A Chat with a Shepherd

By far most of the sheep surrounding us are of the well-known Texel breed. Stocky, white-fleeced sheep, like the woolly lady enjoying a bit of wintry sunshine in the picture at the top of this post.

When I started spinning, decades ago, I only spun Texel wool at first. Simply because it was the only wool I could get at the time. Since then I’ve tried out various other sorts of sheep’s wool and non-sheep fibres. Even some nutria (also known as coypu rat). Ugh, never again! But let’s not get distracted – back to sheep.

We do have other sheep breeds in the Netherlands – 67 other breeds, in fact. (I didn’t know that. I looked it up.) One of these is the Drenthe Heath sheep. There are several flocks of Drenthe Heath in our part of the country, and we sometimes meet them when we’re out walking.

On one of our Sunday walks I already spotted them from a distance. How nice that they’re here today! (We never know exactly where they are – it’s always a surprise.) But when we came closer, something seemed different. Strange. Wrong.

Normally they roam freely over the heath, but this time they were all huddled together.

Huddled really, really closely together. Look:

That was decidedly odd! And where was the shepherd? We stood watching the sheep for a while, wondering what was up. Meanwhile I took some close-ups of individual sheep. Most of them are whitish with a brown or golden head and legs, but there are also some grey and black ones among them. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Then the sheep dog, a Border Collie, came back with the shepherd close on its heels.

We asked him (the shepherd, not the dog) what was the matter, and he told us that one of the sheep had broken a leg, jumping into a ditch. He’d had to carry it back to the fold and herded the rest of the flock closely together to keep them safe while he was away for a while.

He also told us that the flock consists of 380 sheep now. In spring, after lambing, it grows to 700-800. The sheep’s job is nature conservation. Their grazing keeps the heathland open, like this:

Every sheep eats about 5 kilograms of plant material a day. So, in winter the flock eats 380 x 5 = almost 2000 kilograms per day! Without the sheep, the area would soon be overgrown with shrubs:

The shrubs would be followed by trees. And the heath, with all its rare flora and fauna, would be gone within a decade. Thank you so much, dear sheep, for preserving this beautiful habitat for us.

Although these are the native sheep around here, I’ve never spun any of their wool. To be honest, I actually know very little about Drenthe Heath sheep or their wool. So when we got home I got out my Fleece & Fibre Source Book.

Yes! They’re in the index – go to page 313. And what does it say on page 313? The breed is mentioned under Zwartbles, as one of its ancestors, ‘the horned and hairy-fleeced Drenthe (outside the scope of this volume)’. Not very helpful.

Well, I’ll have to go looking for more information elsewhere. There’s always the internet, of course. Or I could visit some of the flocks and chat with other shepherds. I know that the Shepherds of Balloo have a wool studio, but I’ve never been there. A visit during the lambing season would be something to look forward to.

And maybe I could try spinning some Drenthe Heath wool. I don’t know what it’s like or if it would be suitable for knitting. Do any of you reading this have any experience with the wool? If you do, I would really appreciate it if you’d tell us about it in a comment.

To be continued…

Yarn Review: Rowan ‘Cashmere Tweed’

Recently someone not a million miles from here made a remark about my blog that set me thinking. He said: ‘I have to read/scroll through quite a lot of stuff to get to the point of your post.’

That stopped me in my tracks. To me, this reading/scrolling thing is the point.

O dear, am I doing this all wrong? Should I make my point first, and expand on it afterwards? There is something to be said for that.

Hunters and gatherers

After giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that this is a great illustration of the difference between hunters and gatherers. A remnant from a time when we lived in caves and had to hunt for meat and gather berries to prevent starvation. Some people were better at one thing and some at the other.

I consider myself totally and utterly a gatherer. I often find lots of delicious berries (i.e. seemingly irrelevant but fun stuff) along the way and easily get distracted by them. And that is also the way I write my blog. But I do realize that not everybody is like that.

So, if you are a hunter type, and prefer to get straight to the meaty details, please scroll down to a box entitled ‘Yarn Facts’, followed by ‘Conclusion’.

