Friday, February 23, 2024

Last week of the rare sheep breed month!


Can you believe this is the last Friday of the month already?! Which means: last super special sheep breed shop update !

This week is all about a super rare sheep breed, which lived on a sinking island. This is their story:

 What I am offering you tonight is one of those special stories that just grabbed my imagination. This blog is about ancient peoples, lands left by all and left to be roamed by once domesticated animals…. a story about rescue and …some very nice sheep.

During the 16th century, explorers from Europe found a rich new continent, which had plentiful supplies of fish, lumber, furs and other goods: the Americas. People like Giovanni da Verrazano (1524) first met the Lenape people off the coast of , what is now called Virginia, but didn’t stay long. He did create the way to this new part of the world for a lot of European fishermen, whalers but also ..yes..slavers.

The ancient life of the Lenape people changed forever. 

The Lenape people had no immunity against the diseases the Europeans brought in. By the time settlers came to find new homes and start their future farming a new land, 90% of the Lenape people had died. 

The ones that remained were forced to “sell” the lands they had lived on for centuries..and moved to Canada and Oklahoma.

One of the lands sold to the new settlers was a little island off the coast of Virgiania called Hog Island and with the settlers came their animals ofcourse. Before the settlers came to the Americas there were no horses and no sheep to be found there at all. The weaving and spinning that was done by the Lenape was done with plant fibres not animal fibres. They wore beaver furs and deer skin to protect them against the icy cold and the sticky heat in summer.

Of course the settlers brought a whole different set of “dresscodes” and way of surviving with them, so, sheep were part of the survival plan.

The settlers that came to the barrier island off the coast of Virginia, Hog Island, brought a British sheep breed with them. I have not been able to find which particular breed or breeds they could have been, but judging by the way the fibre behaves I think it may have been Hampshire Downs or Shropshire or Southdown. Anyway, I digress, I was still in the 1700s… 

It was in 1672 that a group of 22 colonists and their families went to live on Machipongo (Hog) Island, just a few miles above the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. What became of them is an impenetrable mystery. They disappeared so completely that no descendants are known. Despite their fate, it remained the consensus that living on the island was good.

The sea, the inlets and the marshes teemed with fish and fowl. As for flesh, the natural pastures were ideal for livestock, particularly hogs (hence the name Hog Island). There must have been an impressive number of these at one time to cause the romantic-sounding name Machipongo to be dropped in their favour. 

It wasn’t til the Civil War times that a second colonization began. The sheep ascendants from back in 1672 were still there and were thriving.

he people lived truly on the fat of the land. Oysters, clams, crabs and fish or a superiority unchallenged in the rest of the United States were staples. Vegetable gardens yielded two crops a year. Aside from a few necessities like clothing and shelter, nothing required cash.

The hardy, self-reliant folk laughed at insurance agents. Their total taxes were a few cents a year paid on their real estate to the Northampton county treasurer. They did not even have to license their automobiles. They made their own roads. They enjoyed such health that a doctor would have starved. Though many of them were laid low by the flu epidemic of 1918, no one died.

Every man kept his money in his home, and in some cases this meant considerable cash. But no one ever reported it missing. There was one store operated by Sam Kelly. Like everything else on Hog Island, this store was different from what you would expect: No one ever was permitted in it. Every morning Mr. Kelly made the rounds taking orders. Every afternoon, after loading up in his forbidden precincts, he delivered. He kept this up until he was over 80. No one ever knew him to buy anything except to sell it. He was the secret topic of conversation: how much money did he have and where was it hidden? After he died in lonely squalor, his quarters were searched. Thousands of dollars were hidden away in nooks and crannies. But it was calculated that the amount should have been much greater. It was decided that he had buried most of it. It was never found….

Slowly but surely the island was being swallowed by the sea. In the 1930s the sea started to move in…so the people moved out.

Whole houses were detached from their moorings and brought to the mainland. The whole community left but some of their heritage 1672 sheep remained. In 1933 a string of hurricanes and “nor’easter” storms washed across the island and discouraged the residents from continuing life in their island community. By 1945 all of the residents of Hog Island had migrated to the Eastern Shore of Virginia and had taken most of their livestock with them. Many sheep remained on Hog Island and continued to thrive as they had for centuries. The annual shearing and notching in the spring was generally the only contact between the owners and their sheep. The sheep roamed freely upon their “floating” pasture foraging for marsh grass  and drinking fresh water from small pools that had been dug ankle deep into the sandy soil.

