Shepherd, Artist, Knitter: Kristin Nicholas on Small-Scale Sheep Farming

For her master’s degree in textiles and clothing, Kristin wrote a thesis that was near and dear to her heart.

Anne Merrow Sep 8, 2023 - 3 min read

Shepherd, Artist, Knitter: Kristin Nicholas on Small-Scale Sheep Farming Primary Image

Kristin Nicholas and her husband, Mark Duprey, had a very small flock of sheep when she published her first article in Spin Off Summer 1983. As the shepherd to about 20 Romney and cross-bred sheep, she wrote from her own experience, “Sheep producing is as interesting and rewarding as handspinning—and the people who grow sheep are a great group to get to know."

Kristin’s graduate thesis, “Wool Production from Small Flocks of Sheep,” drew from a survey of 120 sheep producers, with questions on everything from the demographics of the shepherd to the type of sheep to the size of their flock. Some aspects of wool production have changed in the intervening 40 years, such as the reputation of American wool among handspinners. Today’s spinner might not bat an eye at Kristin’s statement that “we must not overlook something as close as our own backyard, the wool of the American sheep,” because excellent fleeces are easily available, in some cases for premium prices.

The American wool market has changed some, too, though the price of wool has not kept pace with inflation. Reading her Spin Off article offers not only an interesting time capsule but also a snapshot of the kinds of questions that wool producers must keep in mind that might never occur to spinners: What kinds of farm labor do they employ? Who grows their feed? Do they plan to increase or decrease the size of the flock?

Click below to read the full article.

In the same issue of Spin Off, Kristin published a lighthearted piece about demonstrating carding, spinning, and knitting in a shop window at Christmastime called, “How Much Is That Spinner in the Window?”

Since publishing the article, Kristin’s flock has grown from about 20 to about 400, which is not so small a flock by New England standards. For the September 9, 2023 episode of the Long Thread Podcast, she spoke about the changes in her flock, the wool market, and her priorities for her farm in Western Massachusetts.

Spin Off Summer 1983 is available as a digital issue here. Also, remember that if you are an active subscriber to Spin Off magazine, you have unlimited access to previous issues, including Summer 1983. See our help center for the step-by-step process on how to access them.

Anne Merrow is Editorial Director and a co-founder of Long Thread Media.