Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sh(e)aring sheep and learning experiences

When it is spring the sheep get shorn - every year, sometimes earlier on (April) sometimes later on (June). This year the shearer made it to my house in the second week of May and it happened to also coincide with a day of learning about fibre which had been organized for four nine year-old boys from a local school.
They arrived ready to roll at 8.30 in the morning - fresh out of bed and off the bus eager to see what this day would bring of excitement.
I showed them the drum carder - they picked carefully at the washed brown fleece from last year which I had dug out of the piles for the occasion. I don't think they had ever felt fleece before - but the eyes were big as they turned the crank and saw the transformation from locks to carded bat - all the fibres lined up and much softer and fluffier in the bat than in the locks.

Just after 9am the shearer arrived. He set up his clipper, and I sat the boys on their bottoms on chairs and a bench just outside the shearing area. One by one (I have five ewes) the sheep were brought to the shearer, he flipped each one to sit on her tail and proceed to shear down over the belly, around the udder, hind legs, out onto the sides and then from top of head down towards the sides again and finally the last clip along the length of the back - then each boy helped me pick up a fleece, wrap it in a sheet and they got to take a handfull of deliciously greasy, damp and warm fleece. Their eyes were big - a ewe squeezed herself through their chairs and went grazing on the lawn rather than going back in to her babies in the pasture. One boy looked seriously at me and said that he was going to take better care not to let another one sneak through and he moved his chair very close to the fence to make sure the 'hole' was no longer there.

As the last ewe was loosing her fleece to the clippers the shearer stopped and offered that if anyone wanted to try, they could come up and hold on to the shearers and try what it felt like. I must admit my heart almost stopped those shearers are darn sharp and my precious ewes have tender skin - but, he knew what he was doing, that shearer of mine and he showed the two boys who wanted to try very carefully how to slide the instrument through the fleece and --- it went smoothly, no nicks or cuts and I could breathe smoothly again.
After shearing everyone had a while to play with a drop spindle and some fleece and each boy managed to spin enough that we could fold the single back on itself and they had quite an impressive length of yarn to keep as a treasure in their pockets.
Then it was time for juice and washroom break in my house and my little stone/copper fountain from the Coppermeadow was a great hit, nothing like running water in your living room to keep kids of many ages entertained. It didn't hurt that the two budgies, Blue and Green were very happy to have company they participated enthusiastically in all the chatter.

Before the boys and their two teachers went home again they had a go on my table loom, - well, one of them was so saturated with impressions that he just went to sit in the car by himself, two others exclaimed as they were weaving - oh, I could do this all day! And it made my heart and my face smile, for they really were enjoying it and even boy #3 had a great big grin on his face as he changed the shed and sent the shuttle from one side to the other - it is kind of magic to see a piece of fabric growing right in front of your very eyes.
I had a fun morning too, teaching kids, being at the forefront when you see the lights go on in their eyes with happiness and eagerness for learning more is a precious and very gratifying experience.

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