. I am generally very comfortable using a wide variety of hand and power tools, but the clippers were enormous and awkward in my hand (much like an angle grinder in terms of size and ease of handling) and the sheep was not entirely on board with the proceedings. Also, Jeff is very very tall (6'4"? 6'5'?) and I am not (5'5" when I am remembering to maintain good posture) so there were many instances in which Jeff comfortably straddled the sheep to cut a specific area and I found myself riding the sheep when trying to do the same. But in the end (much, much, later) I prevailed, and even managed to get a feel for when the clippers were following the curve of the sheep's body and when they were haring off too far into the fleece. While Jeff encouraged the sheep to stand and return to the stall, I stood up straight and focused on breathing, with what I suspect was a very dazed expression on my face. As the day progressed it became easy to tell who had sheared, and who was still waiting for a turn by the slightly loopy glazed look of those who had sheared, a mix of shock and exhaustion and triumph.
A bit later it was Sam's turn, and I managed to get photos.