I have finished all of the samples of different sheep breeds that I purchased several years ago and am working on writing up the notes I took while spinning them. Below are the notes on breeds that are commonly available both as meat sheep and spinner's fleece flocks. There is no particular order to the list, it is just written as it appears in my notebook. It is by no means complete as to all of the breeds, it is just what was included in the 20 samples of fiber that I purchased.
The sample was a very white fleece with open, nondistinct locks. I know this breed is dual coated, but that was not at all obvious when just looking at the sample.
Combing and Carding: My small handheld combs passed easily through the fiber, but I found it very difficult to pull top off of the combs, even when I pulled just the smallest amount of fiber. For carding, I used my fine tooth carders on the waste from the combs, but found that the batt did not hold together well. It seems that Icelandic would do best with no more prep that washing the locks, removing the outer coat and spinning from the locks. I could not really do that with this sample, I just could not see any difference in the fibers.
Combed top: This wanted to be spun with a very long draw. The fiber felt very harsh but the resulting yarn was very smooth with a slight halo. The 14 yard skein measured 15 WPI.
Carded batt: This was nice to spin and gave a soft puffy yarn of an off white color. The 12 yard skein measured 15 WPI.
Even though I could not see any evidence of the two coats in the fiber sample, it became very obvious that they were present after I combed the sample. What happened during combing was I pulled the harsh outer coat (thiel) off leaving the softer tog. So the yarn from the combed top was shiny and harsh and the yarn from the carding was the softness of the tog.
This washed sample of fiber was in very tight clumps of short white fleece. Occasionally a lock was visable but most of it was in clumps. The staple appeared to be about 2 inches in length and the fiber has a cottony feel.
Combing: The fiber combed easily with my small handheld combs. A large amount of waste was left on the combs when I pulled off the top. The waste was very full of neps and clumps and was not really good enough to use.
Carding: I did not like the way this fiber carded. I tried both my wide tooth cards and my fine tooth ones. Neither set of cards would produce a batt that held together. Also there was a large amount of neps in the fiber, which was carded right into the batts.
Combed top: Here again was a fleece that showed a big difference spinning combed and carded top. The combed top was wonderful to spin, drafting easily. The fiber and the yarn had a nice spring to it. My only observation is that I had trouble joining new pieces of top while I was spinning. Also in spite of the easy drafting, occasionally I would hit a thick area of the top, and it just would not thin out. So I did not get the usual consistently thin yarn that I often get with top. My sample skein of 2 ply measured 16 WPI.
Carded batts: Very soft fiber, but very neppy. At first I was having a very difficult time spinning the batts. I tried on my Roberta first, and could not get a good draft going. I tried on a drop spindle, but ended up with a very lumpy yarn that I did not like. I took the time to really predraft the batt to very thin, and then spun that on the Roberta and I was able to get a yarn that I liked. It was still very thick/thin, but consistently so. The 15 yard skein measured 10 WPI.
The washed sample of fiber was a very white color, with only a slight yellowing to the tips. The locks were open with a wide wavy crimp measuring about 6 inches long. The fiber felt rough to the hand.
Combing and Carding: I combed all of the sample fiber and used the comb waste in the carded batts. The combed top was slightly stiff with a nice luster in it's appearance. The comb waste carded nicely into batts, with very little neps or VM in the fiber.
Combed top: I spun this on my Roberta electric and found it to be an easy fiber to spin. I did have trouble making joins, the slicker fiber not wanting to 'catch' like it usually does when I make joins. The 18 yard skein measured 14 WPI and had an itchy feel to it.
Carded batts: I spun this sample on several different drop spindles. A medium weight spindle worked best. This is a very good fiber and fiber prep for beginning spinners, it works well with the 'park and draft' method of spinning. All of my samples skeins ended up very bulky and loosely plied.
Finally a colored sample of fiber! This washed fleece was a dark brown color with sun bleached tips. There was very few intact locks, and the staple measured around 3 inches. The fiber is soft to the touch and very springy, from the high crimp.
Combing and Carding: This sample was almost impossible to comb with my hand combs. What I did comb came off in very short puffs, I could not pull a connected top at all. The fiber did better with hand cards although not the fine tooth cards, just the wide tooth cards. It did make a nice lofty batt.
