100 turn out for sheep shearing; Process goes from shaving to making sweater.


Byline: Susan Harragin

PRINCETON - More than 100 people turned out to watch sheep being shorn and to learn more about the complicated process by which greasy, grass-encrusted fuzz gets turned into a cable knit sweater.

At the Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary's sheep shearing open house Saturday, master hand-shearer Kevin G. Ford of Charlemont demonstrated the first part of the process. Mr. Ford essentially folded a reluctant yet relaxed sheep between his legs and deftly clipped a single-piece fleece with an oversized pair of scissors while repeatedly repositioning the immobilized animal to expose untrimmed pelt.

Cindy Dunn, property manager at Wachusett Meadow, who had Mr. Ford work left-handed so that she could better learn the process, explained that the sheep are tuned in to their handlers. "They are comfortable. They are not being harmed, and they can tell they are being handled by someone who knows what they are doing," Ms. Dunn said.

Mr. Ford agreed.

"The sheep react to your disposition and their position. If they don't think that they can move, they don't bother expending the energy," he said, never taking his eyes from his work.

After the fleece, which weighs anywhere from three to 16 pounds, is removed, it is sorted, scoured, cleaned and dried, turning into a clumpy mass of fiber. It may weigh half its original weight after the original moisture, grease and stray bits of grass and straw are removed. It is then picked to break up the fibers, combed or carded to stretch the fibers into a soft and fluffy cloud of wool, and then spun into thread, which can then be woven or knitted.

Chris Eaton, a longtime wool spinner and education coordinator at the property, explained that this work can be done by a child of 6 and that, in an earlier era, many young girls would spend day after day spinning wool into thread.

One good-size sheep fleece may yield as many as two sweaters, depending on size and pattern, but the time required for the various steps explains the cost of a...

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