Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wool comes from sheep you know.

I have read two marvelous books about sheep lately.

The first is In the Footsteps of Sheep: Tales of a Journey Through Scotland, Walking, Spinning, and Knitting Socks by Debbie Zawinski. I talked about this some in a newsletter recently. (If you missed it, you can see it HERE and make sure to sign up for your own copy!)

I spotted this book in one of my local yarn shops (Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder) and snatched it up almost before it had a price tag on it. This book is one that you must have a non-digital copy of. The photographs are gorgeous and the story kept me reading until the book was finished. Debbie says this in the introduction:
The idea was not a new one; not to me that is. The seed had been sown years previously; a chance remark; a flash of inspiration; I don't remember now. It had taken root without me really being aware that the idea was still there, growing quietly in the corner of my mind: a journey around Scotland spinning and knitting the fleece of the Scottish sheep breeds in their native haunts.
And she does just that. By foot, car, train, or boat, she searches out the native sheep of Scotland and collects their wool. She spins it into fiber that she knits directly into a pair of socks that represent her trip. The book also contains many patterns for socks which she designed for the people she met along the way.

There are many words that I didn't know in this book. Words that are common in Scotland apparently. Fortunately, there is a glossary. After all, it isn't every day that you climb the cleugh back of the croft, crossing bothy and tump searching for henty lags.

The other book I ran across in Barnes and Noble (surprisingly) while waiting for a dinner reservation. It is called The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book also grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.

He divides the books into sections for the seasons of the year. He describes his life in these sections from a small boy learning about farming from his grandfather and father to his current life with the sheep and, surprisingly to him, an Oxford education. His descriptions of the Lakes District in England and the way of life there make you feel like you're on the fell hearing the shepherds calling the dogs as they bring in the herds of Herdwick or Swaledale sheep. He is a masterful writer.

Both of these books are well worth a read. They are about the people of northern England and Scotland with a fair bit about the sheep thrown in. They definitely made me want to learn more about different sheep breeds and gave me a great respect for these farmers.

These books came in handy as I started wondering what these sheep really did look like and why I might want to meet them or their fleece.

Treat yourself to a good read!
No one can be sure, but there is a suspicion that the fell people just go on, beneath the waves of "history" that fill the history of England. It sometimes feels to me like, as the tide of the north receded with the melting ice, it left us in place in the hills, little islands sticking up from an encroaching sea of southern civilization.   
                                                                --James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life
I'm off to read The Shepherd's Life for a second time.
Note: If you were interested in the Vermont 2016 retreat, the newsletter with a link to the information and registration went out Monday, Nov 23rd. If you didn't see it, check your junk mail! The retreat is filling up quickly.


  1. When I was in elementary school one of my teachers to,d my mother I was quite the little wool gatherer.....meaning, of course, I was a hard core day dreamer. I remember being fascinated by that term and needed my mother to interpret it for me. Who knew that by adulthood I would end up being a wool gatherer in both meanings of the word! Thanks for the book recommendations. I put them both on my Christmas list.

  2. I just read "The Shepherd's Life" and loved it. He writes so well and it is such an interesting book about the landscape he lives and works in. (Plus I have spun Herdwick fleece.) I am so glad you liked it and posted about it. Hope more people find it to read here in the States. Now I will have to search out the other one to read-it sounds great too.


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