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In our interview, we talk sheep, creativity and dollmaking and we have asked her a few questions, that I am sure many of you might be curious about!
Simone: Hi Fabienne and welcome to the Knitterati Retreat blog! It’s so nice to have you here.
So let’s hear a little about you and all the amazing creative things you do! So first I am curious, did you grow up in the Valais region of Switzerland?
Fabienne: Yes, I grew up in the small town of Naters, which is just a few stops down the valley from where you take the gondola to get up to the Riederalp.
Simone: Have you always been so creative? I know we will get to have you come and teach a workshop on how to make the cutest wooly sheep, but you also make the most adorable dolls, and you teach courses in Dollmaking and if I am not mistaken you also do story telling, and there is a children’s picture book in the works? (both in Swiss german, sorry english speakers) Have you always been in love with dolls?
Fabienne: I was a really good doll mommy as a child and played with dolls for many years, but no, the fascination and then the classes came after my children! It all started when I was looking for a doll for my older daughter, when she was about to get a little sister. I didn’t want a plastic doll and could not find a fabric doll that looked the way I really liked, and so I started to research and read and learn and finally sewed my first doll. And more and more dolls wanted to be made and I have been making dolls ever since! Besides the traditional baby dolls, I now have online and in person workshops for Kasperlifiguren (hand puppets), gnomes and nativity scene figures.
Simone: You are going to come and teach a wonderful class on making these wooly little sheep here, which look just like the Walliser Shcwarznasen. Do you use only wool from your own sheep for them, and the dolls?
Fabienne: I do use some of our own wool for the sheep and the dolls, but I also buy some from other shepherds we are friends with. Since many of them show their sheep, they have to be washed before being presented and therefore their wool tends to be cleaner right off the bat. (We don’t ‘show’ our sheep at fairs and breeding events) This allows me to have the best of both worlds, beautiful clean wool, and some that is a bit more rustic!
Simone: So now that we are talking sheep, I have of course wanted to ask you about that! Has your family always had sheep? And how many sheep do you keep?
Fabienne: Growing up, my uncle had sheep, but we really didn’t have anything to do with them. So this was all new territory when I met my husband. We currently have around 50 ewes on our small organic farmstead, and at the moment the overall number is constantly changing, as we have new lambs born almost daily!
Simone: Oh they lamb in the fall, that is so interesting!
Fabienne: We have Walliser Landschafe (land/country sheep) and Walliser Schwarznasen (black nose), both local breeds. They are very similar in temperament and size and both have horns and are longwool breeds, but the Landschaf has a reddish brown fleece and the Schwarznase has a white fleece, with black spots at the knees and the nose ?
We shear our sheep twice a year, and no, I am not doing that myself, we have a professional sheep shearer come and do that!
Simone: Do you know how much wool you get from one of your sheep and what do you do with all the fleeces? I know here in the US, often the wool from many sheep at sheep festivals and show shearing events gets bought up into a ‘pool’ and at least part of which gets sold to the military (for uniforms and such).
I remember growing up and going away to CEVI summer camp in tents (similar to the boy scouts here) and having these rugged Swiss Army surplus wool blankets. Now that I know more about wool, I of course wonder what happens to it and where it came from!
Fabienne: Well, so I am really not sure just how much wool each sheep gives! While they are shorn, the fleece is skirted and sorted right away (separated into waste, mixed and clean fiber) so it’s really difficult to say just how much is from each sheep. And yes, the Swiss Wollzentrale generally buys up the fleeces, and processes them. Since military coats and blankets are not as popular these days and the wool price has plummeted in response and sadly often farmers would just put the fleeces in the trash, as it was not worth going through the trouble of selling it. Luckily things have been changing again and the sheep farmers now deliver their fleeces twice a year, though they still do not receive much for their wool.
Simone: From what I understand it’s a similar issue here in the US. We hand knitter and spinners are hoping that over time we’ll be able to work changing that for the better.
So to close, one last one. You sew and stitch and felt, do you have other fiber hobbies? Do you weave or spin, or do you dye your own wool?
Fabienne: Oh learning to spin is on my to do list! But otherwise I am quite busy and content with crocheting, felting, sewing and knitting!
Thank you so much for your time and it was so nice to learn a little more about you and we can’t wait to see you in August of 2018!
To learn more about Fabienne, their Valais Blacknose sheep and her creative ventures check here and make sure to follow her on Instagram to see pictures of all her awesome makes and get a visual glimpse into life on a small organic farmstead in the Swiss Alps!