SS: Romeldale

Remember my spinner’s study series? I know, I know, it’s been far too long (since April!). For those unfamiliar or those who might have forgotten (woops), I’m doing a bit of a breed study where I spin about an ounce of wool from different breeds of sheep and summarize characteristics of each one using the handy, dandy Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ikarius and various breed association websites as my sources. I do the breed research in the ‘start’ post and I also record my own thoughts/opinions on the way the fiber spins and the characteristics of the yarn in the ‘finish’ post. I’ve linked to posts for all the breeds I’ve done so far on the ‘Spin-Tastic!’ tab. We left off last time finishing a skein of Romney and starting to spin Cheviot.

cheviotEven though my initial impressions of the wool were fairly mild, it turns out that I ended up hating spinning Cheviot. That ‘chalky’ characteristic described in the F&F Sourcebook turned out to be a problem for my spinning. I noted that the wool wasn’t exactly silky/shiny but it didn’t feel very grabby, either, and this lack of ‘grabbiness’ caused my single to break and spindle to drop constantly. It was really annoying and just did not feel good in my hands.

IMG_5051You can see the resulting skein was very loosely spun and thick-and-thin in many places. This fiber and I just did not get along. That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent uses for it or that other people wouldn’t enjoy it, but let’s just say it’s not very high on my “breed to raise in the future” list. Now, onto the next: Romeldale.

Photo credit Reflection Farm from the breed association page (click for link).

Romaledales are actually quite variable in appearance, with CVM (California Variegated Mutant) sheep being a particularly colored variant of the breed. The breed was developed in 1915 when A.T. Spencer crossed his Ramboillet sheep (a French-modified descendent of Spanish Merino sheep) with a New Zealand Romney (a longwool) to add length and strength to the wool. The breed was only ever raised in the western U.S. and has been classified as critically rare. The only reason any CVM’s exist is because handspinners wanted their colorful fleeces (go spinners!).

IMG_5052

Romeldale wool

As for spinning, this stuff is about as different from Cheviot as you can get! It is very soft and has lots of crimp that makes it plenty grabby. The top I have is very dense and has a bit of a lanolin feel to it, which makes sense since sheep in the Merino family tend to have lots of grease in their wool. The F&F Sourcebook says that the wool is great for soft, lofty yarns because all of the disorganized crimp gives the yarn lots of bounce and resilience.

IMG_5053

It is spinning up easily and is producing a fine, soft single. I like it very much so far. I like even more what spinning wool from rare breeds does for their conservation. It’s crazy to think that entire breeds of colorful sheep would not exist if it weren’t for people interested in handspinning their wool, since commercial enterprises only want consistent white wool. Making a difference, one fleece at a time!

I hope to finish the Romeldale soon so my next SS post won’t be months and months from now…

SS: Cheviot

Ready for another installment of my ongoing Spinner’s Study?

My thoughts on Romney align with what I wrote in my last post, which is that it’s known to be an all-around good workhorse of a fiber that plays nicely, and that definitely seems to be true. It drafted smoothly and easily and made a nice, strong-feeling yarn with just a little bit of shine to it (from its longwool nature).

The wool from the next breed, Cheviot, feels somewhat similar.

Photo from wikipedia

The Ceviot is a dual-purpose sheep, raised for both meat and wool, and comprises its own ‘family’ within the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. It is the dominant breed in the Cheviot Hills area on the border between England and Scotland.The sheep themselves have ‘clean’ faces free of wool with dark eyes and noses and their origin is something of a mystery (rumors of sheep escaping from Spanish ships) but they’ve been around since sometime in the 15th to 17th centuries.

Long staple length with ‘3-dimensional crimp’
The book describes Cheviot as a neighborly fiber known for durability without harshness. It has a micron range between 27 and 33, which lands it squarely in the medium softness category, edging towards coarse. The book also calls the fiber ‘chalky’, which is kind of a strange word to apply to wool, but I think I get it. 