The last sheep were removed from Hog Island in 1974 when the Nature Conservancy purchased the island. But, surprise!!! : Four years later, Virginia Coast Reserve agents found, to their surprise, a thriving flock of sheep on the island. This is a testament to the extreme hardiness of these animals.


The Nature Conservancy removed the last of the sheep in late August 1978, to return them to full domestication. Ten rams and twenty ewes travelled to Virginia Tech for research into the breed’s parasite resistance.

The year-long study indicated that isolation, not resistance, had kept the sheep virtually parasite free on the island.


Following their stay at the University, the remnant flock found a new home at George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument. 

While private breeders hold some flocks, many Hog Island sheep remain part of the heritage landscapes of living history museums, including Plymouth Plantation, the Museum of American Frontier Culture, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, George Mason’s Gunston Hall, George Washington’s Birthplace, and the National Colonial Farm in Williamsburg. 

The Hog Island sheep look right at home at the Colonial Farm in Williamsburg considering they descend from and resemble historic sheep that existed in the New World during and after the colonial period.

 Hog island sheep sure can stand the very harsh conditions because of their extremely high lanolin content in their fleece.

It is the most water repellent fibre I have ever worked with. Even with almost all the lanolin removed, it has this strange quality of soaking the water up and then spitting it out again almost immediately, which means getting dry after a heavy storm would have been a lot easier than being soaked to the bone for those sheep. I found their fibre extremely nice to work with: it traps the air beautifully, it is slightly crisp but very, very bouncy.

The Locks are  downy and the staple length is medium to short, like that of a down sheep like Southdown and Hampshire down sheep. Professional mill processing of Hog Island sheep is hardly ever done because it can result in a lot of nepps. 


I found spinning the fibres, that the singles “ask” to be spun reasonably fine. It sets the short fibres in the twist. That said, I think an art yarn which asks for core spun fluffiness can also be amazing !


The micron count as with all critical or endangered breeds vary a lot. This lot was around the 22-25 micron. I think it is perfectly suitable to make socks, shawls and scarves . 

Just like the Hog Island sheep it can withstand quite a lot. It also depends what you “tolerate” close to skin. Everybody is different.


The fibre is not lustrous and I was told that because it has such a matte appearance that when you dye it, you can get a very muted colour. It asks for a very slow dyeing process. To create a bright and saturated colour and I am very happy to say that I got very saturated bright and not muted colours by just letting the tops soak all the colour up slowly, heat them up for about 0minutes and then let them slowly cool down over night. The rinse water will be clear then and all the colour is absolutely glorious! 


Most of the Hog Island sheep are white. Only 10% are black. The lambs have cute black spots on their body and their fleece but the sport disappear when they get older. The face and legs of these sheep can be speckled brown, white, and black, or have black faces and legs.


Wool from this breed is of medium weight with fleece yields ranging from one to 4 kilos. The sheep will naturally shed their wool slowly each year, but most owners choose to shear them in order to collect wool and create a more even looking coat on their sheep. The ewes make excellent mothers and most often give birth to twins. Hog Island sheep are fabulous foragers and prefer to browse rather than graze. They stay in very tight flocks and are extremely alert in nature.

In general, wool is composed of long, flexible molecular chains. The outside of a strand of wool is covered by cuticle cells, more commonly called scales. The scales will vary according to breed group (down, longwool, etc.) and determine how well the wool will felt or full. The interior of the strand, the wool’s cortex, contains a spring-like structure in the very center that gives wool its flexibility, elasticity, and resiliency. The down breeds, some of the fine wool breeds, and a few of the breeds that don’t fit neatly in groups have extra stretchy springs. They are also helped along fibre density and natural crimp present in their locks. Hog Island wool is quite dense – each staple containing hundreds of strands of wool – and has a fairly disorganized crimp. This causes the fibres to move away from each other into an airy jumble instead of lying against each other in even ripples. The result is a warm and lofty woolen yarn with plenty of bounce and spring.

Yarn made from Hog Island wool – and several other breeds on the Livestock Conservancy’s conservation list – has plenty of stretch and resiliency. Elasticity also ties in to textile strength in general. Wool can stretch an average of 25-30% of its length before breaking under the strain. Adding twist to wool by spinning adds even more tensile strength.

