Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Rare Breed Fleece Exchange Part 1


One of the yahoogroups that I belong to will frequently come up with exchanges for group members. This can be as varied as finished scarves, froghair or in this case, fleece samples from breeds considered by the ALBC as Critical, Rare, Under Watch, or Recovering. Spin-Off has listed these breeds as well.

Critical: CVM/Romeldale, Gulf Coast Native, Hog Island, and Santa Cruz.

Rare: Cotswold, Jacob, Karadul, Leicester Longwool, Navajo-Churro, St. Croix, Tunis, Wiltshire Horn.

Watch: Barbados Blackbelly, Dorset Horn, Lincoln, Oxford, Soay.

Recovering: Black Welsh Mountain, Clun Forest, Katahdin, Shetland,
Shropshire, Southdown.

Spinners may express surprise to see some of the breeds they are very familiar with on the lists. That is because these breeds are often raised in small flocks for the hand spinning market, or in interest of maintaining the breed.

The exchange requested a clean sample of fleece or roving. Each participant chose a breed, mostly based of availability to them and their stash.
What I chose to do with the samples is similar to how I have been handling the other fleeces for my breed notebook. This means I carded some of the sample, or combed some, or did both, depending on the amount available. If there was a larger amount of fiber, I did the spinning on my Roberta electric wheel. If there was only a small amount of fiber, I used a drop spindle to sample it.

California Variegated Mutant

This was the fleece I chose to use as my sample in the exchange. I had purchased roving at the Michigan Fiber Festival and had spun some of it for a pair of socks. The roving is soft, light gray with occasional brown highlights. Since I only had roving though, I contacted several breeders for raw fleece.

I have to admit when contacting the breeders I found out I was confused about the CVM term. It is applied specifically to the badger coloration that Romeldale sheep can produce. I am still trying to get a Romeldale fleece from a breeder so I can compare.

The CVM fleece I received had a staple of 4-5 inches. It had many open crimped locks, and the color was a light shade of grey with brown tips. I washed the fleece using both the lock method to maintain some in locks, and the rest loose in my sink. It did not seem like a high lanolin fleece. However, I noticed when I got the fleece back, after two months, that it was definitely sticky. I was disappointed to discover this. It means my water is probably not hot enough, or that orvis is not working to remove the lanolin. I think I will start boiling water and adding that to the soak, for fleeces from now on.

My exchange included a small sample skein spun from the roving. The yarn was a 16 WPI 2 ply. I also included a small bag of washed fiber and a small bag of washed locks.

I combed the washed fiber on small two tine combs, and even being a little sticky, it pulled off fine. I spun the sample top on a drop spindle, and had a 17 WPI 2 ply yarn.

I spun the washed locks on the Roberta. This also was not that bad to spin, even though it felt a little sticky. The single seemed very very thin, but when I plied it, I still had a 15 WPI 2 ply yarn. That shows just how much this yarn will poof when allowed to relax into the ply. I did notice that I plied pretty loose, a habit I have formed plying on the Roberta. If I had allowed a tighter twist in the ply, I may have found that I had a thinner yarn.


The sample sent for this breed was a white tightly compacted roving. I predrafted heavily and spun my sample skein on the Roberta. I could tell the roving (it may have been top, it was not marked) consisted of short staple fibers. I spun at a very slow speed, and used a long draft zone. I was aiming for a loose spun thick single. I ended up with a 10 WPI 2 ply yarn.

Just spinning from a processed fiber is nice, but not very informative to the characteristics of the breed. I also had raw wool in the collection of breed samples that I have been working on. My notes from that follow.

This washed fleece is very primitive looking. It reminds me more of mohair than wool. It had very dark brown areas, tan areas, and light brown areas. The colors all side by side were a nice color combination. I divided into groups of like colors. The fiber was long and had no crimp.

Combing: The fiber did not like to be combed. It was very hard to pull off and the top felt very wiry. The colors were much more blended. I did a tan/silver sample skein, and a rich red/brown color. Both were spindle spun into a two ply yarn. I found that I could spin this best with the park and draft method, maybe the spindle was too heavy for the top.

Carding: I have two sets of cards, a coarse tooth and a fine tooth. I used the coarse tooth set to card the fiber and it really made a lovely batt. I only carded once, and the colors were swirled rather than blended. The batt benefited with being predrafted and then I could spindle spin the regular way, not park and draft. I think the singles got over spun, because when I went to ply, I found I did not have to even spin the spindle in the opposite direction. I just let out the two singles and the spindle would twist in the plying direction. I found this very fascinating to watch. I really loved the yarn from this sample. The dark brown had no hint of black, it was just a rich walnut brown.

I spun the carded fiber on the Roberta. I used what I call my wacky long draw. I can not do a true long draw on the electric, there is too much pull in with the Irish tension. So I put the fiber over my right index finger, and my left hand pulls back on the fiber. There is no pinch on the fiber, and the twist runs along toward my left hand until I finally let it all wind on and start over. The VM just dropped out while I was spinning but the occasional nub still made bumps in the yarn. The card color of the fiber was not tweedy but mottled. I was full of ideas of rugs to make while spinning this lovely yarn.

The sample submitted for Shetland was a beautiful gray colored lamb’s fleece that had been processed into roving. There was a sample skein of a 3 ply yarn, that just begged to be a sweater. There was only a small amount of roving, so I did not spin any of this sample.