The fiber I have is almost fluid in how it drafts, there is no luster or silkiness but the fibers aren’t ‘grabby’ either, they don’t grip each other very tightly. Even though it has a long staple length, I have to watch that I don’t draft out too quickly and create thin spots in the yarn. That said, it’s been very easy-going to spin, and I could see how it would make a great rugged sweater or blanket, since I imagine the fabric wouldn’t pill much with wear.


If you like learning about different types of wool, I highly recommend you check out the free Craftsy mini-class “Know Your Wool”, taught by Deborah Robinson (one of the authors of the Sourcebook). I watched it the other night and thought it was a great summary and introduction to some of the key concepts in understanding the differences between types of wool.

You can also find info on the other breeds I’ve already spun up here.

SS: Romney

It has been ages and ages since I wrote a Spinner’s Study post. The last time I did, I gave a quick rundown on some of the fascinating history of the Merino breed. Here’s the plump little skein I finished:

As you might image, the Merino wool made a lovely, soft, and squishy single. If I had plied this, the resulting yarn would’ve displayed a lot of elasticity and bounce, which is characteristic of the fine crimp pattern in Merino staples. Its elasticity is one reason why Merino wool is so loved for fabrics and for socks in particular. However, the fiber’s fineness works against it for socks, making it prone to pilling and wear, as seen in the pile of socks waiting to be mended. However, for me, the bounce and softness of Merino is worth a few minutes of darning every now and then.

Onto the next breed! We took a brief look at Romney wool when I described the For the Love of Longwools class I took at Rhinebeck. Now, we’ll dig a little deeper.

This handsome devil’s photo came from Wikipedia.

The Romney sheep is a dual-purpose meat and fiber breed that is grouped with the English Longwool Family in the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. It was developed from crossing a breed native to the Ronney Marsh coastal plain in southeast England with longwool Leicester bloodlines. This imparted a long staple length and luster to Romney fiber, while still maintaining the breed’s unique adaptations allowing the growth of quality wool in boggy, marshy environments.


According to the FFSB, “Romney fleece is most likely to be voted president of the Wool High School senior class. It can’t do everything, but it’s an all-around good citizen and extremely versatile, with personality and charisma. It’s a classic.” Romney fiber can range in quality and fineness depending on the particular sheep and location (North American and British are somewhat finer than New Zealand Romneys), but in general it ranges from coarse to fairly fine (micron count 29-37) and is usually finer than other longwool breeds (but you still might not want to wear it near sensitive skin).

I am enjoying this bit of Romney I am spinning much better than the first Romney I tried during the longwools class.  This is perhaps due to the preparation (carded roving vs. commercial combed top) but it could just be nicer fiber. This bunch is drafting very smoothly and creating a strong-feeling, even single. The roving I am spinning here is from Alder Brook Romneys in Connecticut. A friend of the Fiasco’s also raises Romneys, shears them herself, and sells handspun yarn from her flock in her Falling Star Fibers Etsy shop. I purchased some fiber from her at a festival that I still have stashed but I’m tempted to skip ahead and just buy some of the lovely finished yarns she has in her shop!

Have you used Romney fiber/yarn? What did you think of it?

SS: Brown Merino

Gosh, I’ve been finished with this fiber for a while, it just took me forever to get around to posting it!

The Grey Gotland fiber turned out wonderfully: it is dense and shiny with an interesting texture, almost silky. I like it very much. I could see spinning it more finely and knitting an elegant lace shawl out of it if I had more. Which I would definitely like, if anybody’s buying. Specifically, this fiber right here:

From 2SistersStringWorks Etsy shop

Must save pennies for Rhinebeck. Must save pennies for Rhinebeck. Must save. Pennies. Rhinebeck.

Moving on! Currently on the spindle is the famous, esteemed, irreplaceable Merino wool. (Fun fact: the Fiasco’s last name is spelled differently but sounds just like Merino. Coincidence…?)

Photo from Wikipedia.

