In the spirit of catching up on spinning-related things for the blog, I figured it was finally time to tell you about the class class I took way back when at Rhinebeck called For The Love of Longwools. Longwool sheep, as you may or may not know, are breeds that produce wool with a very long staple length, relatively little crimp/elasticity, and usually a lot of luster/shine. They are basically the opposite of the very common fine wool Merino, which has tons of bounce and softness, a short staple length, and no shine. This means that longwools can and often should be spun into yarns that will look and act differently than those made with Merino wool.
The class was taught by Beth Smith who owns The Spinning Loft in Michigan. Her shop carries all sorts of spinning materials, including raw fleeces if you wish to give washing your own a try (someday). The bulk of the class was mostly just trying out 5 different breeds of longwools. For 3 of them, fiber was provided as washed locks, so we learned to comb them and use a diz to create fluffy top (see Sara’s blog post on A Year At The Wheel for a great photo tutorial on the process). For the other 2, we received commercially processed top to play with. I learned how to Andean ply from a fellow classmate, which allowed me to use my hand to wrap some yarn in such a way that I could make 2-ply samples with no lazy kate, bobbins, or toilet paper rolls involved (that link shows a slightly different process than I learned but is the same idea). It was a great experience to be surrounded by so many spinners with so much love for their craft and it’s definitely something I’ll do again the next time I get to go to a festival. Now, onto the spinning!
In these photos, the left image has the washed locks in the top left, the combed fiber in the top right, and the 2-ply yarn is in front. The right image shows a closeup of the yarn. These yarns are small samples fresh off the spindle, not washed and set like you’d usually do with finishing. English Leicester was probably my least favorite of the wools we tried. It was the brightest white, which probably means it would dye wonderfully, but it also had the wiriest feel to it, much more hair-like than wool-like. The locks do have a very cool wave to them, though, and it was easy to comb and spin into a shiny yarn.
Even though Coopworth wool was also more on the hair-like side of things, I liked it better. Perhaps it’s because the locks had a tighter crimp, which made them act a bit woolier during combing and spinning? A sample of Coopworth came with my Golding spindle when I got it, which I proceeded to turn into a thick, wiry yarn, but I think I could do much better with it now that I know more about drafting and the right amount of twist. The finished yarn spun up very easily and has a decent amount of bounce to it. It is also very, very strong– you wouldn’t want to try to break this one by hand.
Blue Faced Leicester:
Of all the longwools we tried, the Blue Faced Leicester felt the softest and wooliest. It even had a bit of a lanolin feel to it in the washed locks, which had the most crimp of them all. I love those little ringlets! Possibly because it was the least foreign to me, I liked the way the BFL spun up the best. The finished yarn is soft and lush-feeling but still has a great shine and when knit up would probably drape nicely. What’s also nice about BFL is that it’s one of the most widely available single-breed yarns on the market besides Merino, so you could try knitting with it fairly easily.
For this and the next breed, we received the wool as commercially prepared top, not locks, so we didn’t comb it ourselves. The Romney had a very long staple length with very little crimp at all, the fibers all seemed straight and relaxed. I didn’t really get very strong impressions from this wool, honestly. The resulting yarn is a bit course and does not have a lot of bounce nor does it have a lot of shine, it feels kind of in between on everything. I know a lot of people really like Romney, so this could have had a lot to do with its preparation or with the way I spun it (from the fold) and it might like it better to be worsted spun or carded into roving and then woolen spun. I’ll have to experiment because I now have plenty of Romney to play with in my fiber stash.
This Wensleydale is the last of the breeds we tried and I really liked it. It is very different than fine wools, with its long staple length and smooth-to-nonexistent crimp, but it has such a lovely, silk-like hand to it that it ranks right up there with BFL for me. The fibers are very fine and smooth and spin up into an incredibly shiny and silky soft yarn. I would definitely like to spin more and knit with it, I bet it would have a gorgeous drape. Also, the sheep themselves are freakin’ adorable:
|From the Wensleydale Sheep official site|
AmIright?? Look at those luscious locks!
I hope you enjoyed my whirlwind tour through a few longwool breeds, it was fun for me to document. Since I have some locks and top left over, I’d like to share them with one of you! Leave a comment telling me what your favorite breed of sheep to spin or knit is (or a breed you’d most like to try) and I will draw a random winner to receive a little bundle of fiber of each of the 5 types I talked about next Wednesday. Yay for sharing! 😉