I lived in the country and as I walked to school it was a familiar sight to see sheep grazing in the fields. I looked out for the lambs playing in spring. Their long tails would wriggle as they fed from their mothers.
Outside my home in Bright a number of sheep grazed. They would be feeding just before dawn when it was cool and the dew was still on the grass. They rested in the warm morning sun. I thought to myself if I had any land I would keep sheep. They did not need much attention. Each sheep may have two lambs a year.
God promises to bless our herds if we obey him.
Our sheep will increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields; (Psalm 144:13 NIV)
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. (Deuteronomy 28:3-4 NIV)
My father kept some sheep. In late spring the sheep’s woollen coat would be sheared. I remember a man who was hired for the day would skilfully cut the wool off the animal. The sheep would scurry away when the workman was finished, free from being held down but a little lighter from his coat of wool.
When I was at primary school, I learnt about the wool industry in Ireland. The wool produced in Ireland supported the Irish cottage industry of knitting Aran sweaters and making tweed. The women of the house would spend the winter evenings knitting. The woollen Aran sweaters were used by fishermen. The sweater would keep them warm and dry in the cold Atlantic weather. Each family made up their own pattern of chains and cable twists. The picture of a mother sitting by her fire knitting a garment speaks to me of peace, love and serenity. She was not wasting time. Even in rest her hands were working. Her mind was active to work out the complicated patterns. She would not let depression or idleness take hold.
These women reminded me of the words in proverbs 31
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household; they are clothed in scarlet. (Proverbs 31:13, 21 NIV)
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Proverbs 31:17, 27 NIV)
I love browsing in shops selling Irish woollen goods when I go on holiday to Donegal. I remember my human geography lessons about the Irish wool industry. The memory comes alive when I see the beautiful products, knitted scarfs, hats and jumpers for sale. I love to touch the garments that have been created by hand, rather than in some factory.
In Ireland it is the rules of the school that the children attending wear a uniform, a jumper, trousers or tunic in the colour decided by the school authorities. I believe this is a good thing. The jumpers or cardigans that were sold in the store were made of acrylic yarn. This material was easy to wash and dry but not to keep you warm. I wanted my children to have woollen jumpers to keep them warm on cold winter days when they had to play outside in the playground.
I decided to knit each one a sweater for school. I sourced pure wool in the colour of the school and a knitting pattern that was easy to follow. I put my knitting skills, that I had learnt at school, to use. I was like the women in the cottages, knitting a garment in the long winter nights. Each jumper was knitted with love. I imagined my daughter or son wrapped in the warmth of the wool but also the warmth of my love as he played outside in the school play ground. It also kept them protected from colds and flus. Each child’s jumper lasted for a couple of years.
They never seemed to wear out. It was money and time well spent.