Woolfest – Episode 4: Gotland, what else?

While my dear co-blogger is relaxing on white sand beaches, with turquoise sea, and woolly surroundings, I have free reins to tell you about her recent crush on handsome salt-and-pepper hairy boys, with lots of curls and a very tender look. Yup!

Before even going to Woolfest, Janice had told me that, a few years ago already (lucky her, she had been to Woolfest already!), she had a crush on one of them, and was this close to invite him to come home with her. I am not quite sure what Mr Whippety would have said of that…

Anyway, I was warned that I may have to keep an eye on her so she does not escape with another salt-and-pepper curly one…

Gotland LocksNot very long after we arrived in Woolfest Heaven (aka the very numerous stalls full of lovely things), I spotted her sniffing a bag. I had a sniff too, and… understood. Love at first sniff (don’t tell Mr Spinnygonzalez!). Innocently lying in a basket, there were a few bags of long salt-and-pepper locks. Pretty, and with a very special smell. Both of us took a bag in our hands, sniffing and stroking delicately the little locks…

Gotland BattsThat was the end of us, we were now on the track of The Handsome Curly Boys to whom these pretties would have belonged. I might have succumbed to temptation even more (I blame the fact that it was my first time…), and acquired yet another sample of the salt-and-pepper hairiness: two lofty batts1 of loveable fluffiness.

Eventually, after much stroking and sniffing, we spotted them, casually having a snack in a corner, while practising the art of people-watching “incognito”.

GotlandBy this point, you have recognised them quite probably. They are Gotland sheep. Very remarkable with their silvery grey coat, which grows into long curly locks in all shades of grey (no pun intended…).

Not to mention that the Elven cloaks in the Lord of the Rings movies were made out of Gotland wool. Yup! Magical…

Anyway, a few words about Mr Gotland… Gotland sheep originates from Sweden, and gets their name from the island they come from. They are said to have been established there by the Vikings, long long long ago. They seem to have many qualities2: the ewes are said to be good mothers, the sheep are said to be hardy and adaptive, to produce fine and tasty meat and good skins (I got to see and touch one — really pretty!), and the fleece is relatively soft, very silky and lustrous. Dream sheep, right?

Let me come back to the locks and batts mentioned previously. You will wonder probably whether we are spinners. Well, I think it is fair to say that we are beginner spinners (emphasis on “beginner”). Janice and I both have spinning wheels, and I have a few spindles. But despite being well equipped, both of us tend to grab our knitting instead of any spinning when we have some spare time. Hence the fact that knitting gets a lot done, and that we are still beginner spinners…

Actually, to be completely honest, I have to admit that my wheel has been sitting in a corner of the living room for quite some time before I decided to dust it, oil it, and take up spinning again a couple months ago. Since I am a beginner, I need to concentrate a lot on what my hands are doing, and where the fibre is going, which keeps my brain busy and not thinking too much about other things. Perfect. So, after dusting it and spinning two skeins worth of batts, I talked Janice into dusting and oiling her wheel too.

Now, several things happened pretty much at the same time. I am not sure what to think about coincidences, so I let you judge by yourself. I can’t recollect exactly in what order they happened, but I am quite sure that it was all within days.

So, one thing is Janice telling me about her fondness for salt-and-pepper Gotland sheep. I had never heard about Gotland sheep before, so I was very interested in discovering what Gotland sheep are like at Woolfest!

Woolfest happened on the first day of Tour de Fleece. For those of you non-spinner and/or readers who don’t use Ravelry, you may not know what Tour de Fleece is: it is a spin-along which happens during the cyclist event of the Tour de France, and is mostly about challenging oneself, and having fun, and spinning of course. So, just before Tour de Fleece begins, there is usually a fair amount of chatting on Ravelry forums about what one is intending to spin, with what spindles or spinning wheels, etc. I was reading posts, and learning about the diversity of fibres, wheels, spindles, when I came across a post from a very talented person known as Celticmemory online, Jo in real life. Jo has many, many talents, including knitting, spinning, dyeing, but also writing (wonderful short stories, lovely blog posts), and her knowledge about West Cork (Ireland), where she lives, is tremendous.

©Celticmemory - Picture courtesy of Jo

©Celticmemory – Picture courtesy of Jo

So, Jo shared a picture of her living room, with two of her spinning wheels, and one spindle, ready for Tour de Fleece. Once you have finished admiring the enchanting decoration and detailing the so lovely furniture and treasures, take a look at the wheels.  The spinning wheel on the right hand side is an Haldane Orkney, with which Jo is going to spin some lovely Gotland fibre (yes!), which you can see pre-drafted in the basket sitting just in front of the wheel.

©Celticmemory - Picture courtesy of Jo

©Celticmemory
Picture courtesy of Jo

Haldane Orkney is the castle-type (where the flyer and bobbin sit above the wheel) spinning wheel of the Haldane company, which does not produce spinning wheels anymore, sadly. Haldane wheels were produced in Fife, about 80 miles South from here (Fife is also where Janice’s family is from, if I am not mistaken). The company is still in business, but produces handrails and timber components for staircases. Quite a stretch from yarn-making pretties, really.

On the picture on the left, you can see a close-up of Jo’s wheel, with some Gotland on the bobbins, a few skeins of Gotland all spun up, and some knitted up as Jo was knitting a “Mithril Vest”… You can read more about Jo’s spinning and knitting (and lots of other things) on her blog.

Finally, let me come back to the cleaning of Janice’s spinning wheel. On a very sunny and hot day (Scotland’s weather has been a bit unusual these past months…), we sat down in her garden to dust and oil her wheel. It did not need much adjustment to get ready for spinning again, and here it is…

Janice's wheel

Janice’s Spinning Wheel

Yes, it is a Haldane Orkney… All ready to spin the lovely Gotland locks pictured earlier on.

Coincidences, huh?


1 -. Gotland batts were bought from Eden Gotland Sheep
2 -. More information about the Gotland sheep on the British Gotland Sheep Society website.

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2 Responses to Woolfest – Episode 4: Gotland, what else?

  1. Jo says:

    You know, I don’t believe in coincidences. I happened to think of that Gotland I had in stash and realised it would be ideal for the Tour de Fleece. I tried it on my Polish Kromski wheel and they didn’t take to each other. The Haldane Orkney loved it (both islanders, both tough little creatures, you see?) And then it so happened that you and I found ourselves on the same team in TdF. But never would I have thought that you had a close friend with whom you shared a passion for Gotland, and that she had another of these rare creatures, a Haldane Orkney!

    Like I said, I don’t believe in coincidences. This Celtic triskel was clearly meant to come about. French, Irish, Scottish… Perhaps we should arrange a get-together at some stage, and celebrate the links that still pull us strongly together, even if we can’t see them on the surface?

    • spinnygonzalez says:

      Oh, that’s an idea! Now my brain is putting together crazy plans which involve meeting at Woolfest, or visiting all the lovely places in West Cork (clearly, a second effect of reading your book…), or holding a knitting/spinning retreat in some remote place in the Highlands where we could meet and chat and knit and spin…

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