To be strictly accurate, it’s not fleece any more, but roving. Still, “geek roving” isn’t very catchy, is it? I did a little internet research to figure out whether this is geeky or nerdy – which I guess is pretty geeky in itself.
I have been a J.R.R. Tolkien fan ever since I first read his books in 1977… yes, I’m definitely dating myself there. I’m a quiet fan, never having had the urge to learn to speak Quenya, although it’s important to know the correct pronunciation of all the names and place-names when reading. I re-read the trilogy every year for a long time, and I was pretty apprehensive about Peter Jackson’s work on translating that treasured story into film.
Leaving aside my annoyance at the completely non-Tolkien invented scenes, the movie trilogy was an incredible masterwork. The attention to detail is just fascinating, with the costuming one really obvious result of that attention. Jackson decided to use local New Zealand sources as much as possible for all facets of the production, and everyone involved rose to the occasion.
The multiple award-winning costume designer, Ngila Dickson, was not content to just go fabric shopping. No, she started with fiber on the hoof for at least some of the garments. Arguably the most iconic were the elven cloaks worn by eight of the nine Fellowship members, excepting only Gandalf, who was otherwise occupied while everyone else was resting and recuperating in Lothlorien.
Tolkien (through Galadriel) described these cloaks as “…of the light but warm silken stuff that Galadhrim wove. It was hard to say of what colour they were: grey with the hue of twilight under the trees they seemed to be; and yet if they moved, or set in another light, they were green as shadowed leaves, or brown as fallow fields by night, dusk silver as water under the stars….Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make…they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need.”
While no wool can claim to shift to green or brown in changing light, the wool used for the cloaks in the movies can certainly be described as grey as twilight and dusk silver. The New Zealand producer of this wool is Stansborough farm, which is where Stansborough Grey sheep breed was developed from the very old Gotland breed. Their fleece is fairly long, fine, curly and shiny – looking almost like kid mohair. The fabric woven from this wool is not quite soft enough for next-to-the-skin wear, but when finely spun and plied, the yarn drapes and flows, and carries a bit of sheen with a slight halo of fiber.
Since the Stansborough Grey sheep are raised only on the farm where the breed was developed, their wool is understandably scarce, and because it is frequently in demand for film costuming, it doesn’t come on the market very often. I just happened to have some Christmas money (in our family, the recipient is generally expected to purchase something special that they wouldn’t otherwise spring for), and saw a forum post on Ravelry advertising the roving for sale. The original purchaser had sent her three fleeces to a small mill for processing, and had since decided to sell part of the wool. The timing was perfect for me, so I bought a bit over a pound – plenty for a sweater! The seller, bless her heart, thoughtfully included a copy of the original packing slip as verification of its provenance; knowing how much fun I was going to have with this, she also included a sticky note.
In case you want some Stansborough Grey of your own, there are a few options – for one, you can buy a Fellowship Cloak. If that’s a little pricey for you, how about a reproduction leaf brooch in a bag made from the cloak fabric from the now-legendary Weta Workshop? As for me, I’ll just enjoy every minute of the planning and spinning and eventual knitting of my own unique Stansborough sweater.