In October of 2014 our Fibreshed team had the great pleasure of witnessing the first shearing of the small flock of Icelandic sheep at Leila Bee’s Round Table Farms. See our blog of November 10, 2014 for the video Ron McInnis generously filmed and edited for the Fibreshed.
Needless to say the arrival of our first quality wool for spinning, weaving and knitting in our Sunshine Coast Fibreshed was an important turning point for us. We had been searching our coastline, meeting local farmers and their sheep and not finding the quality of wool fibre desired by the experienced artisans of the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild. Yvonne Stowell of Fibreworks Studio and Gallery had established a local source of alpaca and llama along with a great selection of non-local fibres for our spinners. The Icelandic fleece was the first local wool that we as a Fibreshed from Langdale to Lund could embrace. Our Fibreshed was now on its way.
The Icelandic sheep is a primitive and extremely versatile breed and was the mainstay behind the formation of the Icelandic society. The sheep were brought by ship to Iceland by the Vikings from their Scandinavian villages where their milk, meat, hide, bones and wool met the needs of this new society in many ways. The wool is dual coated, with long guard hairs to shed water and a soft downy undercoat to keep the sheep warm in a harsh and sparse environment. The Vikings used every part of the fleece, using the down (the thel) to make undergarments and the long guard hairs (the tog) to make ropes and sails. The combined fibres (the lopi) were used to make wonderful warm and sturdy outerwear garments.
In November I had the great pleasure of attending the Viking Exhibition at the Royal Museum in Victoria. As I looked at the weaving, tools and replica clothing I felt how we are keeping alive the skills and traditions of this past with the Icelandic fleece project of our Fibreshed.
It was interesting to see some of their spindle whorls that have survived.
Their clothing is similar to what we like today – layered, paneled and functional. The photos show a display of replicas of the clothing made for men, women and children.
There was also an original tapestry.
Since the shearing day at Round Table Farms we have held two Fibre Circles at Fibreworks Studio and Gallery to share in the skirting, sorting, washing, combing, carding and spinning and show a small dedicated group how to handle this versatile and lovely fleece. See our blog December 30, 2014 and its video December 29, 2014 to share again in this process.
From this Fibre Circle we have formed three teams to take the four fleeces from Prince (the ram) and his ladies Bella, Roxy and Ginger and bring them to finished garments and accessories to be showcased at our annual Fibres Plus Sale in November, 2015. An upcoming series of blogs on the Icelandic Fleece Project will follow the progress of each of the Icelandic Teams as they work through the seasons with their fleece. Part 2 will begin with Team Prince and Ginger (the two white fleeces) and then parts 3 and 4 will cover Team Roxy and Team Bella and their two beautiful gray fleeces.
Thank you Leila, Ron, Yvonne and Jeannie for all your help in bringing this Icelandic Fleece Project into being.
Words and pictures by Deanna B. Pilling (proudly an ex-Viking)