There’s another quality that goes hand in hand with elasticity, and that is moisture management. Wool is excellent at repelling moisture and also absorbing it. The cuticle scales on each wool shaft have a waxy covering that helps them repel water while still allowing the absorption of water vapor. The cortical cells that surround the small flexible spring contain sulfur proteins that attract and absorb water molecules. According to Clara Parkes on page 20 of The Knitter’s Book of Socks, “Even when the wool fibre is pulled taut, its molecules still have room to stretch out further – which is what gives wool its exceptional elasticity. Such an arrangement tends to allow more moisture to penetrate and reside within the fibre without our feeling it.”

Wool has the ability to absorb 30% of its own weight in moisture before we begin to feel any wetness. This means wearing wool helps wick away sweat as well as keeping you dry from light rain or fog. That’s a great quality for socks and outerwear garments. 

In short, I love this down like fibre to spin yarn with and I hope you do too! If you have never tried Hog island wool, this is your chance! You may need to change your way of drafting and spinning woolllen instead of worsted, but it is so worthwhile. Plus! There are lots of new colourways to explore as well to add some extra fun to the adventure!



You can find all these rare sheep breed hog island tops and more on the IxCHeL shop right here:

have lots of fun !



Friday, February 16, 2024

Happy 3rd rare sheep breed week!

 Gra Trøender sheep in a winter landscape

It’s not as cold as in the photo above, with these cute rare sheep from Norway, but the Australian weather is definitely having some problems: heatwaves mingled with sassy storms, hail and then a scorcher again, only to drop down again…We were immensely lucky that we were only out of power one day, but there are still people who have not gotten their electricity back since the big scary storm on Tuesday. Oh and we had a wee earthquake before that! I almost

I’m going to repeat myself again and say it’s been super busy here again. Extra busy now because all the rare sheep breed updates I want to do for this short month of February had to be organised and dyed before I start dyeing the February club. It takes me about a week and a half to dye and card and pack the club so that means that for all the updates , that work has to fit in a very small time frame. In itself that is okay, because I have been doing this for 20 years, but it helps when either the weather is nice and warm OR the fire is on in the house so everything can get nice and dry in a shortish period of time. Having weather that doesn’t know it is actually supposed to be summer and acts like it is, is not as good to get things done. Great news though: the February club is going to be shipped on Monday! Here’s a teaser label and can I say: the colours on the fibre and the yarn look absolutely amazing! I think it’s one of my favourite colourways! 

I thought Is would be great to showcase the super rare sheep breed Grå Trøender !

The Norwegian Gra Troender is a very rare breed of domesticated sheep that originated from crossbreeding the native Landrace sheep with the now extinct Tautra sheep in the late 19th century. 

In 1998, the Committee on Farm Animal Genetic Resources established a project for collecting and freezing semen from Grey Troender sheep rams in an effort to revive the breed. There are currently around 150 breeding Gra Trondersau ewes remaining today, and only 25 breeding rams; all happily grazing in Norway. Yes, they are super cute as well , with their distinctive “teardrop” markings underneath their eyes.

When you are lucky enough to be able to travel: there is a wonderful wool museum on Munkholmen, a small island in the Trondheimfjord, just a ten minute boat ride from the city center. The island has lived many lives, including being a monastery, a prison, and a fortress at different points in history, but these days it’s mostly a nice place for an outing, with plenty of green grass for a picnic, a little beach for swimming/bathing, and a few facilities on site like a cafe and a shop.

The shop (called Munkholmen Galleri) which featured all kinds of things from local artists and makers, and also has a corner dedicated to the Gra troender sheep with sheepskins and handspun yarns in three natural colours.

Here are some photos of this amazing rare sheep breed:

Close up of grå Trøender sheep

A grå Trøender sheep peeking out of the barn door

Originally bred in the Trøndelag region of Norway, from where the sheep derives its name, the Gra Troender are most commonly varying shades of grey and white in colour with distinctive white markings under the eyes. The wool of the sheep is uniform with mean fibre diameter of about 22-28 micron and 2–3 kgs greasy fleece weight. 

The wool was traditionally used for yarns and felting and the pelts were used for woolskin rugs. The adult live weight of ewes is between 70 and 80 kg. The mean litter size is 1.8 lambs born per year. The present population numbers only around 100 sheep but it’s increasing. In 1998, the Committee on Farm Animal Genetic Resources established a project for collecting and freezing semen from Grå Troender sheep rams in an effort to revive the breed. 

The fibre is very lofty and resembles the Shetland wool but with a bit more weight to it. It has a wonderful spring and vibrancy and luster to it and it spins up beautifully. I only have a very limited supply for obvious reasons, so if you would like to try and get a taste of spinning this very rare breed , please email or message me on facebook or instagram. There is only a very limited quantity of handdyed tops and natural tops available and you can find them all on at 8pm aedt tonight !

