Sheep Shears and Sponge Processing

The island of Kalymnos, Greece part of the cluster of 12 islands called the Dodecanese Islands is historically known as the hub of sponge commerce. The industry was booming and successful as early as the start of the 1800s.

Over the past 200+ years, the industry has seen numerous changes. The demand for natural sea sponges has had its ups and downs, red tides or bacterial contaminations have controlled diving patterns and changed species, even the method of diving and processing has changed through natural evolution.

What is surprising to note is that throughout all these changes, from the start of the 19c to present time, the one process that has stayed consistent and unchanged is the use of the sheep shear.

As was the case with many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, goat and sheep herding was a common profession. Thus, sheep shears normally used in the sheering process of sheep for the collection of their wool, would have been a common tool, easily available.

Sheep sheers are used in the natural sponge industry as the tool which cleans up the appearance of the sponge and gives it a nice shape. It has always been done manually for the utmost control and accuracy. Almost all sponges are passed through the "clipping" process, whether a form or a cut, before going to market.

This can be thought of as giving the sponge a haircut, as clippers quite literally trim the sponges to smooth out the rough edges and cut away any stray pieces. This makes the sponges aesthetically pleasing, but also serves to help the sponge last longer. The loose ends and sharp edges can easily get caught when in use and create, shall we say, a loose link in the chain that eventually over time weaken the integrity of the sponge.

During the hay day of natural sponges in Kalymnos, Simi or Limnos, you could walk into a sponge processing factory and see dozens of men with their heads down for 10-12 hours a day sitting on their benches clipping away and discussing the day's news.

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