Scott Moss: Shepherd, wool processor, dyer & spinner

Diesel, our ram
Our breeding ram, Diesel
Our sheep & chickens
Our sheep & chickens
Shades of Madder
Shades of red from one dye bath

My wife, Linda Moss, and I live on a smallholding in the High Peak district of England where we raise Shetland sheep and heritage breeds of chickens. I shear the sheep using a hand blade and then scour the fleece to remove dirt and oils. Some of the fleece is dyed using vegetable dyes and rest is left in natural Shetland colours which range from a deep, dark brown to white. The scoured fleece, both natural and dyed, is then combed and carded by hand, ready for colour blending and spinning. I produce both "colour gradient" and single-coloured yarns. The colours in both cases are frequently produced by blending different colours of fleece.

There are many different ways of processing wool from fleece-on-the-sheep to spun yarn. On this website, I describe how I get from the fleece-on-the-sheep to finished yarns with various characteristics. I try also to describe alternative approaches and the relative merits and limitations of each alternative. The menu at the top indicates the order in which each step in wool processing is taken. A video summarising the processes I use is to be found here.

Wool in the various stages of processing is widely available to buy from such sites as etsy and ravelry. I can also sell limited quantities of fleece, dyed and undyed combed tops or carded batts which I have already produced. I do enjoy working with spinners, weavers and crocheters to design colours, colour gradients and yarns with different characteristics. A range of colours I have produced using natural dyes grown in our own dye-plant garden or harvested locally (such as ivy berries and dandelion flowers) are shown in my on-line dye book. If you are interested, my contact details are here.

May 2019

May 10th

We have had six surviving lambs this year. There was a seventh but it contracted an infection at about a week old. Our neighbour cbildren, in particular the eleven-year-old boy, were upset to find the lamb obviously weak and abandoned by its mother. We took itto the vet for the usual course of antibiotics and then the children nurse for another weak until finally it died. We will be having a little funeral ceremony for it before it is taken away by the knacker.

As promised in my December posting, I have now produced the online version of my book of dye samples.

This spring, we collected nearly a kilo of ivy berries and another kilo of dandelion flowers. Copper and alkali modifiers (applied after dyeing) produced some interesting greens from the ivy berries. The mordants did not seem to make much difference.

December 2018

Colour-gradient yarn
Colour-gradient yarn using natural dyes
Samples dyed from dyers' tickweed
Sample sheet for dyers' tickweed
Carroit-dyed samples
Carrot-dyed samples

December 5th

Since my last posting, shamefully long ago, I have been experimenting with natural dyes harvested from my dye-plant bed. Colours from natural dyes tend to be soft but it is possible to get some quite vibrant colours as shown in the photo of the skein on the left.

I am particularly interested in developing a record of how different mordants (especially copper and alum) used to treat the fibres before dyeing and how different modifiers used to treat the fibres after dyeing produce different colours. At the right, the lower photo shows the display method suggested by Jenny Dean in her very useful book, "Wild Colour" . This linear collection of yarns samples differentiated only by mordant and modifier is actually quite common. However, I have been developing a table in which each column is for a mordant (or no mordant) and each row is for a modifier. The advantage of my tabular organisation is that it enables the reader to see the general effect of modrdants alone and modifiers alone. I am working on a program for putting my book of samples in this form online.

August 2018

Dye plant garden in early August
Dye plants early in August
Woad-dyed fleece
Yarn from woad-dyed fleece
Marigold-dyed fleece
Marigold-dyed fleece

August 3rd

The last few days, I have been harvesting and using dye plants I have grown from seed. I haven't yet tried the madder roots to produce a red dye but I have now dyed with marigold flowers and woad leaves. The woad-dyed yarn in the photo on the right has been spun cobweb-lace weight. It will be knitted either as a lace scarf or two singles will be plied to produce a yarn that Linda likes for her Fair Isle designs.

I used the marigold flowers with the most red in them to make the dyebath for the fleeces in the photo lower right. The left-hand bundle of fleece is blended from different experiments with modifying. Most of it is unmodified but there are small elements of alkaline and acid modified fleece. The right hand bundle was mordanted with copper sulphate which enhanced its golden quality.