The Merino family can be traced back to ewes from Spain and rams from the area that is now Morocco being crossbred during the 12th century. During the Middle Ages, Spain cornered the market on wool and outlawed the export of Merino sheep. Eventually the sheep did get around and came to the US in 1809. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, the Merino family is so prized because the fleece is very dense due to the larger numbers of wool follicles in the skin and the wool is very fine, ranging anywhere from 11 to 26 microns. What I found interesting is that there are many varieties within the Merino family and not all Merino wool has the same properties. Also, some varieties were bred to have extra-wrinkly skin since more wrinkles = more surface area = more wool. Crazy, huh?


The Merino I’m spinning is a fantastic soft brown color, called moorit (which means ‘reddish-brown’). It is, as might be expected, immensely soft. I love the feel of it between my fingers. There is clearly a good reason why this stuff is so popular. You know that phrase ‘it’s like buttah’? Well, it is. (Sidenote: I actually hate the feel of butter on my fingers. Who made up that saying anyway?)

You can see how the fiber just flows all soft and pretty-like, can’t you? It’s spinning up very finely and evenly, too, which is nice.There are things to consider, though, when working with Merino. Firstly, it has a relatively short staple length for wool, between 2-5 inches. This means that you have to pay attention while drafting, it’s easy to separate the fibers completely if you pull too much out too quickly without letting the twist grab and secure it. Secondly, whatever yarn you make with it will be prone to pilling. Pilling happens when the ends of the short fibers escape the twist of the yarn during friction and form little balls of wool on the surface of the fabric. Since Merino is very fine with a short staple, it can pill fairly easily if not spun tightly enough. However, many knitters and spinners the world over obviously think the softness and comfort of Merino wool to be worth it, as it is ubiquitous in the fiber world. What’s your favorite Merino yarn or fiber source?

SS: Grey Gotland

Apparently when I don’t superduperlove working with a fiber, I spin it with abandon and it flies off the spindle quite quickly!

This Icelandic wool was actually quite easy to spin. It drafted very well so there was not much spindle dropping with this one. However the fibers were very long and fly-away, which you can see in the photo above, and I didn’t love handling them.

The finished yarn did soften up more than I expected in the wash. This is one I’d be especially curious to see knitted up, I can’t quite picture what the fabric will look like. Perhaps I will start swatching all of  my Spinner’s Study breeds soon. Onto the next!

Photo from gotlandsheep.com.

According to the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, Gotland is another breed that is part of the Northern European Short-Tailed Family (the third that I’ve spun so far, the other two being Finnsheep and the Icelandic). It is a Swedish breed that is also developed in Britain, New Zealand, and North America, with different strains having different characteristics.

The F&FSB describes this wool as “unusual, resembling a fine mohair or an English luster longwool” with which I agree. The top I have has a very dense quality to it and when I start fluffing it up it feels softer and very silky. I think my favorite thing about it is the natural grey color, which is just lovely.

I’m still getting the hang of spinning it, drafting is a bit difficult due to the top’s denseness and the fiber’s silkiness, but it seems to be spinning up much like the Finnsheep and Icelandic breeds: on the less-fluffy-side with some ends sticking out. The staple length is usually between 3-7 inches and the fiber diameters vary, with fleeces from New Zealand averaging 27-34 microns and those in Britain being coarser, around 35 microns. Gotland spans the medium-coarse range but it has this really great luster that I am excited to see in the finished yarn.

Image from Stansborough shop.

Super fun fact: Gotland wool was used to make the elven cloaks and other costumes in The Lord of the Rings movies! If you’ve got about $730 lying around, you can even buy one of your own. The Stansborough farm in New Zealand has a pretty neat story, I encourage you to go read it. They’ve developed their own flock of “Stansborough Greys” from the Gotland sheep and now sell the wool and weave fabrics used for costuming in many movies. Who knew Hollywood was so authentic and eco-friendly, right? I hope whomever has those cloaks now makes good use out of them. They must be absolutely lovely.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here yet, but I’ve begun spinning some new fiber on my other spindle as well:


This is Polwarth wool from Woolgatherings in a great purple color. I have two braids of it and am planning to chain-ply it when I’m finished. This will probably be on the spindle for a while but should result in some very soft 3-ply DK/worsted-weight-ish yarn. Anything special occupying your spindle or wheel lately?