Combed top: What little sample I had made a lovely lace yarn. It was very hard to draft with anything but an inchworm short draw. My sample skein was only 6 yards of 2 ply but measured a nice 19 WPI.
Carded batts: This did not spin as well as I had expected. It was very hard to get a smooth yarn, and the VM would not just drop out as I was spinning, like other fibers. I would live with the bumpy yarn though because of the lovely brown color, and because the wool was very soft to the touch. I spun a large 35 yard skein that measured 13 WPI.
This washed sample of fiber was in long loosely crimped locks. The fiber had been picked apart after washing so there were no intact locks left. The color was off white.
Combing and Carding: The fiber was easy to prep with both combs and hand cards. The combs produced a crisp feeling top that was medium soft to touch. The cards produced a fluffy batt with very few neps.
Combed top: Very lovely to spin, drafts easily and spun into a smooth yarn that fluffed up more than usual for top. My 12 yard sample skein measured 11 WPI.
Carded batts: I discovered that the nice fluffy batts were not easy to spin. The fibers seemed too tangled to draft easily, even with predrafting. My 2 ply sample skein measured 11 WPI. It surprised me that I got the same WPI in both yarns, when one was so much easier to draft.
This sample looked just like all of the classic Romney fleeces I have seen. The loosely crimped locks were open and showed some luster. The fiber was medium soft to the hand, off white in color with slight yellow staining at the tips.
Combing and Carding: Both types of prep work very well for this fiber. The combs go through the fiber easily, although the top was slightly difficult to pull from the combs. The carding produces nice fluffy batts. The two preparations look almost similar, except the carded batts still contain the VM that falls out when the fiber is combed.
Combed top: Very easy to spin producing a thin yarn with a halo, unlike most combed tops. The yarn was still scratchy. I thought this would be a lovely fiber to use when making crewel or needlepoint yarn. You could get a nice thin 2 ply yarn, and the luster in the fiber would make any dyeing look wonderful.
Carded batts: It becomes very obvious why this is a great fiber for those that are learning to spin. The fiber in the batts drafts easily, and the wool has a great 'grabbing' ability, when making joins. The only thing I observed is that the VM was not just falling out of the drafting zone as will often happen when I am spinning. I also noticed it takes a higher amount of twist than I expected, probably another reason it is good for beginner spinners! My 2 ply sample skein was 13 yards and bulky at only 10 WPI. The yarn felt scratchy to the hand, and had a larger halo than the combed top skein.
Blue Face Leicester
This washed sample of fiber was in tiny corkscrew dreadlocks. The locks had lots of sheen and were very soft. The tips were bad on all of the locks, so I removed them by just tugging on the tip and pulling it off.
Combing and Carding: This was a hard sample to process with my home hand tools. If I bought a whole fleece like this I would send it to a commercial processor. I could not get the tiny locks to open with my combs, so I had to open each lock before putting it on the combs. There was a large amount of waste on the combs after combing, but I was able to pull some top from half of the sample. The fiber carded nice but the batts still contained a high amount of neps.
Combed top: Again this fleece proved the value of combing a neppy fiber even if it is a large amount of work compared to carding. There was a difference of night and day between spinning the combed top and carded fiber. This top was lovely to spin and the resulting yarn was very soft with just a slight halo. I only had a 6 yard skein of 2 ply from my combing, which measured 14 WPI.
Carded batts: I would not consider spinning this type of fiber normally, as the resulting yarn was so bumpy it was unattractive. It was full of neps that could not be removed while spinning. I got so tired of trying to pull them out, that I just spun the batts up with the neps in it. The yarn was very soft but too full of neps and VM to be of any use. My sample skein was 11 yards of a single which I didn't even bother to measure WPI.
I have spun over a pound of BFL commercially prepared top and it makes a lovely soft yarn, although the above skein from my combed top did feel softer to me. This was just a good learning experience that I do not want to home process BFL and so will not buy that type of raw fleece.
This washed sample of fiber was mostly in open puffs, having been picked open after washing. The few intact locks in the sample were open with a wavy crimp. The color was white with a slight discoloring to the tips.