Paul has also been busy in his shed, creating some pretty stone inlay Scottish Dealgan mini spindles  here :

This is the first time he has done inlay with lapis lazuli and I absolutely love it!

There are some exquisite malachite and turquoise inlay spindles as well. 

Have a fabulous weekend and please do share your creations on social media : can’t wait to see what you are creating! Don’t forget to add #ixchelbunny or #ixchelfibres or #ixchelyarns so I can see it pop up ♥️♥️

big hugs


Friday, February 9, 2024

North Ronaldsay sheep and seaweed!


New colourway "Baby Lochness" on North Ronaldsay blend tops

What an exciting week : lots and lots of dyeing, new blends, spinning and making stitchmarkers plus the February club! It’s all happening !

This weekend I will be posting all the info and the teaser label of the February club..should have done that sooner, but as usual I’m running out of time…all the time…lol

Btw, The Club sign ups are open on the IxCHeL shop. The New Art Journey clubs are starting up again in April 2024 with loads and loads more inspirational art works translated onto yarn and fibres. Please let me know if you have any questions about the clubs or if you would like to have a combination of either yarn and fibre or all three types of the clubs: yarn, batt and fibre club or if you would like all three month’s clubs sent together to save you on shipping, especially when you are overseas so you save on shipping costs.

Now, what is NEW this week? A freshly blended and dyed Rare Sheep Breed blend !


Today's update is all about a very special rare breed sheep on the Scottish Isle of North Ronaldsay.  





The North Ronaldsay Sheep are the only animals in the world, aside from a certain Galapagos lizard, to be able to subsist entirely on seaweed, leading to its nickname ‘seaweed sheep’.  The breed is thought to be over 5000 years old. The breed is farmed within the Northern Ronaldsay Islands, Orkney and kept nearby the seashore for most of the year. In 1832 the Laird of North Ronaldsay decided that his pastureland should not be wasted on native sheep and a dyke was built round the island to keep them on the shore and off the land. It was most probably this separation that resulted in the preservation of the North Ronaldsay, as it prevented cross breeding which had been the downfall of other Orkney sheep.  


The North Ronaldsay is one of the Northern Short tailed primitive group of breeds that also includes the Manx Loghtan, Soay, Shetland and Icelandic .  The North Ronaldsay is still mainly found on its native island, the northernmost of the Orkneys. The sheep keeping system on North Ronaldsay is unique and involves a stone wall which keeps the sheep on the seashore and away from the cultivated land for most of the year. This wall was built in 1832 and since then the breed has evolved to survive primarily on seaweed. The sheep live on the seashore most of the year around and are only  brought onto the better land for lambing.


The North Ronaldsay is one of group of primitive Northern Short-tailed sheep and represents a very early stage in the evolution of domestic sheep. DNA studies have shown a close relationship to sheep found in the Stone Age village of Skara Brae on mainland Orkney, which dates from 3000 BC. In 1832 a wall was built around their native island to confine the animals to the foreshore for most of the year in order to conserve the inland grazing. Since then the breed has developed its distinctive metabolism due to its diet of seaweed, which also renders it susceptible to copper poisoning under standard sheep management systems. North Ronaldsays are very sensitive to copper and will die of copper toxicity if put on the wrong type of grazing. This is due to their seaweed diet and the unique metabolism they have evolved.  They should not be fed commercial sheep mixes as despite the label saying “No Added Copper” the normal ingredients used will often have a background level high enough to be toxic (ten parts per million is too high). The North Ronaldsay is capable of  surviving on less than larger breeds and is an active browser, used to ranging over long distances in search of food.



Colours of their fleece are variable: including white, various shades of grey, black and moorit (deep brown). The double fleece has coarse outer guard hairs and a fine soft inner coat. I have never ever felt and dyed something as extraordinary as this sheeps fleece. It is springy, almost feels moist even after its scouring and washing. It almost feels like it resists the dye when you pour the pigments on and everything immediately flows to the bottom, leaving the top layer of the fibre springy and almost without dye. At least, that is what appears to happen…it takes the dye beautifully and retains its springy texture and openness.

Before dyeing and  spinning though was the rather painful process of getting rid of the guardhairs !  Here’s a view of the raw fleece :



After all of the cleaning and carding and blending you get what I am offering you today !

