Thursday, May 9, 2013
Middleton Place will provide visitors with a very wooly experience on Saturday, May 11 when the resident sheep receive their annual shearing. The flock will be shorn between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and interpreters will demonstrate shearing as it was done in the past using steel bladed hand shears. The event is free with Gardens and Stableyards admission.
For over two-and-a-half centuries, sheep have roamed freely on the Greensward at Middleton Place. The sheep and other livestock in the Plantation Stableyards are documented to have been present at Middleton Place in the 18th and 19th centuries, and today they serve as an integral part of the National Historic Landmark’s educational programming. According to the Agricultural Census of 1850, 300 sheep could be found at Middleton Place.
The Gulf Coast breed, raised at Middleton Place, is believed to have developed from sheep the Spanish brought to what is now the southeastern U.S. in the 1500s. Shaped by natural selection, the Spanish sheep became well-adapted to the heat and humidity of the environment, and for centuries were the only sheep to be found in the Deep South, providing wool and meat for home and commercial production. The breed nearly went extinct in the 20th century because of its smaller size compared to modern varieties. A recent focus on sustainable agriculture and heritage breed husbandry, such as the programs at Middleton Place, caused a resurgence of Gulf Coast sheep and other rare historic breeds.
Each adult sheep can yield up to eight pounds of wool – a protein based fiber removed by shearing. The goal is to remove all the wool in one piece called the fleece. It is then cleaned of small sticks, burrs and straw and then washed with hot water to remove the lanolin, a fatty secretion. In the 19th century, lanolin was often left in the wool until after the spinning, a technique known as “spinning in the grease,” so the fabric could repel water.
After the fleece is cleaned, it is carded or combed to straighten and align the fibers, and then spun into yarn using a spinning wheel. The yarn can then be woven, knitted or crocheted into fabric and finally used to make a garment. Middleton Place interpreters will also demonstrate carding and spinning, and take the wool from the sheep to the shawl.
The mission of the Middleton Place Foundation, a public non-profit educational trust, is to sustain the highest levels of preservation and interpretation for the Middleton Place National Historic Landmark, its Gardens, House, Plantation Stableyards and affiliated properties, such as the Edmondston-Alston House, and their collections and programs. Middleton Place and the Middleton Place Restaurant are located at 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414. www.middletonplace.org