Knitters get hands-on experience in wool gathering

BEAVER VALLEY — It is a crisp February morning and Jennie Watkins is standing in the old barn on her 10-acre farm off Beaver Valley Road.

An avid hand spinner and knitter, she is looking over her flock of 14 shaggy Shetland sheep she raises for wool, which she spins into golden yarn.

“I’m a knitter who wanted to know where her fiber was coming from,” Watkins says, “from the sheep eating the grass to what we’re doing here today to spinning to knitting.”

A nurse by profession, Watkins is a relative newcomer to farming who took her hobby to another level when she bought the hillside property near Port Ludlow 3½ years ago.

Big day commences

She is also a member of a local spinning group, and each year invites other spinners and knitters to lend a hand in the pivot point in the process of turning sheep into sweaters — shearing day.

“I’m a farm girl at heart,” says Mirriel Kimball, a friend from Port Townsend. “It’s fun to come out here and play farmer.”

Sliding the hanging wooden doors open a crack, the guests slip into the barn, where Marcia Adams, the shearer, is getting ready to go to work.

Despite the cool temperatures, Watkins has her sheep sheared in February.

“My sheep have a primitive trait that causes them to lose their wool when the days start to get longer,” Watkins explains.

Hand spinners also like the wool as long as possible, says Randi Cox, another spinner.

Randi and her husband, Ralph, live in Port Hadlock, but board three sheep — a ewe and two offspring — at the farm in exchange for helping Watkins out on a regular basis.

Sitting position

While the others watch, Ralph, Randi and Watkins select one of the penned sheep and escort it to the shearer.

Adams deftly levers the 80-pound animal over her knee into a sitting position. With its feet in the air, the sheep ceases to struggle, allowing Adams to give it a preliminary pedicure.

“They’re flight animals,” Adams explains to her audience as she trims the hooves.

“As long as all four legs are up, that’s it.”

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