The first step in making slow cloth is getting the wool off the sheep. Geraldine Heffernan came out to Riverdale Farm to work her magic as part of the Spring Sheep Celebration on Saturday. She explained, in her heavy Scottish brogue, how the sheep relax when they are in certain positions. It’s all about pressure points. They certainly looked relaxed as she worked.

A good sized crowd gathered around to watch the performance. In a matter of minutes she had deftly removed a years worth of growth with nary a nick on the lamb and the coat in one piece. Geraldine’s assistant had the hard job of winding the hand cranked mechanism. It must be the only way when out back and beyond with no access to electricity. The duo switched up to electric as you will see in the second video but it wasn’t much faster.

Shearing the sheep at Riverdale Farm – click on the link to see the second video.

I was grateful to see the care she took, especially around the tail and other tender bits. We all had a laugh to see shorn sheep jumping up at the door to watch the current customer getting a “do”. I think they felt much better without their heavy coats.

Happily Shorn Supervising the sheep shearing

The fleeces are bagged individually. Each one will be processed the same way. First, skirted; which means all the really dirty bits (or as I like to say “poopy bits”) are cut off and thrown out. Occasionally a spinner will talk about “spinning in the grease” when you spin from an unprocessed fleece straight off the sheep. It’s not for everyone as there is a decidedly “sheepy” smell and it is messier but oh, the wonderful feeling of lanolin on fibre and skin. It’s silky!

When washing, care is taken not to felt the fibre while removing the dirt and excess lanolin. This can be a BIG job! Some fleeces need repeated washing. It doesn’t remove the vegetable matter so then it’s time to pick and card the fleece. It can be done with hand carders but goes a lot faster with a drum carder.

I like to create big batts of fibre that I can tear off in strips. And now it’s almost time to spin!