switching it up

One of the best parts of spinning wool is getting to experiment with all the different breeds. There are so many! These days it’s easy to get your hands on a wide variety of breeds, plus there are many great resources of information about them. I thought this fall would be a great time to introduce some new breeds into my line of hand-dyed combed top.

If you’ve been to my booth in the last year, you have seen the basket of little wool balls next to the counter. These 1 ounce balls are great for all sorts of projects, beginner spinners, and felters alike. Initially this was a Corriedale-cross, but I didn’t have much information to give when customers asked about it. This led me to switching to Cheviot, a wool with similar texture and quality.

checkout

Another breed that has been replaced (at least for now) is the Falkland wool. While it is a very popular fiber for spinners, but I thought it was time to try something new. I had the opportunity to purchase a bump of organic Polwarth, a breed similar to Falkland and one of its contributing founders. It is incredibly soft — a characteristic that is high on the priority list for many of you. Also, I added Targhee, the first domestically grown combed top I have had the chance to purchase. I find this wool to be incredibly spongy, so it will have great elasticity and bounce. Both will be available in September at A Wool Gathering in Yellow Springs, OH.

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Interested in learning more about these new breeds? Read a bit about their history and distinguishing characteristics. The following  information has been taken from the supplier’s website.

Cheviot Wool top is a beautiful natural white color. The micron count is between 27-33 and average staple length is approximately 4 to 5 inches. The wool top is open without being slippery making it an excellent wool for beginner spinners. Cheviot is a main British wool breed. They originated in the Cheviot Hills on the border of England and Scotland. They were referred to as the Border Cheviot and are the foundation stock for the Brecknock and the North Country Cheviots. This hardy breed can withstand harsh environments and are known for being great mothers.

cheviot
Photo from North Country Cheviot Sheep Society

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Targhee is a domestically grown wool that is processed in the United States. The Targhee breed was developed at the Experimental Sheep Station in Dubois, Idaho in the mid 1900’s.  The foundation stock were ewes of Rambouillet, Corriedale, and Lincoln bloodlines bred back to Rambouillet rams.  Approximately 23/23.5 microns.

Targhees
Photo from Raisingsheep.net

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100% Certified Organic Polwarth Wool comes from the Falkland Islands. The wool was selected from two family farms on the islands and measures an incredible 22 microns. The fleeces were processed in the UK. Sheep that are raised organically are not subject to mulesing, and they are not dipped for pesticides. In addition, the number of sheep allowed to graze in any give pasture area is limited to the natural carrying capacity of the land. And as with most wool that comes from the Falklands, it is very white. Noted for its elasticity, durability it is still considered a delicate fiber with bounce and drape.

The Polwarth sheep was developed in Australia by breeding Merino rams to Lincoln/Merino ewes so the foundation stock is 75% Merino/25% Lincoln. The Polwarth sheep were developed to make a dual purpose sheep with a finer wool that would contribute a more significant portion of the ranchers income. They are a hearty breed of sheep that can be found in climates that are considered too wet or cold for Merino sheep. The Polwarth breed has both polled and horned sheep. The most common is the polled. They are a large sheep with a high yielding fleece (between 8 – 13 lb fleeces).

polwarth1
Photo from New Zealand Sheepbreeders’ Association

three bags full

“Where do you get your fleeces?” It’s a question I am often asked after, “Do you have your own sheep?” And since the answer to that question is no, the next one is logical.

So where do they come from? Most often I pick them up when I’m at a fiber show. I always check out the fleece sale and/or competition if they have one. You just walk up and down between tables covered in fleeces. What more could you ask for? I got two gorgeous fleeces at the Rhinebeck sale last year. And since we aren’t going this year, I emailed both farms about having them shipped to me. Both said they would send samples of their current year’s fleeces. So, now I have found something I love and established a connection with a farm (in New York). One great thing about buying fleeces from a competition is that they are usually skirted and tend to be cleaner, since they are competing. A negative: sometimes the price per pound seems higher. My thought on that: I am getting something that is totally usable instead of paying for poop.

If nothing at the fleece sale speaks to me, I check out what the vendors have. Most fiber shows are attended by farmers/shepherds in addition to yarn shops, so it’s a good time to meet the people who work with the sheep. Last year at the Great Lakes Fiber Show I met Fred. He has a flock of Shetland sheep here in Ohio. I purchased Lily’s beautiful grey fleece and had it processed into roving. This year I returned to his booth, found out he remembered me, and bought two more fleeces. I got Lily’s again and Violet’s. Learning more about where the sheep come from makes it that much more special.

Under normal circumstances I always try to buy fleeces and fiber in person. However, there are times when I am running low and I need something now. That is when I turn to the internet. This winter/spring I bought a fleece through a Ravelry group called Fleece Market. It came from a farm in Iowa and had the most incredible crimp I’ve ever seen. And just a few weeks ago I bought three fleeces from a farm in Virginia, Digging Dog Farm. I had heard about them from Ashley Martineau, inquired, and ended up finding a source for really great fiber.

Sometimes you get crap. It happens. Maybe you didn’t dig deep enough into the bag before you bought it. You find it so full of vegetable matter that it would be impossible to clean, or it’s full of second cuts, or the quality of the fiber is just poor. Next look a little closer before you buy and you’ll start to figure out what you want in a fleece.

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At Woolfest last weekend I picked up a total of three fleeces. Two were from the Farmpark fleece sale, one from a sheep that lives at the park and one from an employee of the park who keeps sheep. The other came from another vendor selling fleeces.

The Farmpark has an incredibly varied selection of breeds. I bought a 5 pound Finnsheep fleece for $5/lb. I was surprised how clean it was, but it had a lot of second cuts. While I had it laid out, I picked up the sides and shook it to help loosen the unwanted little pieces. I also picked many of them out by hand. Still not sure if I’m going to have this one processed or work on it myself.

Finn
Breed: Finnsheep. 5 lbs. Kirtland, OH.

The other fleece that came from the Farmpark sale actually isn’t a park animal. The sheep, Stewart, belongs to one of the park employees. She has a flock of Jacobs and brought her fleeces to sell. I’ve worked with Jacob a little, but never a whole fleece’s worth. Also, I don’t think I’ve encountered any quite as soft as this one. It was 3.5 lbs at $16. Not sure again whether I’ll get this processed. It’s rather small to start with, so I’m afraid I wouldn’t get much back.

Stewart
Stewart. Breed: Jacob. 3.5 lbs. Ohio.

The third fleece I bought is a Corriedale/Border Leicester cross from a farm in Ohio. I bought it Friday night from a vendor before the show started. It is a hefty 8.5 lbs and I didn’t quite realize how long the staple length was until I got it out to skirt. Wowzer! This is the longest staple I’ve ever worked with. Now I know why the fleece was so heavy… I kind of couldn’t help myself from washing some these locks. You know, just to see. I’ll be laying the out to dry when I’ve finished here. It’s just so substantial I can’t quite wrap my head around it!

Orange
Breed: Corriedale/Border Leicester cross. 8.5 lbs. Medina, OH.