Friday, 9 January 2009

Counting Sheep

As a teenager in the 1960’s, I had a crush on a treacly-voiced Yorkshire singer and guitarist called Jake Thackray. He had smouldering eyes, a deeply furrowed brow and a rather odd way of moving his mouth when he was singing, which he did in a kind of hard staccato way.

Some of his songs were a bit risqué, which was perhaps part of his appeal to me, but one of my favourites was Old Molly Metcalfe. This song described the way Molly, a shepherdess in the Yorkshire Dales, counted her sheep in the ancient way, using a rhyme. Yan tan tether mether pip (1,2,3,4,5) she counted. Every time she got to 20 she put another pebble in her pocket, so that by the time she had 5 pebbles, she had counted 100 sheep.

This gave me a theme for a little felted hanging I made recently. I used wool from Yorkshire Swaledale sheep to wet-felt over some rounded pebbles, tied them in to get the basic shape, part-felted the wool then removed the pebbles and fulled the wool to firm it up. Everywhere that sheep roam, they always leave some fleece attached to the barbed wire fencing, so I made a short length of my own and attached some Wensleydale curls around it. The first line of the counting rhyme is stamped on a piece of muslin.

Yorkshiremen are renowned for their dry sense of humour. I asked a farmer how on earth he could keep track of how many sheep he had roaming over hill and dale. “Why, it's easy lass, I just count their legs and divide by four”.

1 comment:

Myfanwy said...

I love to find out about an artists inspiration. Thanks for sharing the background to this lovely piece.