SS: Icelandic

I finished spinning up the fifth breed of my Spinner’s Study, Cormo:


I really love the feel of this one. The shorter staple length and fineness of the fiber made it a bit difficult to spin (lots of dropping!) and I seem to tend to spin more thinly when the fiber is fine so this skein looks like it has more yardage than the others, but I still loved the feel of it running through my fingers. The Cormo breed is top of my list for keeping on the future farm I dream about.

Here’s a family photo of the breeds I’ve finished so far:

L to R: Polwarth, Finnish, Black Jacob, Bluefaced Leicester, Cormo

I’m about a quarter of the way through, as long as I don’t keep adding breeds. 🙂 I really enjoy this little exercise. On to the next!

Photo from the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America webpage.

According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, the Icelandic breed descended from the sheep the Vikings brought with them when they settled in (you guessed it) Iceland around 900 A.D. The breed has developed in isolation since then because they made it illegal to import more sheep. Thus, that makes the Icelandic breed very genetically “pure” which is especially cool evolutionarily-speaking. The breed is a part of the Northern European Short-Tailed Family, like the Finnish wool I spun up earlier.

They are characterized by a naturally short tail, a dual-coated fleece, faces and legs that are free of wool, and apparently very tasty mild-flavored meat. The outercoat consists of long, strong fibers called tog and the undercoat consists of short, soft fibers called thel. Both types of fiber are used for spinning and they can be prepared to be spun together or separately.

The top I have appears to consist entirely of tog, the outer layer. The staple length is long, and can range from 4-18(!) inches. The micron count ranges from 27-31, landing this on the coarser side of the medium range. This is another fiber that feels more hair-like than wool-like, but it is still a true wool (meaning it contains crimp which makes it elastic), not a kemp or guard hair. This fiber drafts extremely easily and in that sense is a pleasure to spin. Despite that, I’m not a huge fan of how it spins up. Too many ends sticking out! Prickly-town, people!

Please excuse my messily-wound cop. I had just dropped it and things got all loose and crazy.

However, this could be a case where changing my spinning style would result in a more likeable yarn. I tend to grasp a handful of fiber, fluff it up with my fingers, fold it in half, and spin woolen-style “from the fold”. The F&F Sourcebook suggests spinning the tog fibers worsted-style for increased strength and probably to keep those pesky ends more in line.

As a quick refresher: woolen spinning means that the fibers are not perfectly aligned, they go in all sorts of directions trapping air between them and resulting in a fluffier yarn. Spinning from the fold creates this misalignment of fibers for me. Worsted spinning means that the fibers are lined up nice and straight before spinning and are spun end-to-end with little overlap, producing a denser and potentially smoother yarn.

How do you tend to spin?

SS: BFL Bonus!

When I placed my Phat-Fiber-didn’t-happen-consolation-prize order of 8 oz. of a merino/silk blend from Natchwoolie, I added a little 0.25 oz. sample of Bluefaced Leicester top because BFL was not one of the 16 breeds included in the Woolgatherings sampler pack that I’m basing my Spinner’s Study on and I’ve been itching to try it.

Yay, new fiber!

Since I had just finished the rainbow-tastic yarn that occupied my Golding spindle for months, I figured I’d spin up the bit of BFL fiber while it was free so we could have a little Spinner’s Study bonus! (The Cormo is still being spun on my other spindle.) Now, down to business.

What a nose on these guys! Photo from http://bflsheep.com/.

The Bluefaced Leicester breed (pronounced “Lester”, fyi, which sounds way better than the “Like-ester” way I was saying it in my head!) is part of the aptly named English Longwool family. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, they are a very old family that is likely descended from a breed brought to Britain from Ancient Rome and their wool is distinguished by its long staple length.