Combing and Carding: Of the two processes, this fiber is better when carded. It combed easily enough, but unless I pulled very carefully the top would come off in short bursts, not a continuous top. The hand cards made very nice batts, especially if I took the time to card the fiber twice.
Combed top: I spun this on a meduim weight spindle, and it was really nice to spin. The fiber does not work well with the park and draft method, it needs a continuous draft with the spindle. My 7 yard 2 ply skein was 16 WPI and had a lovely feel to it, not exactly soft but pleasant.
Carded batts: I was surprised to find so many neps in the batts as I was spinning, I did not see them while carding. I used a long open drafting zone on my Roberta and did not try to spin it thin. The 2 ply skein was a generous 28 yards that measured 14 WPI. The yarn was creamed color and has a very crisp pleasant feel to it. I liked both of the skeins, with just the right amount of uneveness to look handspun, and the perfect balance of crispness with softness to the feel.
This washed sample of fiber was in wide, open wavy locks with little crimp. It was cream colored with some yellow on the tips. The was a light luster look to the locks, and they felt slightly scratchy.
Combing and Carding: I found that this fiber combed best when the combs were very loaded with fiber, unlike many of the fibers I comb which did best with just a small amount on the combs. I could not really pull off a connected top, just large puffs of fiber. The waste was very short and not usable. The open locks carded into nice batts with just one carding, although I had to deal with lots of static, so this fiber is best dealt with in humid conditions (or premoistened slightly before carding)
Combed top: This was very nice to spin. I was drafting very thin and thought I would be getting a thin yarn, but the 2 ply measurements surprised me by only being 13 WPI. The skein was 12 yards. There is a good slick feel to the yarn with little fuzz, so it would work wonderfully for a crewel work yarn or warp for rugs. I really liked the off white color of the skein, it looked like an antique white. This skein was balanced when I released the tension, unlike the carded batt skein.
Carded batts: This was also very enjoyable to spin, the fiber drafts easily and the fiber has a pleasant feel to my fingers as I spun. The yarn was thick and bouncy and surprisingly softer than I expected. My skein of 2 ply measured 10 WPI and was not balanced when I released the tension, so I did overspin or overply. I imagine that would be corrected with a soak in hot water, but I did not wash any of my sample skeins since the fiber was already clean.
This sample was supposedly washed, but it was a dirty looking white. The locks were very short, tightly crimped and non distinct. There was a soft cottony feel to the fiber. When I picked open the locks, there was a distinct sticky feel of lanolin, so the washing had not removed all of the lanolin.
Combing and Carding: I could not comb this sample. I do not know if it was due to the shortness of the locks, or the residual lanolin. But it was very hard to pull any top off of the combs. Carding was fairly easy and produced nice batts, although again the fact the fleece was not clean did affect the quality of the batts. If this had been a larger sample, I would have washed half of it to see the difference, but did not try and split up such a small sample.
Combed top: There was very little to spin so I used a medium weight spindle and made a 3 yard 2 ply yarn that surprised me by measuring 18 WPI.
Carded batts: The stickiness of the fiber made it hard to draft and the yarn was dirty looking. Looking back now as I write this, I should have tried heating the yarn in the microwave for a short few seconds and see if that helped the drafting. I know this is a trick spinners use when they are trying to spin 'in the grease'. My sample skein was spun on my Roberta and was 22 yards of 2 ply that measured 14 WPI.
This sample was very white with a soft cottony feel. The few intact locks were tightly crimped. Most of the fiber had been picked apart after washing. The fiber was very clean and not felted with surprised me, as I know cormo is hard to wash at home and remove all of the lanolin.
Combing and Carding: This was a wonderful fiber to comb. I had to watch and not overload the combs. If just the right amount of fiber was put on the combs I could pull off a continuous top. Too much or too little and I would only be able to pull short bursts of top. I saved the comb waste for carding with the batts, even though it seemed high in neps. I had to watch and not overload the hand cards also. If I got the right amount on the carders, I got a nice batt, and many of the neps popped to the top of the fiber on the cards and could be pulled off before doffing the batt from the card.
I took the time to diz the combed top. I did not do this while the fiber was on the comb, but after I had pulled off the top. I took the top and started several fibers through the pinhole diz and just pulled the entire top into a much thinner longer top this way. I had about five yards of top when I started but I did not measure the diz top, it was much too thin to be handled while measuring.