May 2018

Grace and Faye playing with Goldie
Grace and Faye playing with Goldie

May 28th

We now have eight lambs — three sets of twins and two singletons. the last of the singletons was delivered by our ewe Minerva a couple of weeks after the last of the previous seven lambs. Commercial sheep farmers cponcentrate the lambing by putting the rams in with the ewes for only a few days when the ewes are in season. Our more easygoing approach keeps rams and ewes and lambs together all the time so lambing can extend over weeks or even (as in this case) a month. It is not a problem for us or the sheep — especially because our Shetlands have never had any lambing problems and, with only five breeding ewes, we would soon notice any problems. We do, of course, keep a close eye on the ewes so we know when they are about to drop their lambs and can see if labour is taking too long.

The three children next door continue to be closely engaged with both sheep and chickens. As can be seen in the photo to the left, they have really tamed the sheep. All of them except our rogue Soay will eat from their hands and increasingly submit to being stroked and scratched behind their ears by the children.

More on the Madder story. I planted another 20 seeds which were kept in the greenhouse. A dozen have germinated and started to grown. These have now been planted out. I also now have a row of woad and the plants are growing apace. A third dye plant I am trying is dyer's coriopsis. I have about 15 clumps of tiny seedlings which I am now planting out in the dye-plant bed.

April 2018

April 24th

We now have seven lambs - three sets of twins and a singleton. All are healthy and running about. It is always nice to see them jumping and playing in the early evening.

I had a minor disaster the other day. I have been germinating madder seeds to plant out in the dye-plant bed. They are notoriously hard to germinate but I succeeded in producing eight seedlings by putting the seed tray under glass on a south-facing window ledge. That worked really well until we had a spate of hot, sunny weather. The seedlings were far too tender for the heat and they all withered and died. I guess this is how we learn. I have planted some mnore and put them on the same window ledge in the same seed tray under glass. That seems ok since the sky is cloudy and the temperature about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). In the unlikely event that we get some more hot weather and sunshine in the next week or so, I'll move them out of the sun.'

Annetto dyed fleece
Annetto=dyed fleece

April 10th

It is now more than a week since Minerva's lambs were born. Our other pregnant ewes look ready to burst but none yet appear to be in labour. Whenever one of them sits off by itself, I think that her time is come. But, then, nothing. Perhaps it is the cold weather we have had.

A few weeks ago, I dyed some of my white Shetland fleece with annatto seed. I achieved a really bright orange with the first dyeing and then a rather lovely apricot with the exhause dye. However, the reds in both cases have faded out of existence even though the fleeces were not in direct sunlight. The effect on the first dyeing is shown in the photo on the left.

We have had some sunshine over the past few days and Linda and I have taken the opportunity to spread plenty of compost over the beds in the vegetable garden and to sow carrot, turnip, beet chard and lettuce seeds. We have alo planted out some of our pea and broadbean seedlings. Our tomato seedlings are coming on in the greenhouse and should be ready for planing in our reusable grow-bags next week. We do particularly well with Roma which is a variety of plum domato. Black Russian is another favourite.

This year we have set aside a bed for dye plants. I have sown seed for woad and madder and arranged swap of woad seedlings for weld seedlings with our friend Kate Greatorex who suns Wiseheart Studio. We do not need to plant nettle since our sheep field has an abundance. We have also used our own carrot tops to good effect getting both a nice yellow using an alum mordant and a good and fast green using an alum mordant and a copper modifier. I used three times the weight of carrot top to the weight of the fleece.

Minerva and lambs
Minerva and lambs

April 2nd

The first two lambs of the year were born today to our ewe Brookfold Minerva. Thery were discovered still wet from the womb by two of our helpers, seven-year-old twins Faye and Grace and their nine-year old brother Dexter. The children live next door. Nearly all Shetland lambs are black at birth and change colour over their first year. The children have naming rights (sometimes subject to negotiation) for the sheep but haven't named these two yet. So, for the present, they are just Minerva's ewe lamb and her ram lamb.

We have a new year-old ram which the children have named "Goldie". We bought him because he is a moorit which is a soft fawn-like tan colour. The Shetland Islanders have more than 60 names for differnt markings and colours of the Shetland sheep of which moorit is one. The plain white ones are called mirkface. There is a variety of grey including katmollet, katmoget and sokket (though this list is by no means exhaustive).

We have another four ewes close to giving birth. Watch this space for further announcements.