I visited my shepherdess friend Claudia friend twice recently. The first time for my husband Dan to take pictures for my upcoming book Listen to the wool, the second time to help her on shearing day. Join me in exploring the sweet breath of wool.
If you are a patron (or want to become one) you can see more of Härvor’s fleece in my October 2023 video postcard.
We drive out in the countryside, Dan and I. Autumn has started to reveal its favourite colours of yellow and red amongst the green. We pass pastures, fields and forests as the road ahead us gets narrower. When we arrive at our destination we stand before another pasture. A flock of sheep and three horses graze quietly and peacefully in it.
We are here to take pictures of Claudia’s flock of Värmland and Gestrike sheep. Claudia and her partner Roger greet us and welcome us into her flock’s living room. The horses don’t mind our presence. A sub group of the sheep flock, brown in colour, approach us with curious muzzles, others, grey, stay at the back fence, munching apples from the neighbour’s garden.
Claudia tells us that the behaviours of the breeds are remarkably different – while the Värmland sheep are instantly curious and up for adventures, the Gestrike ladies are more reserved, at least in the beginning. Both breeds are quite cuddly, though, and after a while I am surrounded by both brown and grey sheep, all nudging me for attention. Another muzzle pokes me gently in the back. It’s one of the Icelandic horses who wants to be part of the party.
As I dig my hands into the thick fleece of Härvor the Gestrike sheep I feel her warmth spread through the fibers into my hands. The lanolin glistens in the October sun, the smell of sheep slows my heart down into a pleasant calm. Härvor’s head is close to mine, I feel her exhale warm against my cheek. We exchange breaths, hers become my inhale and mine become hers. Her fleece encloses my hands, the staples she has grown since the spring shearing. The nutrients in the pasture have fed her through the summer, helping her create a fleece that has protected her against the elements.
Another poke in my back from the horse, my arms around three woolly necks, my chest bursting with sheep joy. Meanwhile, Dan skips around in the distance and gets some lovely shots. After over 200 pictures both of us still have a hard time leaving the flock. But we do. Before we go back home,though, we have the loveliest chat with Roger and Claudia in their greenhouse, surrounded by the branches of a mulberry tree, accompanied by tea and apple cake. As we go back home my heart beats in tune with the memory of Härvor’s sheepy and warm exhale so close to mine.
I take another ride to the countryside, this time by bus. The morning is a bit nippy and I put on my Värmland wool half mitts. As I arrive at Claudia’s I hear the buzzing of the shearing machine in the barn. A couple of brown and naked sheep trot around the farm yard, half insecurely, half bossily butting each other and bleating in their seemingly new and wool-less flock. The autumn shearing has already started.
Roger hands Elin the shearer the next sheep as Claudia gathers the previously shorn sheep’s summer coat off the barn floor. I place my backpack in a sheep safe place and get to work. Claudia hands me the fresh fleece and a paper bag with the sheep’s name written on it. As I receive the wool harvest I feel its warmth as if it were still on the sheep. The bundle moves softly in my arms, breathing, like a being of its own.
I spread the treasure onto a grid and start picking out whatever vegetation matter, second cuts, felted parts and poo I can find in the short time Elin the shearer shears the next sheep. As soon as the shearing machine stops buzzing I know it’s time to put the fleece in its bag and be ready for the next one from Claudia, together with a bag with another name and the date of the shearing hastily scribbled onto it. Some of the bags have crossed-over names with older dates. For just a couple a minutes I get to survey each fleece and get a glimpse of their characteristics.
The bag I get together with the next armful of body warm fleece has the name Härvor written on it. My heart tingles as I take in the wool wealth with all my senses, inhaling the moment, feeling all the summer days the wool has protected her.
In the corner of my eye I watch slim bodies with their true colours revealed poking around in the paper bags. The new fleece they produce will protect them during the winter months, perhaps it will also protect a new life that will grow in their wombs.
After the 35 minutes it takes Elin to shear the 14 sheep we have soup and a chat in Claudia’s kitchen. Elin tells us about what breeds she doesn’t enjoy shearing. Apparently Dorpers are a nuisance and the Disney-like Valais black nose bulky and wooly on every inch of their bodies, not to mention a hazard with their unreliable horns. This is a kitchen of warmth, and I don’t mean from the steaming soup only.
Two bags come home with me on the bus. The names Härvor and Doris are written on them. I am sure they haven’t taken the bus before, let alone the metro. I giggle as I think about the adventure they are on as we approach Stockholm Central station for the last change of transportation.
I spread Härvor’s fleece onto the balcony floor when I get home. The last rays of sun peak through the thin foliage, casting a golden shimmer onto the locks. I see staples long and conical, short and crimpy, white, gray and anthracite. Claudia calls this kind of fleece a household fleece – its versatility opens up for a wide variety of textiles that a household might need.
When I have finished admiring Härvor’s loose locks I press them all down into a tub of warm water. The soapy suint feels slippery against my skin. A welcome air of wet wool puffs toward my face as I lean over the tub.
A breath of wool
During my evening yoga practice I can feel the familiar smell filling the living room, where I have placed the fleece to dry on a compost grid under the table. My mind sweeps me back to the Sunday pasture, I close my eyes and imagine digging my hands into Härvor’s soft locks, once again feeling her breath sweetly whiffing against my cheek.
It dawns on me that I wouldn’t be a spinner without sheep like her or sheep farmers like Claudia. The fleece Härvor grows and gifts to me and the love, dedication and hard work Claudia puts into her sheep and pastures make me a better spinner. How could I then not spin this wool from my heart? How could I then not create the best yarn Härvor’s fleece can be? How could I then not return the gift by sharing my words with the world? In my mind I lean in and hear Härvor whisper softly: ”Listen to the wool”. And I will. There is my answer, there is my connection, back to the pastures, back to the soft breath and whisper of the wool.
Thank you Claudia for your generosity!
Fleece for sale!
Claudia has fleeces for sale from the shearing. They are remarkably clean and of high quality and I would buy them all if I had the time and the space. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also any poopy bits and visible vegetable matter that can be found in roughly two minutes. The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.
The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.
If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: info (at) swedishwoolbroker dot com
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