Tonight I’m packing up and tomorrow I’ll be heading home… and I haven’t found a fleece. That was my plan; I wanted to find buy a local fleece from a sheep that raised where I grew up and wash/card/spin/knit it.
Now when I say “buy a fleece” I mean make arrangements to buy a fleece in the near future. If you want a good fleece you need to buy it, or at least promise to buy it, before shearing. After shearing, the chances of an individual handspinner like me getting a high quality fleece are pretty slim. But that’s okay because shearing season in West Texas is January and February and I’m here for Christmas. Perfect timing right? I should be able to be-speak a fleece for myself right?
Sadly no. The sheep ranching industry has changed and there aren’t many (or any at all that I can find) sheep being raised for their wool these days. Not in these parts of Texas. They have all gone to raising meat sheep. Why? Probably because the US government ended the wool subsidy in the 1990’s and its just not economical to raise wool sheep in this part of the country any more.
And that has me feeling sentimental. When I was a kid out here, it was all about wool and mohair. Literally. Every West Texas Town had a Wool & Mohair Co. store.
Heck the 4-H sheep my little brother raised one year at the 4-H pen on the edge of town got sheared for its wool. All sheep around here did.
The last fleece I had from West Texas came from a very gentlemanly, and very generous local rancher. He told me I could have a yearling Rambouillet fleece for free. I was expecting to get this:
Instead I received a fleece so full of cactus that it was dangerous to work with. Two-thirds of it had to thrown out. The rest me, my mom, and a friend cleaned lock by lock while wearing heavy duty gloves. It was a wretched task. Then I went to work spinning it up. The cleaning had gotten most of the cactus spines out of the wool of course. But not all of it. A week after I finished spinning, I plucked the last spine out of my thigh. I took that yarn, knit up a half-size Clapotis, and gave it back to the rancher (to give to his mom) and threw what wool was left away.
This year I thought I’d try again. I figured I’d turn down freebie-fleeces, offer actual money, and get a decent fleece. But there just aren’t any. No one is shearing, not professional “real” shearing. I’m sure there will be ranchers all over cutting wool off sheep but they aren’t bothering to get whole fleeces any more.
The only fiber mill left in West Texas (that I could find) is in San Angelo. It accepts “short and fine fibers” for felt making. I bet that’s where most of the local wool ends up.
So the days of West Texas Wool are over and it happened in my lifetime. Wow does that make me feel old and a little bit sad. I wish I could go back in time and snag a West Texas fleece for myself.
Now of course I can get a fleece. I can even get a Texas fleece. All I have to do is go to any fiber show and there will be dozens to choose from. But I was feeling sentimental. I wanted a winter coat from a sheep that grew up where I had grown up that I could turn into a winter coat from myself.
C’est la vie. I should have taken up handspinning when I was a kid.