Bring on the Braids

Braids

These are a new addition to my stock, custom-blended tops; these have been produced specially for me and are produced here in the UK. Each braid is 100g, and I have small spun samples of each of the bases to view.

The colour ways are inspired by Iceland following my recent trip there.

Nootka: Merino, Shetland and Soybean. The colour way is inspired by the purple hues of the Icelandic Lupin seen during the warmer months.

Gulfoss: Merino, Corriedale and Tussah Silk. A winter-inspired one, the waterfalls at Gulfoss partially freeze during the colder seasons and the ice takes on different hues – including some lovely turquoise shades.

Hekla: Merino, Shetland and Bamboo. One of the most active volcanoes in Iceland, the deep red of this colour way picks up on one of the shades associated with volcanic eruptions.

There will be limited quantities of these shades available during the festival, but all the colour ways can be custom-ordered and mailed following the festival (allow 2-3 weeks for delivery).

All the Batts

Next up in the EYF previews are the drum-carded batts!

Drum-carded Batts - Gradient

All the colours! Compared to the natural batts I shared in the previous post, these batts are colour-focused. There are a variety of sheep breeds ranging from Merino and B.F.L. through to Romney and Dorset Horn. Some batts combine other fibres, including silk, camel, firestar and alpaca, amongst others.

What I’m particularly pleased with are the gradient batts, one of these is pictured above – a yellow-to-orange gradient (Cheviot base). These are perfect to spin up using the Navajo-plying method, in order to maintain the gradient. The big gradients are around 100g each.However, there are smaller gradient batts available (varying 50g-80g), these have been carded with smaller projects in mind. These gradients run from one shade to another and then back again which means that more closely matching items can be worked from the hand spun yarn.

Batts will be available (while stocks last) in the following colour categories: Blue, Brown, Green, Pink, Purple and Yellow / Orange, plus gradients.

 

Naturals

#NaturesShades is the KAL currently being championed by BritYarn and KnitBritish, with the aim of exploring the fabulous natural shades of wool found in the UK or local to your area. I think this is a brilliant idea as it is so easy to get caught up in the vast palette of yarn colours available from indie and commercial dyers.

The KAL finishes on March 19th, and they are hosting a get-together at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

It seems appropriate then to share a wee peek at some of the natural fibre I’ll have at the Festival.

Jacob Batts - Gradients

I have to admit I am slightly biased, I think Jacob sheep are rather interesting and when I had the opportunity to acquire a fleece a Jacob was the logical choice for me. The fleece came from a small farm in Cheshire. The fleece has been lightly washed (note it may still include lanolin, vegetable matter, etc.) and drum-carded – the finished batts have a wonderful bounce. There are limited quantities of four shades (clockwise from left top: black, dark grey, light grey, white), each available as 50g batts.

In addition to pure Jacob, there will be other natural fibres available as batts (note that quantities are limited, batt size may vary). Fibres and shades are listed below:

  • Alpaca (Brown)
  • Alpaca / Jacob (Brown)
  • Gotland / Alpaca (Brown)
  • Herdwick (Grey)
  • Hill Radnor (White)
  • Merino / Wensleydale (White)

In addition, smaller bags of undyed Angora (Fawn, Grey), Alpaca (Black, Brown) and Gotland Locks (Grey) will also be available.

Edinburgh Yarn Festival….A belated recap

Manic sums it up.

There is something about taking a shedload of fibre enthusiasts and sticking them all in the same room that makes you hit the big red button in your head which tells you to ‘Buy all the things! Now!’

Despite the ever parent crush of people, it was well worth the trip over to Edinburgh (we were still in Glasgow at this point but had found the place we ended up in).

Got some cool stuff though…

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Spinning: A Round-Up, February-May 2013

Since I last (ahem) blogged about my spinning, I have – unsurprisingly – spun a fair bit more. The last spinning post, detailing the first month of the handblended club from HilltopCloud, was some time ago.

In the meantime, I’ve had the pleasure of spinning up the following…

From Hilltop Cloud

200g Baby Camel and Tussah Silk blend in ‘Teal’.

100g Teeswater in ‘Winter Sunrise’, from the Best of British (BOB) Club, plied with silver thread.

From SpinPretty

100g Merino and Angora Blend in ‘Shades of Gray’.

From Once A Sheep

200g Merino and Silk Blend in ‘Purple’ and ‘White’. Blended during spinning to create a gradient yarn.