BFL wool has shorter staple lengths than the other breeds in this family (such as Border Leicesters and Leicester Longwools) but they still range from 3-6 inches in length. The micron count is between 24 and 28, on the finer side of the ‘medium’ range of softness. This fiber is devoid of any kemp or guard hairs (yay!) so it’s definitely soft, but its most striking feature is its shininess. It has almost a silky quality when spun with lots of luster. It drafts very easily and spins well, no complaints at all in that department.

Another neat thing about BFL wool is that it is relatively widely available in commercial yarn. It was the first non-Merino, non-“generic wool” yarn I’d ever used. Knitting with Merino and then knitting with BFL is a great lesson in how the properties of the breeds’ wool greatly affects the feel and behavior of the yarn. Where Merino is extremely elastic, bouncy, matte, and soft, BFL is more drapey, can be denser, and is usually shiny. It’s pretty neat to compare the two and I recommend you try it if you have the chance, keeping in mind that the way the yarn is spun affects its behavior as well.

I like my teensy skein of BFl! I’ll have to get more.

Well folks, that little bonus will have to hold you over for bit because as you’re reading this I’ve escaped to the woods for a much-needed weekend of unplugging from computers and reminding myself of my camp-lovin’ outdoorsy roots.

SS: Cormo

Yay for finished yarns!

Black Jacob

If you remember from my previous Spinner’s Study posts I wasn’t totally loving working with the Black Jacob wool. It wasn’t particularly soft and the long kemp hairs gave it a prickly hairy feel (rather than soft and woolly). However, you’ll notice that it did spin up rather evenly, which makes me happy. Onto the next breed, whose fleece is basically the polar opposite!

Photo from here.

Those fluffballs are Cormo sheep. The breed was developed in Tasmania, Australia by a shepherd who combined Corriedale rams and Merino ewes — hence, the name Cormo. They were brought to the U.S. in the mid-70’s. They are supposedly a very easy-to-care-for breed according to Apple Rose Farm in New Jersey:
        
       “Cormo sheep are an easy going, quiet group with strong flocking instincts. They have a high fertility and deliver twins without assistance. Cormos are hearty and do well on just grass. They are equally suited for the open rangelands and the suburban small farm. Cormo sheep were developed in Tasmania through careful genetic work to cull defects and produce a strong, hearty animal that can take hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters equally well.”
 
So obviously, I plan to have some in the future. 🙂

According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, their fleece is remarkably consistent because they are bred based on scientific analysis of the fleece. The fleece ranges between 17 and 23 microns, with 90% of it within 2 microns of the average (which is practically unheard of). If you’ll remember, a micron count that small lands Cormo squarely within the “fine” range. This is definitely soft stuff!

The staple length is shorter than the others I’ve worked with recently, between 3 and 5 inches, but on the long side for fleeces so fine. It is indeed incredibly soft, almost cashmere-like soft. Have you ever handled cashmere roving or yarn and felt like it sort of clung to your fingertips, almost sticky (but in a good way)? That’s how Cormo feels, which I’m attributing to its fineness. It also is not shiny at all, doesn’t have any luster, it’s a very dense, matte fiber.

The denseness and stickiness make it a tiny bit difficult to spin evenly, but it isn’t that bad. It’s not a very easy drafter, you have to tease apart the fiber quite a bit to get some air in there and then watch it carefully as you spin so that you don’t draft out too much at once. That said, I still really love it. It feels amazing and is spinning up fine. The FFSB recommends spinning it finely with plenty of twist and notes that after washing the yarn will bloom and plump up splendidly.

If you’re interested, you can buy already spun, undyed Cormo yarn in lovely natural shades at the Elsa Wool Company. I want some. Really badly. Hint, hint. 😉

Has anybody knit with Cormo yarn before?

SS: Black Jacob

I’ve finished another ounce of fiber for my Spinner’s Study!

I really like how the Finnish fiber spun up. It drafted smoothly and you can see the resulting yarn has a nice sheen to it, almost silky-looking. Here it is side-by-side with the first yarn I finished, Polwarth:

The Finnish has a smoother feel than the Polwarth, which has a snugglier, fuzzier feel.