If you are more of a gatherer, please read on.

A bit of history

A long time ago, I became a member of Rowan International. For those of you who don’t know: Rowan is a Yorkshire-based yarn company especially famous for its tweed yarns and innovative designs.

At the time Rowan International members received a beautiful, large-size magazine twice a year, packed with knitting and crochet patterns and some interesting background articles. Plus the new autumn/winter or spring/summer shade cards. And a free gift of yarn with a pattern for a small project.

I still have the original shade card folder:

Changes

After a while things began to change. The shade cards disappeared. We didn’t receive yarny gifts anymore. The company was taken over by a big international firm. The patterns were no longer all that exciting. The pattern sizes became tiny (in my country, I’m an average size person, but sometimes even the largest size was too small for me). And there were a lot of changes in the yarn lines. To make a long story short: I ended my subscription.

But in recent years things have gradually changed again. The pattern sizes are back to normal. The patterns are more appealing. And there are some really exciting new yarns. So, when I saw the new Rowan shade cards last autumn I decided to buy them.

Shade cards

Maybe I’ll go into my love of shade cards some other time. For now, I’ll just say: All those beautiful colours! So many possibilities! So much to dream about! Just look at these two pages. Don’t all those gorgeous colours just make your heart sing?

I looked at and felt the yarns and knew straight away that I had to try out some of them.

One day in October last year, I was in Amsterdam. I was there for a different purpose and didn’t have much time, but I quickly popped into De Afstap, a small but well-stocked yarn shop specializing in Rowan. I had an interesting chat with the lady behind the counter and bought three balls of Cashmere Tweed, in a deep burgundy colour called ‘Andorra Red’ (shade 006). It has flecks of a brighter red, orange, black and grey.

Cashmere Tweed is a mix of merino wool and cashmere. It consists of two plies of slightly irregularly spun yarn incorporating dots of wool in different colours for a tweedy effect. It is a dk-weight yarn that knits up to a lovely soft and filled-out (but not dense) fabric. Cashmere Tweed is available in 13 shades, including some natural browns and greys, a pale pink, several really bright colours and some muted and darker ones.

I bought the yarn especially to make the two pairs of Welted Fingerless Gloves I wrote about in a previous post.

The knitting experience

The yarn was a joy to knit with. It is very soft and woolly, without being itchy at all. There were no knots in any of the balls.

I’ve read some complaints about the yarn breaking easily. I agree that Cashmere Tweed is not a very strong yarn. It is easy to break the thread by hand. But I only had problems with the yarn breaking during knitting once. That was at the thumb hole, where I messed things up, had to unravel and re-knit a bit.

The yarn broke when I passed one stitch over the next with some tension on the thread. An awkward place. But, to be fair, I think that this was more due to my unravelling and handling of the yarn than to the yarn itself.

Yarn facts
  • Name: Cashmere Tweed
  • Manufacturer: Rowan by Mez Crafts UK Ltd
  • Ball weight: 25 g
  • Length: 88 m (96 yds)
  • Recommended needle size: 4 mm (UK 8 / US 6)
  • Recommended tension/gauge: 22 sts x 30 rows to 10 cm (4 in)
  • Composition: 80 % extra fine merino; 20% cashmere
  • Made in: Italy
  • Available in: 13 shades
  • I used: Andorra Red (006)
  • I paid: € 9.40 per ball (October 2018)
Conclusion

Rowan ‘Cashmere Tweed’ is a luxurious dk-weight yarn that gives a very soft fabric with a good ‘body’. It is easy to knit with, but may break after unravelling and under too much strain. Considering the price, I think it is especially suitable for accessories like shawls, scarves, cowls and hats. Just a few balls will make a lovely gift to a special person (or yourself).

The yarn shop lady

The lady at the counter of the yarn shop was none other than Carla Meijsen, who has just published her third book: Magic Motifs: Knitting with a Secret Message. I don’t have it, but I’ve taken a look at it. In one word: intriguing.

This post is not sponsored in any way. I’m interested in the knitting materials I use, and like sharing my experiences.