 It is a dream to spin and work with. You can make a yarn that is strong and still soft to wear. It is very very special !  There are only about 600 of these seaweed sheep left in the world. Only through our effort of conservation of the environment and conservation through appreciation of this rare breed by spinning and knitting its fleece, can we hold on to one of the oldest and most special breeds in the world alive today.

You can check everything out in the what's new section on the IxCHeL shop by clicking here. 

Have a fantastic weekend filled with lots of creative fibre fun !

Big hugs,




Friday, February 2, 2024

Happy February: Rare Sheep breed month !



This is my first blog post of 2024! No, I have not been abducted by aliens ..although the colourway "area 51" might suggest otherwise, but I could not help myself ! LOL

January seems to totally have passed me by in regards to writing blogs. It is not that i have not been busy or sipping cocktails at a beach somewhere, holidaying like a normal, it is that in  my mind over the two years I have now been doing this website shop thing, the "automation" (meaning having a virtual shop) is not only taking me a LOT more time to manage, but also has made me veer away to social media, email newsletters and all that Also the realisation that it is very hard to keep up doing EVERYTHING and all at once, because i am not some kind of super hero and multi tasker who can dye, paint, card, marketing social media guru (hahaha) and take care of all the other things all at once also whilie telling myself in a chanting kind of way "you are enough" everytime I am running out of time because I want to do it all ! There is NO WAY a person can do it all, all the time and the expectations on myself were mounting to such an extent it rivalled Mount I ...stopped....well, I did not stop, I just stopped thinking that the world would implode if I did not do everything I wanted to. Amaxzing things started happening: I stopped being anxious...well, I stopped being too anxious I guess and just did as much as I could.  I started to put time aside for "Me"; like just sitting at a certain time of the day for an hour with a book and relaxing without feeling guilty about it!  It is not that I stopped caring. I just stopped being anxious about doing something that had absolutely nothing to do with running my business. What an enlightened feeling ! and without medication ! LOLOL woohoo !

Anyway, I am still a work in progress but hey, who isn't ?

Now, as you may have picked up from my social media posts: IxCHeL is celebrating 20years of existence! Yeah ! and every month there will be one product on sale with a 20% anniversary discount. In January that was Wensleydale tops, this month the luscious Merino Silk tops. The sale will remain in place for one month, so take advantage while they are still in stock !

Also as I mentioned before : February is Rare Sheep Breed Month. That means that every Friday there will be a new hand dyed  rare sheep breed or a rare sheep breed blend available, in lots of new colourways ! It is going to be super exciting !

Time for this week’s fibery offerings : Navajo Churro tops !

You may know I have a soft spot for Navajo Churro sheep and the navajo rugs. Spending a substantial time of my childhood spinning and seeing rugs being woven and the stories being told, and then spinning, weaving and telling stories too. I guess that is what is really the most important: the stories that are so intrinsically woven into the yarn and the rugs and the making of warps and baskets.

It is not only a craft , but also a way of translating how we look at the world and incorporate its magic into a two dimensional framework. 
 Even the way that we see looms are different: the ropes to hold the warp threads are the thunder and the the warp itself is the rain falling down from heaven to earth. I was always taught never to weave when there was a lightning storm because of that.

Of course sitting at a large loom , exposed to the elements , is never an extremely good idea when a big lightning storm hits, but you see how it all interweaves into ones life. Everything has a meaning, everything around you is transformed and has its own magic. Just look at how the corn rug below resembles reality...abstract and yet so similar.

There are so many things going on in a navajo rug, whether it be something minuscule woven into certain spots like a feather into a horse blanket to make sure that the horse is fast as an eagle, or bits of hair or plants, all have their meaning.
In the old days , the midwife collected corn pollen and then a horny toad was found and the pollen was put on its head and mouth. It was an extremely good omen that the toad spat out the corn mush and often that is why these kinds of ceremonial birthing rugs have yellow woven in to them, much like this one here, my family heirloom:

For the traditional Navajo family, the Holy People who created the Navajo were very powerful deities. They traveled on the “sun’s rays” and descended into the world on “lightning bolts.” It was Changing Woman who taught the Navajo how to live in “harmony,” but it was Spider Woman who gave them secrets to find their way in this world. To the traditional Navajo weaver, Spider Woman provided the framework to live and weave beautiful things – the essence of being Navajo. Prior to 1900, old Navajo wearing blankets often carried symbols or motifs that were attached to the teachings of Spider Woman. Perhaps the symbol or motif that dominated those early blankets was the cross. Many Navajo grandmother will tell you that crosses represent Spider Woman. The symbol of Spider Woman was given to the earliest weavers to remember her teachings and wisdom. For some weavers, placing the symbol of Spider Woman (crosses) within a graphic form of a diamond, triangle or square was risky business. Spider Woman was not of this world and her spirit should not be entrapped within the form. Therefore in some Navajo weavings, the cross will have an actual hole or sometimes a graphic hole in the cross.

