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Shear elegance

23.06.10 | Style and a big pair of scissors


I love shearing. It's possibly a slightly masochistic love - after all, it's an opportunity to stab yourself or the sheep with a big pair of scary looking scissors, invariably get coated in lanolin and stand still for long enough to pick up bites from the itchyest insects the countryside has to offer.

But once you and the sheep wriggle free of the fleecy embrace, there's a lovely moment in which to roll the fleece (satisfaction, part one) and observe the new tidyness of the somewhat cooler looking sheep (satisfaction, part two).

Obviously it never goes entirely smoothly. From persuading the little darlings to take a seat in the 'salon' pen through to grappling them into shearing position. I'm convinced that shetlands must be double jointed.

The theory is that you can sit a sheep on its bottom with all four legs pointing forwards so that they can't get any traction on the ground... the practice is that they wriggle like crazy trying to get a hoof to anything that might provide a purchase on which to lever themselves up, up and away. 

Whilst each recalcitrant ewe is entirely concentrating on how to escape your grasp, you need to attend to both keeping said grasp and removing fleece with large sharp shears.

Obviously, even for the ones you manage to satisfactorily sit down, there's the dreaded moment in which you realise that you need to shear that last little bit on which they're sitting. Many's the time that moment has been seized by a joyful ewe who then parades around the pen fanning a peacock tail of fleece attached by the last 10cm patch to be shorn... 

Each shearing is a battle of wit, cunning and sometimes brute force. I wouldn't say I was particularly elegant, but I do remove fleeces in one piece and mainly avoid nicking the sheep. I've not even stabbed myself for a couple of years now.

This year I'm about a third of the way through the flock so far - I try and do ten at a time (if I can catch them) and they take about 15 minutes each. Much better than the early days, when my neighbour (and sheep farmer) would lean over the wall with advice and guidance, for, er... hours.

Our Inchfield scarves are one of the garments we make out of the yarn from our fleeces.