New coats!

Since each of our sheep is coated within hours — usually within minutes — of their birth, we use a lot of coats. Coats cost quite a bit of money, and because I prefer the more expensive version imported from Australia (the Matilda brand carried by Sheepman Supply), I’m always looking for a good deal on additional coats. I prefer the Matilda coats because they use elastic instead of darts to get a good fit. I find they fit our sheep much better and stay on longer, since I can fit them a bit loose and let the elastic expand as the sheep grow both in size and in the wool they carry.

When my friend Emily at Grace Valley Farms asked me a few months ago whether I was interested in her used sheep coats after she dispersed her flock, I jumped at the opportunity. She had both Matilda coats and Rocky coats available, and I requested every one of my preferred brand — with no idea how many were available. (Honestly, the title of this blog should probably be New-to-me coats!)

Over the months after my request, a count of the coats began to emerge via phone and text. At first it seemed as if there were about fifty coats. Then a couple of weeks later, Emily reported that she had found some more. And later, more again. By the time I was ready to leave for the transport trip, she thought she might have seventy. When I arrived in Montana, Emily admitted that she wasn’t sure how many coats were in the bags for me, since she had continued to find single Matilda coats in various places and had been stuffing them into my bags!

In the end, there were two kitchen trash bags of sheep coats marked for me. (The Rocky sheepsuits have all sold, so please don’t contact Emily asking about them!) Most of the coats I purchased needed mending of some sort, so the price was very reasonable. I had no idea what sizes were included or how much mending I’d end up doing, but this sort of deal on coats doesn’t come along often. I considered myself lucky to have them, tossed the bags into the backseat of the truck, and we headed home.

Two bags of coats await my attention in our dining room - now being sorted into piles according to their needs

Two bags of coats — being sorted into piles according to their needs — await my attention in the dining room.

Upon arrival we unloaded the bags of coats into the dining room, which usually serves as my coat-mending station in the background of other tasks. The bags sat there for a couple of days, and this morning I finally got a chance to take a look. There are a LOT of coats! As I was forewarned, most need mending; but that’s okay since I can mend between six and eight in an hour. Over the years, I’ve become fairly quick on the sewing machine!

The problem is, once I got a good look at these coats, I found that the vast majority of them had been modified with darts instead of elastic at the neck, sides, and dock! For me, replacing elastic is generally a no-sew activity — cutting the correct size elastic to the correct length, tying a knot in the end, feeding it through the sleeve/casing, and then knotting the second end. Now, however, I will need to cut away four to ten darts on each coat and patch those spaces before I can insert new elastic and return them to their former glory. That’s going to be a lot of work!

Yet the image of dozens of freshly mended coats catches my imagination and doesn’t allow me to simply abandon the project and pass the coats along to others. I began the big job of removing the darts this morning, and I estimate that this part of the project will take me about sixteen hours. Then I’ll begin to patch the holes and thread the elastic, four pieces per coat. Fortunately I have no hard-and-fast deadline. I have barely enough coats in the barn, but we currently have a system where I change the biggest lambs first, then wash and mend the coats we removed before putting them on the smaller lambs. These new-to-me coats from Emily will eliminate that shuffling and allow us to have enough coats in lamb sizes. I’d better get back to mending. There’s a lot of work to do!

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