Cherokee Tribune Article 4-9-08
Published: 04/09/2008
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By Donna Harris
Cherokee Tribune Staff Writer

Folks at the Lazy D Farm will give people, especially kids, a chance to see something they might not ever get to see anywhere else.

Owners Gerald and Cathy Dobson are inviting the public to their Ball Ground farm for a day of old-fashioned fun during their Third Annual Sheep to Shawl on Saturday.

Visitors can watch sheep being sheared, learn how their wool and Angora bunny fur are spun into yarn and see demonstrations of old-time Appalachian folk arts.

"Most people have never seen a sheep sheared," said Mrs. Dobson, 49. "Everyone we know who is interested would always say, 'When you're shearing the sheep, let me know.'"

That was hard to do, however, since the shearer often would call to tell them he was coming by the next day.

"Three years ago, we decided we'll just designate one day, book him in advance and invite the public in and friends and family in who kept saying they wanted to see the sheep sheared," she said.

Visitors also will get to see how the wool is processed and spun into yarn.

Mrs. Dobson said she lays out the fleece, skirts it (removes debris), rolls it up and stores it in a paper bag. When it's time to wash it, she fills her washer with hot, soapy water and lets it soak.

After it dries, she cards the wool, using wooden paddles with coarse wire teeth to straighten and separate the fibers and make them easier to spin.

"The better you card, the smoother your yarn will be," she said. "Unless you want your yarn lumpy. There's all these novelty yarns now with lumps and bumps."

Once the wool is carded, it's ready to spin into yarn.

"All the spinning wheel does is put twists in the fibers," she said.

The shearing will take about 1½ hours and will be followed in the afternoon by demonstrations on harvesting Angora bunny fur and spinning with a drop spindle.

Members of the Appalachian Heritage Guild, to which Mrs. Dobson belongs, will show "old-time arts" that date back to the Appalachian period of the 1700s and 1800s: blacksmithing, butter churning, soap making, leather working, quilting, woodworking, wood carving, chair caning and others.

"Sheep to Shawl is for educational purposes," she said. "With school kids and little kids, we try to tell them this is how our ancestors in Appalachian times existed. This is how they had to survive."

About 500 people attended last year's event, and the Dobsons heard good comments from their visitors.

"They liked it because it's kind of intimate," Mrs. Dobson said. "They could see things, and the guild members could talk to them."

The 33-acre Lazy D is the "home place" of Dobson's grandfather, and the couple - who have three Eagle Scout sons, Jeremy, 26; Joshua, 24; and Jamey, 20 - have lived there 26½ years.

In 1999, Dobson, 51, a retired Air National Guardsman, decided to add sheep to the goats they already owned and chose the Jacob breed, which may have descended from Jacob's flock in the Bible.

The black-and-white breed has to be sheared only once a year and is known for its heartiness.

"They're also pretty good moms, except for two moms we have now," said Mrs. Dobson, who works full time from home for Fidelity National Information Services. "I'm having to bottle-feed their lambs. It does happen sometimes - they reject their babies."

She added sheep often have twins, and one of theirs had triplets one year.

Having wool on hand, she said she "had to learn to spin and invested in a spinning wheel, and I love it."

"I've always dabbled in crafts and thought I was pretty crafty," she said. "My husband said, 'Since you have to use this (wool), maybe we'll get some useful crafts. I think he was calling me a junk crafter. But it turned out to be a good idea."

Because the sheep are black and white, she can get three colors of yarn from their wool by separating each color or mixing them together to create gray.

Mrs. Dobson, who teaches felting classes at The Whole Nine Yarns in Woodstock, said so far she's made hats, scarves, shawls, purses, Christmas ornaments and chair pads from the wool and plans to make a rug one day.

Having sheep around is "calming, especially when we have lambs," she said. And she enjoys being able to raise them and use their wool to make various items.

"It's a sense of 'Hey, we completely grew that,'" she said.

The Hickory Flat natives - who have 17 sheep (including seven lambs), geese, goats, Angora rabbits, chickens, cats and a dog - hope to do field trips for small homeschool groups in the fall.

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