Woolshed visit spins good yarn

By Christine McKay -
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From left Yvonne Monk of Waipawa and Tracy White of Inspire Fibres Woodville, check the exotic sheep fleece of the Gotlands.
From left Yvonne Monk of Waipawa and Tracy White of Inspire Fibres Woodville, check the exotic sheep fleece of the Gotlands.

Visitors flocked to the historic Hales woolshed at Wimbledon recently keen to learn more about exotic sheep and to get a taste of true country hospitality.

And while it was a chance for visitors to learn more about wool's journey from the sheep's back to the spinners wheel and then to knitted, woven and felted garments, the day was also a chance for six generations of the Hales family to share their love of a very special place.

Norma Cairns has been visiting the farm since before the war and said it was a place which always welcomed people.

"I'm from Dannevirke originally," she said. "Doug Hales is my oldest nephew and it's been wonderful to be here again."

The youngest member of the Hales extended family, 17-month-old Pippa Willoughy of Clive, is sxith generation and she was keen to get up close to Snow the karakul lamb.

Also catching up were cousins, Ruth Ussher of Dannevirke and Ken McNeur of Waimarama in the Hawke's Bay.

"I haven't seen Ken's daughter Clare since she was a baby and now she's married," Ruth said.

Mr McNeur said families should be like good friends.

"You can catch up after 10 or 15 years and it's just like yesterday," he said.

Dannevirke's Les Ingram said he was stunned by the hospitality of the Hales family.

"This is my first time here and it's incredible. We've eaten like kings and it's all been free," he said.

Exotic sheep were on the barbecues and traditional shasliks and mergnez were dished up to visitors. At the Engine Room Cafe, Doug and Sharron Hales used lean Pitt Island lamb in curries, with a taste of the middle east in lamb shawarma, kofta's and stuffed, rolled legs. "It's been cooked for 12-hours and had spicy rubs," Doug explained.

But the focus of the day was on the wool.

Yvonne Monk of Waipawa has been passionate about Gotland wool for five years.

"It felts really well, is lustrous, with lovely shades of grey," she said. "Gotland is versatile, not the same as using Romney, but it's absolutely fabulous for felting."

Yvonne now has 25 Gotland ewes, along with 40 alpacas and 120 coloured sheep on her property.

"I simply love wool," she said.

Dannevirke's Bev Beddingfield had turned wool from the Hales farm into beautiful garments.

"It's great to see the wool go from the sheep's back to being washed, carded, spun and knitted," she said.

Val Summerall from Carterton also uses the Hales' wool.

" I've been a spinner for 25 years and there's a big demand for garments. I'm just hoping I'll be able able hang onto one jersey I've made to show off at next year's exotic sheep day," she said.

Maureen Campbell told the Dannevirke News she'd never been to a day in the woolshed before.

"It's amazing, just wonderful," she said.

"I've been learning about the quality of wool from Bill Gunderson. He knows his stuff."

Wool from Karakul, Gotland, Pitt Island and Arapawa sheep was available for crafters to admire and purchase and Brian Hales shared the rich stories of them all.

"If you're a home spinner, stay away from the Pitt Island wool. They're an awesome sheep, but their wool is useless," he said. "The Arapawa Island sheep were dropped off on an island in Cook Strait by sailing ships as meat for stranded sailors.

"They were there for 200 years and were fine, but the moment they came onto the mainland they picked up every disease, including footrot."

Wool from the Gotlands, produced by the Stainsborough family was used to make cloaks for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Mr Hales said knitted garments from his flock were "great."

"The Gotlands are my pride and joy," he said.

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