Sunday, 17 February 2008

Wools from rare sheep breeds

I recently ordered a book and a new weaving shuttle from Scottish Fibres, and, because I like to try out different wools to see what they are like for spinning, I ordered 100g of Gotland , 200g white North Ronaldsay and 100g of black North Ronaldsay. The North Ronaldsay is very special, as the sheep live on the island they are named for, and a major part of their diet is seaweed. Attempts to keep them away from their island home have failed, because these sheep have adapted to filter out the high levels of iodine in seaweed. Take them away from this food source, and they are unable to absorb enough iodine from other less intense sources.

Here is the wool, in the box it arrived in (it was one of those lovely moments like finding the sugar mouse, 10p coin, and the satsuma in the toe of your Christmas stocking...) do you see the lustre of that grey Gotland? It's silky soft. The North Ronaldsay is so, so woolly soft. It seems to be carded, not combed, has a short staple and spins a lovely soft, bouncy woolen yarn with a few little neps.

Here's a close up of the Gotland, showing the range of colour in this "grey", from light and silvery to odd black fibres, it is more than plain grey, I think you can see this in the photo of the yarn I have spun. It is soft enough to wear next to skin, finer textured than many of the other lustorous wools.

A favourite reference book, "In Sheeps Clothing", by Nola and Jane Fournier, (pub. Interweave Press) warns that it felts easily, so this might be something to bear in mind when using the yarn. Maybe I should have a go at one of those garments where you knit slightly oversize and then deliberately felt? Would it loose it's sheen? Best way to find out is probably to knit a sample square and put it through the wash.

So, today I have been spinning yarn from the white North Ronaldsay on my efficient double treadle Timbertops Leceister wheel, and on my older single treadle Timbertops wheel I've been spinning fine yarn again, this time from grey Shetland wool. I have have to concentrate hard to spin fine at the moment. The aim for a lace yarn is 12 strands of fibre in the singles, and then to decrease, but at present I'm comfortable at about 22 strands - I say about because I wasn't using a magnifying glass when I squinted at the end of the yarn and tried to count!

I am being very careful now to watch how much twist goes into the wool. I discovered that half-an-inch is a bit less than I though it was... hence I was calculating wrong and that maybe why the yarn didn't work out right when I plied.

This is a handicap with having grown up with two systems of measurement. The official switch from imperial to metric happened when I had already had about 4 years in school. I think I am familiar with cm and inch - but in truth I am slightly confused as I swap back and forth between them. The Mabel Ross lap apron with marked measurements (see my previous post) is very useful.

Here's a little picture of the North Ronaldsay on the bobbin to end, and a link to Cally's blog, as she is also enjoying spinning this special wool.


Leigh said...

I love that book. It is one of my favorites and one I recommend to every beginning spinner. Gotland is one I haven't worked with yet, so I'm very glad for your impression. The yarn is lovely!

Barbara said...

Sorry for lack of comments. My identity has been lost ! Enjoy your Blog

Helen said...

Hi Dorothy your yarns look fabulous. Gotland felts as soon as you look at it practically. It is the fibre of choice for many felters planning large scale projects for that reason so my guess is either be very careful washing it or as you suggest exploit the felting aspect. I am surprised that you find it so soft as I always find gotland feels a litle hard and the sample I have of felted gotland is also hard. Perhaps you hae a very high quality fleece. The reason I don't use it is that the fibres "travel" so if you put a coloured layer on top the gotland felts right through it in a grey haze.

tumbleweed said...

am just begining the book 'Sheep' by Alan Butler. he mentions an 'offshoot' of the Soay sheep that live on an island and whose diet is seaweed...but didn't mention their name. suspect it might be North Ronaldsay! thank you.