I had other samples of Shetland in the Breed sampler pack, and the notes from that are as follows:

The fleece looked a deep chocolate brown color with a lot of white and black hairs dispersed throughout. It showed the doubled coated nature of the breed. Interestingly, the color of the carded batts and the top looked black, which meant the brown must have been more of the color of the tips of the fleece.

Carding: I used my fine tooth combs, and this produced fair looking batts. The batts had little intregity, like the fibers were so short, the batts almost fell apart. I spun the batts on the Roberta. I could see two distinct fibers feeding off the batts, a very soft black, and a courser gray to almost white. They looked like guard hairs, but were still soft. The yarn was surprisingly not very springy, compared to the feel of the unspun fiber. My 2 ply skein was 15 WPI in what I would consider very nice sock yarn.

Combing: The small combs worked very nicely, a springy top pulled off easily. The waste was very full of neps, which surprised me, since I really didn’'t see that many when spinning the carded batts.

Dizing: I have heard that Shetland is one of the fleeces that can be spun very fine. I have very little skill in fine spinning and decided to practice on that with this combed sample. One of the things I had been wanting to try, was using the diz. I had always heard that you diz straight from the comb, and with hand held combs, I could not figure out how that could be done. So I took the top that I had just pulled off the comb, and put it through the diz in a separate step. I used the diz that was sent with the combs. This is a curved piece of plastic, probably cut from a milk jug. There was a pin hole in the center. I looked at that and laughed outloud, just how was I going to even get fiber into it! I finally managed to get a few threads of fiber wetted enough to go through. Then I started working the top gently through that hole. I held the top in my left hand behind the diz, tensioned with my small and ring finger. I was also holding the diz in my left hand, between my thumb and second finger. I then pulled the top with my right hand gently through the pin hole. It slide through easily, and amazingly was the size that I would call pencil roving. From a pinhole! I would have to stop now and then and rearrange the top in my left hand, straighten it out and such. I measured the top before it went through the diz, and I had about 2.5 yards of a 1.5 inch wide top. After going through the diz, it was about 18 yards of a 3/8 inch top. Amazing.

I spun this thinned out top on the Roberta. I had it set with no tension at all, because the bobbin drive band still creates a strong pull in. I set the speed dial to around 10 oclock. Even thinned out like it was, I still drafted some while spinning. And there was still the occasional slub, how did that get through the pinhole! I left the singles on the bobbin for several days, as is often advised when dealing with plying very fine yarn. The singles were 37 WPI, the finest I have spun on the Roberta. I noticed they were underspun and could have had more twist. The 22 yard skein of 2 ply was 23 WPI and a beautiful yarn.


The sample for this fleece was an off white roving. It was dry feeling, but pleasantly soft and spongy and not the least bit itchy. I split the roving in half lengthwise and then drafted it to about twice the length. It was very nice to spin, clean and no nubs. I spun it on the Roberta, and probably got it a little overspun. The yarn was not as soft as the roving. The 20 yard 2 ply skein was 15 WPI.

There is a review of the raw fleece of this breed in my blog entry from Oct 14th, 2003.


The sample submitted for this breed was a silky feeling top. I had heard Wensleydale called the poor man’s mohair, and I felt that this was just like that. I also read someone else saying the same thing, and adding that Teeswater fleece has a finer hand to it, than Wensleydale. This top looked very much like mohair and even silk top, without that stick to your fingers problem that one has with silk. It was not as soft as silk though.

I only had the top to spin for this sample. I spun it like I would spin silk on my Roberta. The tension band was completely loosened and the speed was set high. I split the roving in half lengthwise and while I was spinning I would still travel back and forth across the width of the roving. There are times when I am spinning a fiber at this high twist that I feel like I am holding on for dear life, or it will go whisking away from me. It amazingly doesn’t break. And yet when I would slacken the fiber, I could see that the single was not holding the twist even at that high speed. The singles were 25 WPI and the sample skein turned out to be a whopping 39 yards of a 14 WPI 2 ply. The yarn had a much softer feel to it than I had expected.

Black Welsh Mountain US lineage

The sample for this breed was a deep black color, one of it’s most endearing characteristics. The fiber is very short and is not soft.

Combing: I could not comb this fiber at all. It came off in such short puffs that I did not think I could spin.

Carding: I like the way this fiber cards. My fine tooth carders produced a bouncy batt. I spun these batts on my Roberta, using a moderate speed and a very loosely held drafting zone. I tried for an even yarn, as opposed to a thin yarn. My singles where 15 WPI so my 15 yard skein was a thick 8 WPI 2 ply.

I have worked with this fiber before and think it will be wonderful knitted loosely and heavily felted into clogs or purses. The black makes a perfect background for needle felted pictures also.

Black Welsh Mountain UK lineage with US lines

One of the things the person submitting these BWM samples wanted to show was the difference between these lines of breeding. And it was very interesting to feel the two fibers and know there was a difference.

This sample of washed fleece was very black, in open undefined locks. It was definitely softer than the above sample.

Combing: This was the most amazing difference between the two samples. This fiber took to combs beautifully. It did look longer in staple and I am sure that is part of the difference. The resulting top was wonderful to spin. I used a medium weight drop spindle and the resulting yarn was the nicest BWM yarn I have ever seen. The 12 yard skein was a 20 WPI 2 ply.

Carding: This sample also carded nicely. The batt was just as lofty as the above sample, but had more integrity and less short spikey fibers. There were also fewer neps in the batt. I also spun this on a drop spindle, and the 12 yard sample skein was 13 WPI 2 ply.

This brings me to the half way point of the sampler. I am going to post this for tonight, and write up the other half next week. I am taking a break from the computer over the weekend.


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