As one who has long been interested in saving endangered species and the natural environment, it seemed only right that the focus of my fiber business should be rare and endangered sheep breeds. The more I investigated the myriad breeds that are on the different global endangered lists, the more convinced I became that this was not only an interesting niche, but a necessary one. These breeds represent thousands of years of evolution, both natural and domesticated, and are part of our global history and development. Each of them offers something special, and each feels quite unique and spins quite differently. It has been a joy for me to come to know the breeds that I have to date, and I look forward to working with more rare breeds in the future. It is my pleasure to be able to offer some of these breeds to other spinners and help in educating others about these breeds. I hope that you will experiment with them, come to know them better, and enjoy the experience as I have.
Excerpted from Spin-Off's Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools, Collected Works from the Save the Sheep Project (which is a truly excellent resource book):
"Handspinners are in a unique position to understand the value of many of the sheep breeds currently designated as rare, critical or endangered. Our expertise lies in assessment of one aspect of a sheep ~ its wool. Other groups of people who are weighing strengths of breeds which have become marginal and need conservation have different priorities, including meat quality and yield, prolificacy, and nutritional requirements. To them, wool is a byproduct, often called the "second crop" (after meat). To us, it is paramount.
"If we have an interest in maintaining the diversity of the wools which are available ~ colors, textures, lengths, fineness or coarseness, crimp patterns ~ we need to become knowledgeable about the status of all breeds of sheep, and to vote with our voices (and, as we buy fiber, with our checkbooks) in favor of those qualities of fiber we'd like to see preserved. ...
"Traditionally, a wide variety of wools has supported a broad array of craft techniques and artistic forms. Some wools felt well, while others do not. The finest wools can be used for underwear, the coarsest for rugs and camel trappings and cords. All of the extremes ~ the wools which are superior for one use or another, not just adequate or acceptable ~ are vulnerable as we contemplate the loss of the rare sheep breeds.
"Since domesticated animals provide so many different benefits to human culture, groups of people with varying biases will have divergent ideas about what's most valuable and what's at greatest risk. Unless handspinners speak to the qualities of the fiber, and support a small but steady market for it, only the machines' needs will be considered in the types of wool that are produced in the future. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves ~ now, while we can ~ to teach our fingers the ways of working with wools outside our comfort zone and expertise, so that we can help make informed decisions about what we treasure enough that we want to be sure it's still around when we discover we needed it after all. ...
"Each rare breed has its niche, its unique products, its own story of development, and then its own array of factors leading to declining fortunes. Each breed also has behind it a few key proponents who value it and foster its use by others. The dedicated work of these few visionaries has enabled these breeds to survive so far. Their efforts have brought these genetic packages to the present day for us to enjoy and use. Their work needs to be recognized as vital for all of us, and needs to be supported and expanded so that these breeds do not disappear."