Perhaps two of the earliest design elements to be utilized by Navajo weavers are the diamond and the triangle. These elements were incorporated into old wearing blankets and continue in the modern day Navajo rugs. Many Navajo grandmothers will tell you that the diamond is a symbol of the Dinétah or Navajo homeland with its four sacred corners that are marked by the four sacred mountains. Triangles are basic building blocks of Navajo design. Placed on top of each other, triangles can become a series of prayer feathers or songs or become the backbone of a mountain Yei figure. 
After the year 1900, the “spirit line” became a popular element for many traditional Navajo weavers. This occurred because traders requested weavers to place borders around their weavings. By this time, most weavers were selling their weavings through the trading post system. The traditional weaver became very concerned about trapping their creative spirit within the weaving and not being able to weave in the future. The “spirit line” is a small strand of yarn of contrasting colour that flows from the inner design element of the weaving to the outer edge. The custom continues today in many contemporary Navajo rugs.

the spirit line (close up)

Early precious Navajo rug with Spider woman crosses

"Night times; daytime rug" pictoral Navajo Rug

Weaving and spinning yarn is more than just a craft to me and the Navajo people. It is an expression of culture. The yarns are used to weave the rich history and tell the stories and this history is passed down from generation to generation. There was lots of trade between the Aztec, Mixtec and Navajo people, and the weaving tradition of the Navajo was certainly influenced by it.

The rugs sing a song, tell a story and that is what makes them so magical. If the past and the stories are forgotten, then the rugs won’t mean anything. Not only are there rugs but also other items that are woven : baskets and so called Tump line weavings ( an object woven with a warp of Agave and wool or just agave fibres) , worn over the head to help carry heavy loads) Here is a photo of one that survived from the pre-columbian times (= pre 1500s)

But now back to the Navajo Churro tops I offer you today. I have offered them before way back when I first started in 2004, and after that in my Viva Frida blend where I blended the Churro with agave cactus and cashmere and angora. This time I wanted to keep it pure, because the quality was just so amazing ! It took the dye so well too.
Navajo Churro sheep are very special just like the history they have : The Navajo call them "the Old Ones" and see the Churro sheep as a gift from the Gods. 
The wool from these sheep are the basis of the Navajo Weaving and also is a wonderful fibre to make socks and ponchos. 
The sheep were nearly wiped out during the tribe's forced relocation in the 1860s and again in the stock reductions of the 1930s: federal agents just went from hogan to hogan and shot a large percentage of the livestock and horses, more than 250.000 animals were killed and the Churro sheep were almost extinct with fewer than 700 head by 1990! But they are making a comeback, due to the efforts of the Navajo Sheep Project so they can return to their historic place and purpose among the Navajo and that it can benefit the Navajo People. 
The Churro sheep have been very important to the Navajo people: To quote “A Short History on Navajo-Churro Sheep” by Diné be’iiná: Diné philosophy, spirituality, and sheep are intertwined like wool in the strongest weaving. Sheep symbolize the Good Life, living in harmony and balance on the land. Before they acquired domesticated sheep on this continent, Diné held the “Idea of Sheep” in their collective memory for thousands of years. 
While wild mountain sheep provided meat and the Diné gathered wool from the shedding places, that species of sheep in North America did not have herding behavior that permits domestication. As a result, the Diné asked their Holy People to send them a sheep that would live with them and with care provide a sustainable living.” To quote Robert Moor, “On Trails” 
“For centuries, that gift has shaped Navajo culture, just as water sculpts a canyon. Navajos’ internal clocks were set to the daily schedule of herding, and their calendars were structured by the seasonal migration. The introduction of wool radically altered their material culture, by providing the means to weave lightweight clothing, warm blankets, and intricate rugs. Their architecture was fortified by the need to protect sheep from raiders. Pastoralism altered their diet, their relationship to the landscape, and perhaps even their metaphysics. 
One Navajo woman told the author Christopher Phillips that herding sheep informed her understanding of the sacred Navajo principle of hózhó, or harmony. 
“The sheep care for us, provide for us, and we do the same for them. This contributes to hózhó. Before I tend my sheep each day, I pray to the Holy People, and give thanks to them for the sheep and how they help make my life more harmonious.”

