More Skillz?

Do you remember what April 28th is?  Yes, it’s Day 6 of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week: Improving Your Skillset…but, that’s not all!

It’s The Annual Greenbank Mill Herb Festival & Sheep Shearing Day!

First of all, let me preface the rest of this post by just saying, I don’t even know where to begin!! When I first saw the sign for the festival, it was really just in passing.  I couldn’t see the mill or any of the buildings from the road.  Today, after I found my parking spot and made the little trek down the slope to the festival, I was really not prepared for such a picturesque little setting or the little snippets of rustic tranquility.

It was really just a slight road.  But, as I walked, I found myself pleasantly distracted by the next thing.

And the next thing.

And these things. YUM!

And then I saw this!

It’s a lot like watching wool give birth, lol.  There’s this walking bundle full of it that gets shaven off.   And then all of a sudden, there’s this little lamb that emerges from it.  Pretty sweet! That last pic is the fleece from that shearing.  Unbelievable, right?! Especially since it weighed in at seven pounds! Can you imagine walking around with seven pounds of hair all over your body?! Have mercy.

Interesting tidbit of information about shearing and sheep: Once upon a time, shepherds would sit with their sheep and pluck the wool from them.  Some still do.  But, nowadays most sheep are sheared with electric shears.  The sheep aren’t harmed though. 

I think these guys came around to see what all the commotion was about.  “Haven’t you people seen a haircut before?”  🙂

At any rate, the kids who came out had A LOT of fun! When they weren’t playing period games, they were learning.

This lady dressed in period clothing taught the kiddos how to card wool.  They got to keep the wool they carded.

First there was glue.

Then there was wool.

And presto chango!

They got to take a sheep home.  Lucky things!

There was another lady who taught the kids how to spin on a spinning wheel and a drop spindle.

Okay.  Let me pause here and ask you, is it wrong that I was SO jealous I wasn’t a kid today?

Don’t answer that. LOL!

To the side of the spinners, other volunteers were skirting the freshly shorn fleece.  Skirting is taking out all of the junk from the fleece you don’t want like the vegetable matter, matted parts and the poo (yup, p-o-o, poo).

Let me tell you knitters and crocheters-be grateful for these people.  Ugh.

Sheep sure are oily too.  Look at all of that yellow lanolin on there!

One of the ladies was kind enough to show me what a second cut looks like and this is it.  A second cut is a shorter bit of fluff on the fleece due to a portion being cut twice.  Those have to be removed either during the shearing as the shearer is working or during skirting.  She explained to me that when the mill processes this wool, the machines tend to like staple lengths that are of a consistent length.  If it gets a shorter bit, apparently, it gets all choked up and everything goes haywire. No second cuts, please.

That’s interesting because I’ve read online where some who hand card say they at times get neps, they think, because of second cuts in the wool they are carding…hmmm…Good to know.

Next, I hit the dyer’s table.

Here she’s showing me some cochineal.  See the dark stuff in that mortar?  That’s cochineal.  And guess what?  A cochineal is an insect.  Somebody figured out these insects yield a really powerful red dye.

She also told me about a few of the mordants she uses like alum, copper and tin, which were used to treat these skeins.  No coloring was added at all.  Mordants are used to allow the fiber to retain the color it gets when it’s dyed.  So, after one of these mordants is added, the skein is no longer a blank palette.  If you start adding color then, I’m guessing the mordant needs to be considered in order to know whether you will be saturating that color or dulling it.  Good to know, right?

She spent a good deal of time telling us how she arrived at the colors on the color wheel, mainly by using natural substances she could find along with rainwater she collected.

Goldenrod, black walnut shells, acorns.  You name it! My dye tip for the day from one of the volunteers was to get some clippers and some ziplocks to have in the car so I could harvest along the road. 🙂

Not sure I’m ready to dye stuff yet.  But I know where to go when I am!

The folks there were awesome! Full of information and very generous and helpful.  I was SO glad I went! Seemed there was something to learn at every turn.  And they’ve managed to build a small community of spinners, knitters and weavers that is just a very charming and peaceful group of folk.

I liked it all so much, I decided to take home some souvenirs.

Aren’t they cute? 🙂

I’m considering the membership too.  It’s really a no-brainer since these days all I have is handspun and handspun knitting on the brain.

So, improving my skillset, you ask?

I’m just thinking that it might be nice to hang around this place more often!


  1. You’ve definitely had a wonderful day. I love the images you captured and I’m so glad to know that the sheep don’t get harmed, although it looks pretty painful. I’m not sure if I had that much hair growing out of my head if I could trust anyone withe some clippers! LOL

    Continue to bask in the joy of this day. 🙂

  2. Ouch! The shepards pulled their hair out! That sounds painful.
    I had no idea that sheep were so oily. So they condition that gorgeous hair.
    Love the little lamb you got.

