Here at Spring Rim Farm our sheep history began well before the Civil War with a flock of 200 of what were probably Merino ewes. On homesteaded land next to a spring in the Wisconsin woods, the sheep would have been free-range in the truest sense of the word. Our New York ancestors played it frugal, living in a log cabin until 1862 while clearing land and constructing barns for their sheep, beef cattle and horses.
Sheep continued to be part of the farm landscape right through husband Bob’s high school years and his FFA project of a small flock of Corriedales. After a brief hiatus for college and just a few years into our careers, Bob and I took our first steps as married shepherds, purchasing a small flock of Dorset Horns and jumping headfirst into the then national effort to expand the industry. cheered on by what was then known as the Blueprint for Expansion, we eventually expanded up to 160 ewes that included the purebred Dorsets plus a commercial flock of Rambouillet-Dorset western ewes from the Dakotas. It seemed we were hooked. Of course, typical of young couples, there was a full plate of responsibilities as the family grew and careers continued, me as a full time medical technologist and Bob’s custom furniture.
1978-79 was especially pivotal: Not only were we waist deep in sheep, we were also becoming active in promoting Wisconsin’s sheep industry, along with getting Ewesful Gifts up and running. My first partner was Barb Douglas, whose husband was also a Dorset breeder. While her husband Roger and Bob talked sheep, Barb and I decided that sheep people needed sheep stuff and why didn’t we start a business that would do just that. That was the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship as the two of us eagerly sought out sheepy gift ideas, began a catalog and started to take our little business on the road. As it turned out, our first show also happened to be the first Wisconsin Sheep Industry Conference. We were off and running!
By the early 80’s Bob was becoming more involved with the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op and by that time Barb and I had reluctantly agreed to part ways. The sheep operation and Ewesful Gifts had both grown so I sought out another partner to help me shepherd the little business to more shows around the Midwest. So, Carol Lee and I took up the challenge together, traveling to Sedalia and Louisville for the first time and to any sheep show where we could set up a table or two. The Ewesful Gifts line of merchandise continued to grow as the two of us prowled the gift shows and build on our own design ideas. But, by 1986, I was flying solo again.
Balancing a career, family duties and a summer of sheep shows wears thin after awhile and eventually Bob and I began to look for alternatives to the road show schedule. By 1999, an opportunity arose with the Wisconsin State Fair to open a retail booth in the Sheep Barn that focused on Wisconsin’s fiber entrepreneurs and so the Wisconsin Wool Works! was born. Built around consignments from fiber artists and related small businesses and hosted by the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Cooperative, the WWW! brings the story of nature’s most perfect fiber and our state’s sheep industry to hundreds of fair goers each summer. As both manager of the shop and a consignor to it for over twenty years, I have witnessed the wealth of artistry and knowledge that is so much a part of our industry today. Even more satisfying is being able to share the story of the miracle fiber that is wool. Breathable, durable, moisture-wicking and now almost universal for everything from T-shirts to socks, men’s and women’s pants to dresses and jackets, wool is the ultimate do-all fiber.
Both the Wisconsin Wool Works! and Ewesful Gifts can also be found at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival the first weekend following Labor Day at Jefferson Fair Park in Jefferson, WI. It’s the Midwest’s premier sheep and wool festival and if you have the opportunity, please consider attending.
So, 41 years on, Ewesful Gifts continues to provide clothing, gifts and accessories of all kinds to old friends and ones we haven’t met.