Combed diz top: This was absolutely wonderful to spin. I had to put a cardboard box lid on my lap to keep the fiber from sticking to me, because keeping the fiber free flowing was very important while spinning it. I found my drafting area was thinning this already thin top by about half, so I was spinning very thin for me. It is hard to make joins when it is this thin. The join has to start far up from the end, and be very thinnly added so the yarn does not show thickened areas in the joins. My single measured 35 WPI and I was able to make that top spin into a whopping 30 yard skein of 2 ply that measured 22 WPI. The yarn looked like wonderful lace weight while under tension, but as soon as it was released from the niddy noddy, it looked like sock weight, it puffed that much.
Carded fiber: I found out the comb waste really was not worth saving, even though it felt fine to my hand, it was full of neps and made a very lumpy yarn. In the spirit of 'waste not, want not' I think I would take this type yarn, and make washcloths. The bumps should be nice scrubbing feel to them, and the yarn is definately next to the skin soft. My 2 ply 12 yard skein measured 12 WPI.
Lock Spinning: I had saved 18 intact locks from the sample to try lock spinning. I opened each lock with a metal tooth dog comb, combing from middle out at both ends. The locks were easy to spin, and always surprise me by just completely disappearing into spun yarn. The resulting yarn measured the same as the combed top, a pleasant surprise, since if one can lock spin the same type yarn, why bother with all of the processing? My 7 yard sample of 2 ply measured 22 WPI.
This sample was not well marked and I purchased it way back when I was not labelling very well. By the markings on the bag, I think it may have been a polypay/karakul cross.
I purchased this sample raw, so I had to wash it. The long open wavy locks were very dirty and canary stained in various areas of the locks. The dirt washed out easily but the tips remained somewhat matted and dirty. The fiber washed clean with no stickiness with just regular hotwater heater temperature water.
Combing and Carding: The locks were just a bit too long for both the combs and carders. The combs went through the fiber fine, but the top was hard to pull off. I would get one good pull of top and then the rest were short burst, telling me there was a wide varience in the lengths of fibers in the locks. The locks did open up and card on the hand cards but the longer length made it harder to card.
Combed top: This spins wonderfully just like all top. The yarn was a smooth, crisp 2 ply. The 10 yard sample measured 14 WPI.
Carded batts: These were nice to spin, drafting easily with a soft feel to the fiber. There was not much loft to the yarn though, which surprised me for carded batts. The canary staining on the fiber blended into the yarn to give the skein a nice antique white color. My 13 yards of 2 ply yarn measured 16 WPI. This is one of the few times I found that the carded fiber gave a thinner yarn than the combed top.
This was another sample of fiber I purchased just because I had not seen the breed's fleece. The fiber was raw and in short, moderately crimpy locks. The locks all fell apart when washed probably because the fiber was very dirty and took two washes and three rinses to come clean.
Combing and Carding: This fiber was very hard to comb. The combs did not want to pass through the fiber, the VM did not fall or comb out as usually happens with combs, and the top was hard to pull off of the combs. Enough said about that! Before I tried the hand carders, I decided to pick the fiber apart. I found it was very hard to pick apart, not because it was sticky with lanolin, just because the fibers had become very tangled in the washing process. I am very careful when I wash fleece, little agitation beyond moving the handfuls of fiber from wash to rinse water. So the tangling surprised me. I noticed while picking the fiber that it has a very cottony feel to it, and I think that is what was causing the tangling. The VM would not fall out when picking. I did card the fiber with my fine tooth hand cards, twice, but still was not very happy with the resulting batts.
Combed top: This produced the better skein of the two processes, but it was hard to spin and I consider not worth the work, even though the resulting yarn is next to the skin soft. It would be interesting to spin commercially processed fiber from this breed, to see if that would take care of so many of these problems. My small 5 yard skein puffed alot once released from tension and measured 14 WPI in the 2 ply.
Carded batts: This also was not fun to spin, in spite of the soft hand, it somehow just does not feel like 'wool' to me. My sample skein was spun on my Roberta, and the 8 yard skein of 2 ply lumpy yarn measured 9 WPI.