The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook
by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius

Storey Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-603-42711-1.
Reviewed by Susan J. Tweit
Posted on 01/26/2012

Nonfiction: Animal Companions; Nonfiction: Arts/Crafts

I'm not a passionate fiber person or crafter, so I was surprised when I picked up The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook and was captivated by this heavily illustrated, craft-book cum fiber encyclopedia. From the cover, an appealing composition of wool in various stages of processing plus portraits of a winsome alpaca and three positively lovely Dalesbred sheep, to the back endpapers, colorful maps of where some of the world's hundreds of breeds of sheep originated, the book is almost compulsively inviting.

The first part, "Oodles and Boodles of Wool," covers sheep—that title gives you a taste of the authors' enthusiasm for their subject and their punny sense of humor; the second covers "The Rest of the Menagerie," other fiber-producing animals, from alpaca to yaks.

Each breed or species has its own short chapter featuring beautiful color photos of the animals in their environment, equally artistic photos of raw fiber and how it looks spun and knitted, plus details on every aspect of the creatures who have given us fiber (and thus clothing, linens, bags, etc) for millennia.

But it was the writing that kept me turning the pages of The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook. It's passionate and informed but never preachy, and chock-full of fascinating stories about each breed or species and its relationship to humans, from history and folklore to the art of breeding and the facts of fiber-science. This book flows from what must have been an enormous amount of research and a well of love and respect for the creatures who produce fiber.

The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook has a serious side, too. The first chapter, "Fiber Fascination," lays out the authors' passion for natural fibers in detail. What could have been a dry, technical discourse is instead an engrossing read on natural fibers, the slow food/locavore movement as it applies to fibers (imagine being able to dress locally!), and why conservation of livestock breeds is important to humans' future, too.

The bulk of the book traces the origin and care of each breed or species and explains the techniques for using and applicability of its fiber: for instance, Leicester Longwool sheep:

Considered a strong wool, Leicester Longwool is extremely sturdy. ...[W]hen spun for a smooth surface, the yarn can feel sleek enough to use in something like a knitted lace or woven shawl; you may surprise yourself in the number of applications you find for it. Exceptional durability means it makes a fantastic warp for weaving and terrific rugs... This wool is a class act.

And then there are the stories and fun tidbits in the easy-to-read sidebars, like "The Owlers of Romney Marsh":

Romney Marsh was known throughout much of its history as an area inhabited by smugglers and brigands. Historians point to a tax on wool, implemented in 1275, as a catalyst for the illegal trade of wool. Tales abound of great battles, from then through the 1700s, between the king's men and hundreds of Marsh residents—also called "Owlers," for their use of owl calls to communicate among themselves during shady nighttime activities.

Whether or not you spin, knit, or weave, this book is worth picking up for the beautiful design and images: it could just as well have been called "The Art of Fiber." Don't be surprised if, as you find yourself turning the pages, you have the urge to pick up some Leicester Longwool handspun and a pair of knitting needles, or a mohair fleece and a spinning wheel or dye pot. The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook may awaken your inner crafter!

Read an excerpt from this book.

Deborah Robson is co-author of The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook and Knitting in the Old Way. She is a former editor of both Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot and Spin-Off magazine, and she is currently the editor and publisher of Nomad Press, which publishes books on traditional and ethnic knitting and spinning. Robson is also an artist, working in textiles, printmaking, and oils. She lives in Colorado with her daughter. Visit her website.

Carol Ekarius has been surrounded by critters since 1983, when she and her husband first started farming and ranching. She is the author of several books, including Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep (with Paula Simmons), Small-Scale Livestock Farming, Storey's Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds, and Storey's Illustrated Breed Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle, and Pigs. She lives in the mountains of Colorado where her four-legged and winged family keep her busy. Visit her website.

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