Summer seems a long way away as we snuggle up for the winter under our Skye Wool blankets. We haven’t forgotten that back in August we promised to write a blog about the annual clip (shearing) and fleece sorting – the essential first step in creating all our local wool products. That wool has now been washed and will move on to be spun soon, so it’s nice to look back at where it all came from.
This year we sorted a record 2300 kilos of fleece. That’s a lot of tweed and throws. Much of our Skye wool comes from the Glendale Estate and nearby Uiginish Farm. We’re also very happy to work with local crofter Adrian, whose sheep graze the hills right outside our gate. You can’t get much more locally sourced than that – and it gives us great satisfaction to know exactly where our wool comes from. We love the fact that we can look out of the window and see our woolly suppliers growing next year’s raw material.
As well as our three main suppliers, we also buy fleeces from about a dozen small producers spread out all over the island.
If you’ve ever tried to clip (shear) a sheep you’ll know it’s a tough and highly skilled job. We’re privileged to be able to watch these guys in action (and it has always been guys, though there must be some female clippers out there), admiring their skill, care and endurance. Somebody once told us it’s like a dance with a sheep. Both sheep and shearer are in constant motion and every movement has been practised thousands of times.
The clip is always so busy it’s tricky to find time to take photos. We did manage a few this summer, though, and hope they capture some of the atmosphere of this important part of the farming – and weaving – year. We’ve made a little video at the end, too.
After the sheep are gathered off the hill they are moved into the fank (handling pen) or shed ready for the clip. The sheep in the pictures below belong to our Glendale neighbour Adrian.
The shearers usually come with a trailer that holds all the shearing equipment. They may have to drive for a couple of hours before their long shearing day begins. On a busy day they might shear 200 or more sheep, and economy of movement is crucial.
Sometimes shearing takes place inside a big shed. This is the Glendale Estate clip.
The shearers aren’t the only ones who have to work quickly. We sort through each fleece personally to select the best wool to be spun into yarn.
Once all the clipping’s done the sheep can enjoy their new fleece-free freedom.
We store the graded wool in the Glendale Estate’s shed before sending it off to be spun into yarn. We don’t have a local spinning mill, so our wool goes off to Yorkshire to be first washed (scoured) and then spun by long-established family firm Lightowlers Yarns. It’s always an exciting moment when our Skye wool arrives back with us on the island.
If you’d like to see what we make with this wonderful yarn take a look at the Skye Wool pages of our online shop. Products made from last year’s Skye Wool are nearly all gone now, but there will be more coming in the spring!