It's almost time for sheep shearing.
Shearing doesn't hurt (it's like when we get our hair cut) and prevents diseases, as well as providing fleeces from which to spin wool! Unshorn sheep can be more prone to "fly strike" when blowflies lay eggs on the sheep. The fly larvae damage the sheep's skin as they feed, which can lead to a horrible death.
Wool is enjoying a strong revival, thanks to its amazing properties and many uses in home, fashion and crafts such as spinning, knitting, weaving and felt making.
Wool is an incredibly versatile material, with many amazing properties:
- It's sustainable and renewable, since the fleeces grow again each year
- Wool is cool in summer and warm in winter, adapting to the wearer
- It's incredibly flame-retardant. Unlike many man-made materials, it’s very difficult to burn a fleece. Fleeces don’t emit fumes like some other materials.
- Wool is 100% biodegradable.
- Wool is very strong and very long lasting. The fibres in wool naturally bounce back, and it keeps its appearance for many years.
There are many different uses for wool:
We expect wool to be used for jumpers, suits, trousers, skirts, coats, scarves, dresses…but it has many other uses as well.
- Scientific tests show wool can give you a better, deeper night’s sleep. Wool pillows and duvets are becoming increasingly popular.
- Wool is in high demand for long lasting rugs and carpets. It can take heavy wear and yet they look better for longer than artificial fibres. Wool can be trampled or stretched, but just bounces back.
- Fleece keeps frost off plants and can be used as a biodegrable compost.
- Wool coffins are now making a come back, catering for the demand for green funerals.
- Wool is used for thermal insulation in houses, because it’s safe, efficient, sustainable, durable and affordable.
- Wool is good at absorbing sound. You can see how it’s being used to muffle sound and prevent echoing at Berry’s Farm Shop café in Swinithwaite where woollen “clouds” float above the diners.
Wool has had a big impact on the English language:
We’re still using many expressions connected to sheep, wool and textiles in our every day speech, even if we don’t always realise it. Textiles were such an important part of the economy, it’s not surprising that countless sayings relate to the woollen industry.
Spindles were used for spinning wool, usually with a small round weight or stone fixed to the bottom. This was called a “whorl” and made the yarn tension more constant. This is where the expression for “have a go” came from: give it a whirl.
Spinning was traditionally done by women. Some one who was bad at spinning wasn’t expected to make a good wife, leading to the term spinster, meaning an unmarried woman whose only task was to spin.
After cloth was washed it was stretched out on frames and left to dry. It was held in place on tenter hooks to prevent it losing its shape or flying away.
Factory or machine-made clothes were seen as less special, more ordinary than handmade clothes. These clothes were the run of the mill.
We often describe some one as dyed in the wool, meaning someone whose views won't change. This saying originally came from when raw wool was dyed before it was processed or combed, and it was said to hold its colour longer.
Getting down to brass tacks means focusing on the detail. It relates to fabric being measured between two brass tacks set into the cutting counter.
When wool was spun on to a reel or “weasel”, it made a sound when a certain length of yarn was reached – pop goes the weasel!
White wool can be dyed many colours but wool from black sheep can only be spun into black wool, so you don’t want too many black sheep in your flock, hence the expression black sheep of the family.
Judges were said to have the wool pulled over their eyes. This apparently came from judges wearing wool wigs that slipped over their eyes so they became blind to the facts of the case.