 Now, on to the next breed: Jacob.

Image from the Jacob Sheep Breeders’ Association

What I think is probably the coolest thing about this breed is that the sheep are polycerate, or able to possess multiple sets of horns! They are also piebald, or spotted. Their fleeces contain white, brown, grey, and black natural colors. The Yarn Harlot made a beautiful gradient shawl from a Jacob fleece that she spun herself which you should check out. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook (see end of post), they are a conservation breed present in both Great Britain, where they are larger because they are bread for meat as well, and North America, where they are smaller and more traditional in appearance.

The sample I have is just the black portion of the fleece. It smells sheepier and feels greasier than the other breeds I’ve spun so far. The fiber has very little crimp and feels more hairy than wooly, in fact you can see long white kemp hairs in the fiber, which gives the spun yarn a rougher feel when those prickly ends stick out.

One important fact about Jacob wool is that it can vary wildly in quality both within and between fleeces. According to the FFSB, staple length ranges from 3-7 inches and the micron count can be anywhere between 25 and 35 microns, so the wool definitely reaches the coarser end of the spectrum. While spinning it drafts fairly easily, though sometimes the longer staple length of the fiber makes it difficult for me to pull it apart smoothly. This one doesn’t rank near the top of my favorite breeds to spin but it has still been fun to spin something that isn’t white for a change. 🙂

Source:

SS: Finnish

Before I begin discussing the second breed of my spinner’s study, let me show you the first breed I spun and finished: Polwarth.

I decided I’m going to spin each 1 oz bunch of fiber separately, so at the end I will have 16 little mini skeins. This plan works better than spinning them in one long skein for logistical reasons and also because I’m impatient and like finishing my yarn. 🙂

You can see in the close-up view that 1) I’m still spinning thick-and-thin and 2) the twist is not evenly distributed. There are little kinky bits in there amongst the fluff. I haven’t spun a singles yarn before, so I think maybe with the next batch I will put a little less twist in. When you ply two or more singles together you want a lot of twist because during plying you lose some of that extra twist, but if you leave it as singles the extra twist becomes little kinks. Lesson learned! Onwards.

Image from the American Finnsheep Breeder’s Association

This is a Finnish sheep, a.k.a. Finnsheep or Finnish Landrace Sheep, with her four adorable lambs. In other breeds, ewes tend to have just one or two lambs, but the Finnsheep are quite prolific and can have up to eight babies! Maybe there should be a reality TV show in the works for those extra-prolific ewes.

The breed originates in Finland as one of several breeds grouped into the Northern European Short-Tailed Family in the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. Some of its cousins are breeds that have gone feral living on remote islands, which is pretty neat. It seems to be fairly well-established as a breed raised in North America. I found the book’s description of their wool as “often described as silky, is more sleek than fluffy” to be entirely accurate.

The fibers have a subtle crimp and come off the bunch in long, smooth strips. Staple length is supposed to be 3-6 inches, to my hands it feels like the top I have leans towards the longer side. The average micron count is 24-31 microns, which falls solidly into the ‘medium’ range wools. Though this stuff is not as soft and fluffy as Merino or Polwarth, it is certainly not rough and has a sleekness to it that I like.

I am getting a really nice consistent single with this fiber, I think because it is incredibly easy to draft. The silkyness helps the fibers slide past one another and they seem to automatically draft out evenly. It’s really a pleasure to work with and would probably be great for beginners, it reminds me a bit of the Coopworth wool that came with my spindle starter kit from Golding. All those little ends sticking out have the potential to up the prickly factor, but if loosely spun then it hopefully probably won’t be too bad.

So there’s our second breed! I’m really enjoying myself with this spinning study, I hope you are, too.

In other news, some jerkwad in the postal system stole the scarf I made for my mom out of the first really pretty yarn I spun. I sent it to her for Mother’s Day and the package arrived a week late, empty, and all taped up! Crazy, right? People really stink sometimes.