For the Love of Romney (sheep not politician)

When I first started felting, I bought some fiber at a farmer’s market from a farmer more interested in genetics than in making a profit from his wool. When I tried to work with the wool, I couldn’t get it to felt down into the firm, flat felt I had been creating with merino roving. From that single purchase, I swore I would never felt with romney again, and I instructed beginning felters to be wary of the fiber.

Comparing merino fiber to romney is like comparing my daughter’s silky golden hair to my bouncy, curly brown locks. Some may say that hers is prettier than mine, and I certainly wanted straight hair when I was her age, but over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the hair I have as special. Romney is valuable because of the way it differs from merino: the lustrous, curly locks which vary from tiny to loopy.

After felting several sheepskins with raw fleece, procured from the same farmer several years later, I have come around in my opinion. Romney sheep have a beautiful fiber, perfect for sheepskins and springy felt. I sent several batches to be carded into batts which I used as the base for my most recent project. Because the finished felt is not as dense as merino, it did not shrink to the same degree, though it is definitely as sturdy as my merino-backed sheepskins. Let the record show, I owe a great apology to sheep, farmers and fiber lovers everywhere for dismissing the fleece from Romney sheep.

This beautiful sandy brown romney sheepskin was felted last week with my studio-mate, Linda. She gave it to another artist in our building, as a thank you gift. It is hard to do justice to the combined skill and expertise this painter and her partner have between their four ears. They can customize, reverse engineer and build just about anything from shoes, to leather bags to engines.

Expecting this sheepskin would slide off the leather rocker in her studio, a couple of corner pockets and a custom belt were added to the back, ensuring it would stay firmly on the chair. I’m delighted they appreciated the sheepskin enough to improve it. They reported sewing through leather and the sheepskin was too much for their industrial sewing machine, so I won’t be trying this yet, but it may be the excuse I need to buy a leather punch so I can do some sewing by hand.

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