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Navajo were wealthy and successful pastoralists, with orchards, irrigated fields, and large herds of livestock. 
The latter were primarily Churra-type sheep, now called Navajo-Churro sheep, originally obtained by raids and by trading with Spanish colonizers. 
In 1846, with the encroachment of American settlers on Navajo lands, that way of life was brutally disrupted. Kit Carson’s militia viciously terrorized the Navajo, burning orchards, destroying crops, and killing sheep, culminating in The Long Walk of 1864-1866 during which nearly 10,000 Navajo people were forced to march on foot more than 300 miles to an American internment camp at Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo. 
Some Navajo were able to escape the roundups by hiding in canyons and other remote areas. Amazingly they were also able to hide small herds of Churro sheep, a sure-footed and hardy breed that was well-suited to survival in tough environments. 
After four years as “prisoners of war,” the Diné returned home and began to rebuild both their herds and their Nation. By 1890 the Diné reportedly already had 1.6 million sheep and goats. 
Between 1870 and 1930, the Diné population quintupled, thanks in part to a protein-rich diet of lamb and mutton. Given that this is the period during which the overall population of Native Americans in the United States reached an all-time low, it was a remarkable achievement. 
 Sadly this period of rebuilding would lead to more pain and frustration for the Navajo people. When Navajo lands began to show signs of environmental distress, federal agents attributed this to overgrazing, and refused to listen to competing theories of cause. We now know from tree-ring data that the primary factor was climate change: a decades-long dry spell, followed by an unusually wet period.
 “This dry-then-wet pattern encouraged arroyo erosion and sand-dune formation—a geomorphologic cycle that had happened many times before in this sandstone-dominated landscape.” 
The huge Navajo herds of goats, sheep, and horses certainly did not help. But what followed was a catalogue of abuse in the name of “the environment.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs instituted a herd reduction program from 1933 through to the mid-1940s. Heavy-handed federal interventions included indiscriminate slaughter of Navajo livestock, and mandated maximum herd sizes, all without adequate compensation. 
As described in “A Short History on Navajo-Churro Sheep” by Diné be’iiná 
“Government agents went from Hogan to Hogan, shooting a specified percentage of the sheep in front of their horrified owners, who love their sheep and regard them as family members. First to be shot were the Churro, because the agents thought this hardy breed was ‘scruffy and unfit.’ Today, elders tearfully recall that time and can describe in detail each sheep that was killed and the exact location of the massacre.” 
 Not surprisingly given the flawed understanding of the causes behind the deterioration, and the draconian way in which herd reduction was implemented, range conditions only worsened, the reservation reached an ecological tipping point, and by the end of the program, to quote historian Jared Farmer, 
“the tribal economy was in ruins. Unemployment, indebtedness, poverty and alcoholism ravaged Diné Bikéyah.” The legacy of the US Government’s destructive “reservation” program persists to this day. The Navajo are a nation of 175,000 people in 46,000 households, primarily in the state of Arizona – I quote US not for profit Prosperity Now: 
“The basic needs of residents within the Navajo Nation are not met: 35% of residents do not have access to running water, 15,000 people do not have electricity and residents must drive for hours in order to reach the nearest hospital or grocery store” – not to mention water supply. Some 35.8% of Navajo households have incomes below the federal poverty threshold, compared to 12.5% for Arizona as a whole. One in two do not have sufficient liquid assets to subsist for three months without income; and they have higher rates of chronic illness, lower life expectancies, and lower rates of insurance than the national average. Less than 9% of the Navajo population over the age of 25 have had the opportunity to access a four-year college degree, compared to 30% for Arizona as a whole, and 16% are unable to find employment, compared to a state average of 5%. 
In the last two years, with the COVID pandemic raging through the world, the Navajo Nations people have lost a lot of people and lots of churro sheep lost their shepherds. More and more , everybody who is involved as a farmer or trying to make a living with creating fibre, are told by big industry that some rare breeds, like the Navajo Churro, are unsuitable and have no place in the national or global market. 
I am just going to say that right here and right now as I have always done…this stance the big industry is taking, in my humble point of view, is total and absolute BS. 
I can say this of course because I have never ever listened to so called “GLOBAL” industry or even bigger processing companies, who always want to steer a breeder towards something that is easy to process and fast. 
Our perception , even as crafters, has been extremely influenced by their view that everything needs to have a white base (One colour to process is easier than a few mixed colours because every time the machines need to be cleaned etc etc), needs to be fine (but not too fine because if it is too fine some machines cannot take it either and it has to be wooshed off to Italy to be processed…talk about “the Goldie lock “ principle , well that is it isn’t it?)….. Whereas I, as a weaver, spinner, dyer and breeder, love the diversity of colour. 
The way that the dye plays with fleeces that have different colours going through them is like how sunlight and shadows play with what we see in nature. Definitely much more interesting than a “flat white”. 
 Strangely enough, I have found in my 18 years of trying to make a living from my fibre art, that big industry is trying to copy what handspinners have been doing for a long time: spin yarn that have a more “natural” look or spinning so called “zebra” yarns (different shades of white and grey and black)… But I digress… Back to the struggle of the Navajo People and the Churro sheep: 
In 2019, a handful of Diné shepherds felt lucky to be paid 1 to 5 cents per pound for their Navajo-Churro wool; others weren’t as fortunate. “Our Navajo-Churro wool was kicked away,” said one Navajo shepherd , as tears fell down his cheeks. “The traders tell us our wool is worthless and that we need to start crossing our sheep with fine wool rams.” We can make a difference as crafters and artists! Not only can we help by helping the small farmers survive and letting rare breeds with all their different qualities survive, but also say to the big, unsustainable and wasteful fashion industry, that we are not falling for it anymore. 
Support small farms, support diverse culture, share and create. 
Please don’t let anybody tell you that everything needs to be super fine and soft for it to be beautiful or useful: I call that fibre racism. 
 So much beauty can be made from rare sheep breeds. And, so much history can be lost by dismissing their fleece and the shepherds who take care of the sheep. 
 Things are starting to change. Navajo co-ops are starting with small processing mills and selling their own yarns. 
Small and sustainable has always been my philosophy as well. It is part of who I am and my ancestors speaking through me. 
I have recently gone through some very old albums and found some beautiful old photos, some more than 100 years old. Here are some I gladly share with you.

