For a long time now, knitting and fibers in general have taken a big part of my life… A form of art thanks to yarnbombing and a way to create in general.
Thinking about it, I came to realise that I’ve been knitting for far longer than I’ve been taking photos, and “working” with yarn (wool, alpaca, camel, silk, yak, or vegetal fibers) has been for me a kind of therapy, but also, a precious thing to collect, when traveling or meeting new fiber artist. Often, people asks me what’s the link between photography and my love for yarn and fibers, here it is : colors and texture 🙂
To work with fiber is also a form of art and ancestral craft, precious and that needs to be protected.
For 2 years nows, I have a double identity. Here, Sandrine, wedding photographer and traveler, and there Woola Oops, knitter and fiber artist, spinning yarn, and, for a year already, selling my hand-dyed yarn.
Meeting new people and traveling, these past months I have been several times, challenged by some people, often vegans and “anti-yarn”, who, in the name of defending animals rights and wellbeing, proclaim that wool, and so shearing, was “going against the animal’s true nature, preventing it to live truly and naturally” (and I think my English here may not be as good as I want to express in French – hope you get it)
YEAH YEAH RIGHT !
What if I tell you than one of these personn, a convinced vegan, was wearing a “Pirat of the caribean” T-Shirt, probably made in China, by little kids, non paid of course…
I could easily go and talk about it, BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT OF THIS BLOG POST…
I have seen, many times on Facebook and social medias, videos from PETA, calling to boycott the wool industry, claiming this is violence against animals.
Don’t count on me to share these videos here, if there is one thing I hate, is those who spread violent content, in order to make this world… less violent.
Seriously people, I don’t need to watch these videos and see them spread all around social media, to acknowledge that we live in a violent and fucked up world, where assholes treat others poorly. I KNOW IT.
Ok, calm down Sandrine…
Actually, what bothers me about this, is that they call to boycott WOOL.
Because NO, SHEARING SHEEP IS NOT NECESSARILY VIOLENT !
To be honest, I didn’t know anything about shearing, but for the past year and half, I now live in Auvergne, a beautiful rural region in central France, and I have the chance to be able to developp my knowledge (and contacts), and so to discover and learn about these things.
Because yarn, and fiber fascinates me, but also because to me, it’s a way to come back to these ancestral knowledges, when men and animals lived together on the same earth.
And since I thought that PETA and others were messing around with their agressive and extremist propaganda, guess what ? I’VE CHECKED BY MYSELF and made inquiries !
(something I recommend to anyone, in order to build your own point of view on things, instead of believing or give credit to anything you’ll see on the internet).
Christelle, alias Seraphita, a wool dealer I spin yarn with, here in Auvergne, and member of the l’association “la fibre textile”, (textil fiber association), just like me, organised a shearing workshop in Brioude, in Auvergne in the end of September.
A 3 day workshop, open to everyboday, hosted by Thomas, a professional shearer, and member of the French shearing association – l’Association des Tondeurs de Moutons
This summer, I’ve been able to see someone shear a sheep at a small village festival, and I talked a little bit to the shearer, but not enough. So this chance was too good not to jump on it : I contacted Christelle and asked her if I could spend time with them during the workshop, in order to watch them, take photos, talk and learn about shearing.
Like mentionned previously, this workshop was opened to anyone, so participants were new to shearing, some of them have tried in the past but weren’t experts, just beginners.
So I talked to everybody, and learn a lot of things that day !
(that’s the great thing when you don’t know ANYTHING about things : I can talk for hours about knitting, but when it’s about sheep, I am blank. I barely start to recognize breeds, and it makes me very happy to start to learn about this).
I’m a bit more aware of things related to alpacas and llamas, due to my experience in llamatherapy, but shearing a sheep ? BIG MYSTERY !
So how is it in France ? Well, it’s tough, although there could be a huge market to developp !!
Plenty of addicted knitters, (not only spinsters – forget your clichés please), fiber addict, who loves precious and noble fiber and texture, yarn and animal, and love craft and ancestral technics (that’s actually why I’ve learnt how to spin). Yep, there is a lot of fiber fetichist out there, in love with needles, crochet, felting and weaving, who would love to buy French material from passionate farmers.
Except that :
Spinneries are closing 🙁
Washing fiber companies too
- And often, wool is not used or picked to be valued, mostly because it costs too much to do so, but also because of a lack of knowledge on how create it can be valued. (I’ve learnt that Farmer’s school are teaching their students to throw wool to waste and burn it…. I could almost cry at that thought !)
- ok, keep calm Sandrine, animals don’t all have a fur good enough to be knitted, that’s a fact.
BUT THEN, WHY DO WE NEED DO SHEAR SHEEP IF YOU DON’T USE THEIR WOOL ?
to do him a favour and be helpful.
Wool keeps growing non stop, and without shearing it, the animal is hot, can suffocate or stay stucked in bushes or elsewhere, but can also developp disease from moisture between it’s skin and the wool.
