August Update

At August’s Zoom meeting we were joined by Dr John Parkinson of ‘It is Not Over Until It Is Over’ (IINOUIIO) to give us an update on his wool textile recycling (shoddy) business. ‘Shoddy’ is basically the result of shredding unwanted wool items to produce fibres that can be spun or felted in to new items and was very popular during the war as a way of producing low cost items. John has now re-visited the idea due to an increase in demand for recycled and sustainable materials. He visited our guild back in February to give out samples of shoddy for our members to take away and experiment with and give feedback on the results. Check out his website for more information

Several members have been looking in to the issue of diversity and how we can make our meetings more accessible to all. Areas covered include accessibility, accommodating the needs of people with various disabilities, access for children and those with potential childcare needs and investigating potential barriers to minorities such as men, LGBT and people from other ethnicities and religious backgrounds. Again, we welcome feedback from anyone who may have ideas as to how we can improve on any of these areas.

Of course we have not forgotten that this year (the year that cannot be mentioned) is our 60th anniversary and we are determined to celebrate somehow. Members have been working on the ‘Dot’s Diamonds’ pattern for the anniversary diamond themed piece and Dot is now in the stages of putting it all together……watch this space.

As ever, there was an array of members creations with many people taking advantage of the extra time on their hands and pushing their creative boundaries.

As it appears that meetings cannot re-commence any time soon we are welcoming ideas for our monthly Zoom meetings from members. The Bradford Guild have invited York members to join their Zoom meetings and to contact their chair on the e-mail address in the newsletter.

July 2020 Update

So, as yet, there is no sign of us being able to resume meetings any time soon, however, the Zoom meetings have continued, for monthly meetings, the Wednesday evening study group and for committee meetings. A Zoom meeting and group e-mails are being used by the weaving and dyeing groups to keep members in touch too. The embracing of social media and technology is amazing and is playing a big part in keeping people in touch and enabling the sharing of ideas and creations.

For our July meeting Cherry Hardy kindly gave us a sneak preview of her full talk on different styles of Sari’s from India, with information on the materials used, the construction as well as the different occasions that various styles would be worn.

Members are still being encouraged to produce items with a diamond theme for our 60th Anniversary exhibition …… which is now looking like it will be a 61st anniversary instead, but hey ho, better late than never.

We are now also able to offer set days where equipment and books can be borrowed from the museum, this is by prior arrangement and with social distancing rules in place (of course).

Finally …… we cannot ignore this completely accidental pile of fleece which has an uncanny resemblance to the wig of a well known president… you’re welcome.

Speakers Report – Shaun Smith of Harcourt Rare Breeds ‘EARLY SHEEP AND PRIMITIVES’

This Report by Christine Roberts

1These are the unimproved breeds which are found in regions of the country that have remained geographically remote. They have many similar characteristics but have also developed others to suit their locations.

In general, they are smaller, have coloured fleeces and may be horned. They are hardy, lamb easily, produce flavoursome meat and their fleeces are sought after by hand spinners.

Over thousands of years it is likely that some breeds evolved characteristics by interbreeding before becoming isolated when Britain was cut off from continental Europe. Arriving by the route through Europe via the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, the Portland shows some characteristics of Roman Merino. A more northerly route was via the Danube corridor, perhaps more mountainous, and the Vikings are sure to have brought sheep of Nordic origin by sea.

As Britain emerged from the Ice Age repeated thawing and freezing through the seasons produced fertile soils which developed into woodland. These were the home of predators and large mammals so sheep (and humans) were pushed to the margins, the coastal belts and uplands where vegetation was more sparse and not as lush.

Comprehensive breed descriptions can be found at I have picked out some characteristics that I found especially interesting.

Portland, a downland sheep with a thick, soft fleece. The single lambs are born with a fox red coat which becomes cream as it matures. 

Soay is the most primitive sheep breed in Britain. Its fleece is roo’d i.e. it is plucked or falls away naturally.

Herdwick, the familiar Lake District sheep, are ‘hefted’. They know their patch of fellside and stay there. Escapees from fields will go on an exploratory saunter before returning ‘home’.

North Ronaldsay have a seaweed diet. As arable farming progressed the sheep were walled out of the central fields onto the island shore. It seems a large part of their diet was already seaweed so they continued to thrive.

Many of the sheep breeds are used for conservation grazing. They will browse on poor grass and tough vegetation so that for example birch trees do not become established. Prime examples are Hebridean and Shetland.

Finally, I wonder whether a book has been written about the Castlemilk Moorit story. It was bred relatively recently on an estate in SW Scotland to have an appealing appearance and good quality coloured fleece. As a regular Countryfile viewer I recognised the name Joe Henson who rescued the few surviving animals on behalf of the RBST.

As a programme of breeding for particular qualities continues there may come a time when we wish to return to the gene pool of unimproved stock to reintroduce lost attributes or to start afresh from pure lines.