One thing is very clear, I really love my sheep. After a lifetime of keeping and breeding all sorts of creatures I have to say that sheep are an absolute pleasure. I find them to be an ultimate indulgence for my needle felting journey. My little flock is an eclectic collection of crossbred orphans who have managed to navigate their way into my paddocks and my heart.
The first to arrive was Nelly aka Chanel #5 (named this as she smelled so lovely, once bathed) and was in a box with #5 written on it. This name morphed into Nelly (thanks to my King) and she is one massive character. As a youngster she was very cheeky and intelligent. We even took her to the beach once because she was on the bottle when we had to stay over night at the coast. Her ability to heel on a lead is superior (as she is very good at following) .. she is a sheep after all. Her understanding of commands is evident with her immediate response to ”OUT” (when she used to invite herself into the lounge room). She also understands “go around”, “get down” and “wait”, not to mention both of her names. Her first fleece was a lot of fun and as a lamb clip it was soft and adorably crimped. It wasn’t that fantastic to needle and I was concerned, at first, that her wool would not meet the core wool requirements I was striving for. Eventually it came the day she had to be a sheep and as I had always coveted my sisters sheep, Stanley, (the one who had started the whole Needle Felting journey) I stepped it up and begged for him. It was time for Nelly to live in the paddock, but not alone, so Stanley moved in and my King built them a little shed for shelter, it was official, I became a shepherdess.
Since then Nelly’s fleece has settled into a lovely lanolin rich coarse core that I have grown to love. She is always the whitest sheep in the paddock and although she is a Poll Dorset cross Merino she is definitely more like a Poll Dorset. Her fleece is easy to wash, pick and process into batts. It smells divine and has a lovely stickiness to it. Even after washing I can still smell the Nelly in my sculptures.
However Nelly's fleece does not felt down into a solid core and requires a topcoat to pull it together. The fact that it stays quite open means it can receive a lot of fine top coat. This is where old mate Stanley’s wool comes to the rescue. His fleece is a superfine merino and creating cores from his wool nearly ruined my (did ruin it for my sister) needle felting experience in the beginning. It is like felting fairy floss and melts onto the sculpture beautifully but does not contribute to size or shape. This made it perfect to complete a Nelly sculpture. Stanley’s fleece is more delicate to process but you only need a handful at a time, and so, that is how I process it. Using two carding brushes or dog brushes, the locks can be brushed up into small batts or nice clean tops. I tend to “abuse” all of my fleeces when I’m washing them. I like all of my fibre to be “crunchy” as silky does not needle well at all.
Then one day a little stray sheep came to stay. She was a yearling and had escaped the property across the road, venturing into my yard to share her stories with Nelly and Stanley. It turned out those sheep were destined for the abattoir. Needless to say she’s a very smart sheep, frustratingly so in fact, as she will not take instruction from me! I was unsure about keeping her at first but then I used her fleece, now her name is Esmé and she’s here to stay.
Ragnar and Kampfer
As a meat bred Merino she is a much coarser merino than Old Mate Stanley which means her core qualities are phenomenal. This was the birth of the idea of a breeding program and led me to covet the adorable and much loved orphans Ragnar and Kämpfer, at my local wildlife centre, Sequin Lodge. Before long I had five sheep in my little flock, all adorable outlaws here for a another chance.
Ragnar is very big now and has a face that only a mother could love but it’s not hard to see straight past that. Mr. Personality Plus, as he is affectionately known, is a Border Leister x Merino x Dorset. His fleece is very lustrous and forms in the cutest locks. Comparing his fleece to the rest of the flock it is my deduction that he is more Border Leister than anything and his fleece is a fair core and top coat but not really standing out as one or the other. I enjoyed processing it and using it but I admit I have put it away for another day. Keeping a ram is not my idea of fun, so I’m lucky to have a friend with a big property and large flock of ewes. He fathered a few babies here and has now moved to greener pastures with lots of ladies. Trust me he loves his new home much more than my tiny match box paddock with only three ladies to service, once, then only look at them. He lives in paradise now, half his luck.
Although they came together, Kämpfer was not related to Ragnar and she is also a Merino x Dorset like Nelly. However completely different in looks with more of the Merino traits but unfortunately with out any needle felting qualities. The needles literally bounce off of it. It was great to wash and I’m sure it will process nicely, I just haven’t bothered and her last fleece went straight out onto the orchard as mulch. This is not to say her fleece won’t change and it would make amazing natural “stuffing” for my sisters cloth dolls and Amigurumi. But chances are she will move to live with Ragnar. At the moment she has Hector the son of Ragnar at foot. Her beautiful soft and loving personality makes it a huge pleasure to own her despite her fleece inadequacies. I have learned a lot about the qualities I don’t want thanks to her.
Now I have my first crop of fleece from my initial breeding. In the keeper flock I have Daisy, daughter of Nelly and Ragnar. Her lamb fleece is adorable and very much like a complete cross of her parents. It will be interesting to see what her next fleece is like as she matures. It’s possible her fleece won’t make the list but she is so sweet that I am happy to keep her out of interest for a few years. She is literally her mother’s mini me!
Esmés first twins could not be more different from each other, with Dobby showing the Merino traits and Levi the Border Leister. I am already over the moon with Dobby’s fleece and hope very much that her most recent daughter “Thimble” will carry the same traits as her mother and her older brother Dobby. Only time will tell so thankfully the waiting is filled with wonderful moments of watching these personalities out of my kitchen window, as I do the dishes (a job that never ends). They are the most rewarding creatures to keep and I can’t see my life without them, or the needle for that matter.
My plans for the future are to get myself a Black Faced Suffolk if I can. As I have a few fleeces that I have rescued from the “rubbish” which are phenomenal to needle a solid core shape. Cheviot, Romney and Corriedale are some of my other favourites but I have a few breeders close to me with these breeds, so I don’t needle keep them. Perhaps even a Merino stud, who knows what the future will bring but it’s clear I have begun my very own purpose bred Core Flock. This access to unlimited core wool is a massive game changer and will eventually serve to supply my Aussie Outback Core Range. Most of all though, I will be stabbing it together into the wonderful sculptures I have flirting with my inner artist, for the future. All I have to do is keep stabbing!