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.
"There is no failure. Only feedback." - Robert Allen
22 Comments on "I’m in Wool Country And I Can’t Get a Fleece"
Alas, for your hopes going up in smoke. However, on the bright side, have you considered expanding your search to Canada? I live in a rural area where there are many sheep crazing farms. While I am not a spinner, I know that spinning is alive & well in this area from the talk on websites and spinning wheels at wool festivals. Maybe our far north wool would be a different experience for you & you could then brag about a new experience.
Lol. If I can’t get a West Texas Fleece I’ll buy the best quality fleece I find at the next fiber fair I go to. Canada or Montana, I’ll get go for quality at a good price. The last three fleeces I worked with were Alpaca and they came from up north.
I was just feeling sentimental and wanting one from my home town. And whining about it on the internet.
You are right on all counts! Home should never be allowed to change. When it does we inevitably feel sad. And old. And sad. But maybe the wool prices will bounce back and those ranchers will go back to raising sheep for their fleece. I just have to hang on and live long enough!
Jumping down on raw fleece would be a wonderful job. I wonder if he ever got tired of it?
Ahem, wasn’t going to mention the “old” word.
LOL. Bet he did. Looking back it was probably a rather dirty, itchy job.
Being a sentimental sap type myself I can relate to your feelings about home and those connections. That is why I have 3 branding irons leaning against my couch with no clue what to do with them. Couldn’t bear the thought of someone else having my Dad’s branding irons though. Sigh.
Oooo! I know what I’d do with them. I’d cook up big slabs of meat, maybe some brisket, on a BBQ. I’d put the irons on the grill and right before I served, I’d brand the meat. lol
LOL!!! Don’t know what those old irons might add to the flavor, but they would certainly add to the presentation:)
Oh yeah they would. I betcha your dinner guests would love it.
I asked about wool at a basketball game (elementary school). I was told they burn it because it’s not worth the bother, money wise. I’m in Lawton Oklahoma, just north and a bit east of west Texas in general.
That is just so sad. Don’t they know there are yarn-obsessed crafters out there that would give it a loving home?
Honestly I think raising sheep for wool is becoming a specialty and maybe even a “cottage” industry. That probably means there will be fewer and fewer fleeces and the ones that do make it to market will be of higher and higher quality.
I am sorry you didn’t get your West Texas fleece. It is hard to discover that “home” has changed, it is something we count on as staying the same to feel grounded. Maybe there is still some “hold out” old sheep rancher out there that has a decent fleece he/she would be willing to sell you, but if not, enjoy the fiber festivals.
Maybe there is and old school rancher out there. I asked plenty of people and left word everywhere I was looking for a fleece. Maybe I get a surprise “yes” and someone will sell me one. And if that does happen, you KNOW it will come through right after I buy a fleece at a festival.
Oh man, this breaks my heart! What a crying shame. 🙁
My sister has a couple of alpacas. She has bags (garbage bag size) and bags of it. Some has been cleaned, some not. I bet she’d be willing to sell you some if you made her an offer. Just let me know.
Just FYI, we’re in western NY (Rochester area), but we have LOTS of relatives in TX, if that helps. 😉
I once lived in Syracuse. 2 whole winters. Two! I kept the southern plates on the car as a warning to others drivers.
If you have kin in Texas, we are willing to take you in, ya know. No need to suffer unduly. When it snows we just stay home that day. Just a thought. If you come, toss a few bags of the fiber in the trunk and I’m sure you will be welcomed.
Thanks, Itsy! You are such a sweetie for offering! I’ll let you know if I ever get a chance to visit relatives in TX. Both me (first cousins, second, etc, etc.) and my husband (sisters) have relatives in TX.
Well then you definitely need to visit. Pick any week that a storm is fixing to blow into New York and that is the week you need to go visiting in Texas!
I’m passing on alpaca… for now. But only because I have so much of it washed and carded and waiting to be spun. Has you sister tried to sell it via the ravelry forums? I see independent sellers connecting with buyers all the time there.
Thanks for the heads up! I’ll let her know. We are both newbie spinners and alpaca is not for beginners. 😉