    • Oh no!! In ancient breeds, the wool used to fall out, or shed. Shepherds could wait for it to fall out onto the ground or they could collect it by “plucking” which isn’t really what it sounds like. It was so loose, it wouldn’t hurt anyway. Although shearing isn’t hurting them either, rooing was even more gentle. Sheep are bred differently now though. I think there are more breeds that don’t shed the same way anymore, if they shed at all. Shearing is also faster. Modern production rates required faster methods of collection.

      The lanolin grows out of the sheep skin. Many cosmetics contain it. That’s from a sheep somewhere!

      He’s a cutie, isn’t he? I can’t wait until my daughter sees it. 🙂

  3. Color me GREEN! I wish I could have gone!! What a great time you had.

  4. I remember being at my (great)Aunt Laura’s farm when the sheep were being sheared. I was 7 or 8, and I remember being astounded at how big the sheep was entering the shearing shed, and how small it was when it came out. It sounds like you had a wonderful day.

    • It was wonderful! I am trying to figure out how to make time to go back!!
      And you are right! When the sheep came out from all that wool, I kept thinking, “But he’s so tiny!”

  5. I love your photos! 🙂 Especially the last one; the little sheep is so cute! Did you buy it there or was it something you could make yourself as well?

    I The skirtin pictures made me laugh – it is true, buying wool (especially brightly coloured and soft) is great, but you never think that ALL the wool is used … Also the one from the behind … :mrgreen:

    I have to admit that I’m a bit sceptical about the red dye from the insects, though. I mean, yeah, in the middle ages they used these bugs to dye purple … But isn’t there another way to get a colour like this – without gathering bugs and sqashing them? (just my two cents; I don’t want to start a discussion about ethics here).

    But, generally, places like these are great – we have a few of them in Germany, too, and they are an awesome way of teaching kids history and making it interesting for them. So important! 😀

    I hope you have a nice sunday!
    Julia 😀

    • Thanks!

      Yes, I bought it from their craft sales table. But, you could make it yourself. I just wanted to support in some way. Have to keep communities like that around!

      I am SO glad that all the wool isn’t used!! I got to see wool with poo hanging onto it. Not cute. LOL!

      I keep wondering if they’re dead when they’re collected or not. The ones she had were in packages and were given to her from dyers that had lost interest in dyeing. So, I’m not sure if she got that from an operation that’s currently working or not…Especially because I also think that she said something about them being endangered right now. So, she may have had to get them from someone who had bought them long ago? They may not be so readily available now. Don’t quote me on that though…Just doing a cursory search, some say they’re not endangered because they are raised in Mexico for income. Apparently, everything really does have a trade off in life.

      • The cochineal bug lives on certain cacti. They grow fields of the cacti in the valley where I live, and you can see them covered in what looks like white mold. It is the bugs being raised then harvested. I never really thought about the bugs welfare. They are used in cosmetics and food because they are natural.

        I loved the post, I think these kind of shows are great. Looks like you had a good time!

      • Thank you so much for linking this article! I didn’t know that – and I am wondering whether its in “our” food as well. 😉

        Also: Thank you so much for your kind answer! I was hoping you wouldn’t consider it as rude or offensive, because it wasn’t meant that way at all. If you DID (and were just to polite to tell me off) – I apologise of course. 🙂

  6. Looks like such a fun and educational day! Thanks for sharing.

  7. I love that colour wheel of yarns – it looks so pretty!

  8. So lovely, so beautiful post… I loved your amazing photographs… How exciting… Thank you, with my love, nia

  9. Let’s just say I ADORE every single photo and thing you saw! Beautiful, Stacey, as usual. And thank you so much for taking the time to share it with your readers. :))

  10. flowerpotdesigns says:

    wow! this place sounds great! i would love to have gone. thanks for sharing all these great tips and facts! wonderful!

    • I think it is. I’m going to visit next weekend, weather permitting. They have spin-ins the 2nd Saturday of every month and I would like to see what a spin-in is like!

  11. Linda Shinn says:

    Great entry, Stacey!! I really admire anyone who does a blog and you really captured the spirit of Greenbank’s Shearing Day.


  1. […] gave me a decent view of his good side.   But look at how much the wool has grown already since the sheep shearing back in April.  That’s crazy, […]

  2. […] may recall I met these folks exactly a year ago.  A year later, and I see all of the same activities…new faces and old.  If you’ve […]

  3. […] all remember Deb Mitchell? She’s the shearer that I saw the first time I went to Greenbank Mill. I actually had a […]

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