You’ve mentioned that Love Lamb started over the course of one long winter. Can you elaborate on the genesis of the idea? How did you start making sheepskins?
Winters in Upstate New York are long, and if you don’t line up projects for yourself, you can start to lose your mind. I wanted to grow something here on the farm that I could spend my winters inside processing. I also wanted to add livestock to our operation but knew that I didn’t want to raise animals for meat, so fiber producers—goat, sheep, alpaca, etc—made the most sense. I began researching all the different breeds and crafts associated with wool.
Like most people, I began with yarn. I quickly realized that I was a terrible knitter and put the whole idea aside. Then one day, I saw my friend Irene from Wayside Cider wearing an old wool sweater that she had patched with a piece of wool felt. A light bulb went off in my head. I remembered that felt could be made with wool and began felting scarves and bandanas at home.
I was just naturally really good at it. Somewhere along my felt-making journey I realized that I could maybe felt a fleece into what appears to be a sheepskin. I did some googling and discovered that people in Europe and other parts of the world were doing this.
Did you begin with wool from your own sheep?
No, I began by sourcing locally from other farms. I not only wanted to support my fellow farmers, but wanted to absorb as much knowledge as I possibly could on raising sheep before acquiring my own.
Every wool-buy became an extremely valuable education session on fiber production and raising livestock in upstate NY. I also wanted to touch and see all the different varieties of fleece out there before deciding on what breed was right for my farm.
What is the shearing process like? Does the wool undergo any processing?
Shearing is a pretty fast and painless process. Sheep have actually been bred and domesticated to produce thick heavy coats that do not shed. They rely on farmers to shear them annually. If not shorn, their fleece can become matted and overgrown and cause a variety of health problems.
I work with raw unprocessed fleece straight off the back of the animal. First, I skirt it. This means removing any sections that are filthy and unusable. Then it is washed and felted at the same time. I buy already processed backing material, either in roving form or as wool batts. The final stage involves a lot of picking. Even after washing there is always some hay in the fleece to be removed.