Something I’ve heard at this shearing workshop, I’ll let you think about it :
“The sheep breed comes from the mouflon, who was a wild animal. Sheep is a domesticated animal, descended from mixes, and therefor, we, humans, are responsible of them.”
Do you remember that rasta sheep that has been found in Australia a little while ago ? after being lost for years ?
(Credit photo “AFP PHOTO / RSPCA”)
That sheep has been lucky ! Talking with a shearer, he told me that if they found this one, plenty of others were dead, suffocate by their wool, or exhausted when stuck somewhere (and probably eaten by other animals because they are stuck), when lost in these big lands. I’m not sure this is possible in France because our land is definitely smaller, but I have to admit that I just don’t know.
BUT let’s go back to that shearing workshop, because that’s why I wanted to post on this blog in the first place…
This is a flock of Bizet sheep, a breed that I can now recognise, so cute with their black and white head 🙂
In fact, if they are packed all together, tight like this, it’s to make them sweat a little : shearing will be easier after that, because the shears slides better
(silly parallel, but that’s about the same when your hairdresser asks you to come with dirty hair in their salon I guess)
The idea is also to not feed the animals before shearing because they will be in a position that I’ve called “couch potato”, legs up and bending their back, which could be quite uncomfortable if you have a full stomach (wanna talk about animal well-being ?) 😉
The “couch potato” is also used to prevent the animal from escaping or fighting to escape, and so hurt itself when doing so. If you are stuck calmly on your back with your legs up, like a turtle, you’ll just wait for the time when your feet will touch the ground to try to run away.
So at the beginning of the workshop, students get to experiment failure with managing this position… that led to bruises
Shearing is dealing with a very small workspace, a kind of dance with animals, in order to be as fast as possible, to avoid bothering the animal (but also to shear more of them, of course). The sheep, of course, would rather be elsewhere, running around in the wild than being there, stuck feets in the air… But let’s be honest here too : all sheeps are not luck enough to live in Auvergne, where they have space and wild nature to live in, although we need to shear sheeps each year, no matter their living environment.
And before you start to complain again, here’s something that seems obvious (and mandatory), that I use on a daily basis as a way of living, and that makes even more sense when you work with animals (and kids) :
“you are responsible for the energy you bring in the room”
Have you ever tried to get close to a beaten dog ? Yep, that is tough and quite dangerous.
And it’s the same when shearing: the goal is to be as much zen and calm as possible, because in the end, you save yourself from danger, protect animals because they are calmer and you bother them less, you are more efficient and you don’t hurt yourself or the animals.
But before anything starts, shearing is about shears… sharpened, cleaned ones. I don’t know anything about it, and I didn’t understand that much too let’s be honest (I’ll have to be back !), but it seemed very technic, and sharp !
Thomas, shearer and teacher of the day, giving some explanations :
Preparing their gear :
And let’s go !
(I really love this photo ! I’m not really objective here because just the sight of a sheep can make me happy for an entire day, but this one is specially extra cute 🙂
But of course, when taking photos of shearing, you have to take photos of butts 🙂
The “potato couch” sheep 🙂
A huge bag of yarn, that could make any knitter loose their mind 🙂
Yes, it’s a real body to body moment when shearing a sheep, and I cannot see how violence could solve or help in anything, especially in this work. I can easily see how it can worsen the situation actually.
As for me, when I look at that photo, the only thing I think of is that if I were the sheared, I would have kiss that sheep (except that I don’t think it would have enjoyed it)
And these animals are far from being stupid, they are actually quite smart (especially when it comes about finding things to eat !). Once they were all “naked”, they were held in the background , and some of them understood that there was, just there, a huge stock of hay. All they had to do grab it up there…
So the background of the sheepfold had a bit of a “open bar” mood that day.
(and that was funny to watch!) 🙂
And then, talking with one of the students, who was a farmer, he told me that his flock of sheep just had a baby.
All proud, he showed me a photo on his cellphone (because yes, you can be a farmer and love your animals !)
I’ve heard about tail being cut, and animal abuse and violence… as you can see here, they still have their tail and it’s being sheared too !
As you can see on these photos, there is no blood, no violence, although it’s a beginner’s workshop.
I know that it’s not a big firm and farm, far from being a world company in wool industry (and maybe that’s why? That’s just a question)
Although I do understand why you want to fight for better conditions and treatment for animals in general, and I understand how sensitive we should be about animal wellbeing, I think it s a SHAME (and there are plenty of other words starting with a “S”), to call and boycott WOOL in the name of animal wellbeing.
Why punish those who work correctly, with love, passion and patience, when it will be just as easy to use that energy to promote their work and right way to do things, in respect with animals.
It’s all about searching for the right people, and consumming better.
Sheeps will have to be shear no matter what, so what about knitting their wool ?