my mum at the loom

Navajo rugs take a loooong time to make. 
Lots of them are sold by traders, while the weavers themselves are not given the money needed to survive. 
There is a wonderful initiative : the adopt an elderorganisation, who does not only support those who are doing it extremely tough but also provide them with the opportunity and funds to keep telling their stories. 
If you would like to purchase a handwoven Navajo Rug, please check out their website here: 
So, what exactly is a Navajo Churro breed sheep? : The Navajo-Churro sheep is a small, long tailed sheep with a double coat of wool. The locks are long, tapered and open. Legs and faces of adults are free of wool. The sheep have a strong flocking instincts and are very intelligent. Most Navajo-Churro are a-seasonal breeders and mature early so two lamb crops per year are likely if rams are left with the ewes year round. The ewes lamb easily and are fiercely protective. Twins and triplets are not uncommon. Ewes seldom require assistance of any kind in lambing. Both ewe and lamb seem to know each other instantly. The lamb suckles within 10-15 minutes and is ready to travel by the mother’s flank within that same short time. These sheep with their long staple of protective top coat and soft undercoat are well suited to extremes of climate. The Navajo-Churro is highly resistant to disease, and although they respond to individual attention, they need NO pampering to survive and prosper.

The hand dyed tops that I am offering you here are blends of the undercoat of the Churro sheep it makes for the most wonderful yarn, suited for socks and outerwear as well as sweaters. 
It is easy to spin and also beautiful to weave with to tell your stories. The wool is classified as “coarse” but that needs a bit of explaining ! 
The Navajo sheep fleece is composed of 3 distinct types of fibre: inner coat, outer coat and kemp. The fleece is open and has no defined crimp. The inner coat measures 6 to 12cm and generally ranges from 10-35 microns while the outer coat 12cm-24cm″, and is generally above 35 microns. 
 The tops I have on offer tonight range are an amazing 23microns and have a gentle sheen. 
 Axéhéé (thank you in Dineh language) for your support!
Have lots of fun exploring all the new fluff and fun stuff on the shop! There are always new tops, spindles and tools added all the time, not only Fridays , so please keep an eye out ! Also, when you would like a certain colour or colourway and you see it has sold out or has never been offered, please contact me : always happy to enable. This goes for spindles as well ! Paul is more than happy to create a custom spindle just for you ! Anything goes !
Have a wonderful weekend and happy creating !

Big hugs

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