From The Yarn Cake

50g Shetland in ‘Shetland Black’ and ‘Moorit’

From Sue’s Crafts 

150g Shetland in ‘Purple Smoke’

Fibre: Cheviot

CheviotCheviot Ewe and Lamb (From here)

History

The earliest reference to sheep from the Cheviot Hills dates to 1372 which refers to ‘a small, but very hard race’.[i] During later centuries it appears that both Merino and Lincoln bloodlines were added to the original Cheviot stock, records state that there were 3000 Merinos brought to England in 1480, a similar number were introduced in 1560.[ii] In the eighteenth century, further improvements were made to the breed  which increased both the meat and fleece production.[iii]

The breed has subsequently introduced to the United States (1838) and Australia (1938) – although it appears the breed is in decline in Australia.[iv]

The Fibre

  • Staple length can vary from 4-5 inches, some Australian examples see staple lengths reach 6 inches.
  • Diameter of the fiber tends to fall between approximately 27-33 microns, though 24 are know.
  • The fibre should spin up well, and works well in blends.

My Cheviot Spinning

Cheviot was my first spinning experience, and I used a drop spindle to create about 40m of super-bulky/art yarn. This is certainly a breed I would spin again.


[ii] The Cheviot Sheep Society – History; D.Robson & C. Ekarius (2011). The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.54.

[iv] Oklahoma State University, Breeds of Livestock (Sheep: Cheviot); Rare Breeds Trust of Australia – Cheviot 

Useful Links

The Cheviot Sheep Society 

Oklahoma State University Breeds of Livestock, Sheep, Cheviot

Cheviot Sheepbreeders’ Association Australia 

Rare Breeds Trust of Australia – Cheviot 

Fibre: Shetland

Sheep, Wester Quarff, Shetland IslesDascha the Shetland Sheep, photograph (C) Mark Sinclair 2009.

History

The Shetland sheep belongs to the Northern European short-tailed family, a group which appears to have been present in the area for some considerable time. Romano-sheep breeds began to spread their influence through Britain from approximately 2000 years ago, moving steadily northwards and it seems likely that these sheep impacted on the northern and island stocks.[i] Earliest indications suggest that short-tailed sheep were brought to the islands by Vikings around c.500 AD at the earliest.[ii] It is possible that this Nordic stock interbred with native wild sheep already present on the islands, though this cannot be proven. What is evident is that Shetland Sheep maintain several ‘wild’ characteristics.[iii]

The breeding of these animals continued through the middle ages, with their geographic location encouraging the development of a distinct ‘Shetland’ type.[iv]

The popularity of the Shetland Sheep and its fleece increased in the earlier part of the twentieth century, when Fair Isle and knitwear reached fashionable heights. By 1927 standards had been agreed and the Shetland Flock Book Society was established, which also created the Breed Standard.

The breed was for a time listed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s lists; as a Category 3 (Vulnerable) in 1977, then Category 5 (Minority) by 1985/1990s. The breed was removed from the list in 2002.

The Fibre[v]

  • Staple length can vary from 2-4.5 inches up to 10.
  • Diameter of the fiber tends to fall between approximately 20-30 microns, although it can be both finer and coarser depending on the quality of the fleece.
  • The fibre should spin up relatively smoothly.
  • Finished product will reflect the coarsest elements of the original fibre. The fleeces are double coated; with an inner and outer coat.[vi] The longer guard hairs tend to be coarser and for softer yarns – these require removal.[vii]
  • The Joy of Handspinning states that Shetland, along with other ‘down’ fibre types is not suited to the beginner.[viii] Interestingly, in a Knitty article from 2009, the author refers to the negative perception of many spinners concerning Shetland fibre.[ix]

Colours

According to the available resources, there are eleven ‘official’ Shetland sheep colours: Black, Shaela, Emsket, Gray, Light Gray, White, Musket, Mioget, Fawn, Moorit and Dark Brown[x]. These also have their own subtle variations – Shaela, for instance, can be applied to different shades depending on the Isle of origin.

The following table lists these colours, with their descriptors and the equivalent colours in fibre and yarn from the two major Shetland wool suppliers in the UK – Jamieson & Smith and Jamieson’s of Shetland.[xi] These equivalents are based on my own observations and on substitutions used on Ravelry for projects utilising the natural Shetland shades. These are therefore subject to my own biases concerning colour perception; others may view these colours very differently.

Official Name

Description

Jamieson & Smith’s Natural Shetland Fibre

Jamieson & Smith’s Shetland Supreme (Formerly Natural Shetland)

Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift

Black Black Black Shetland Black [2005] Shetland Black [101]
Dark Brown Dark Brown Shetland Black [2005] Shetland Black [101]
Emsket Dusky Blue-Gray Gray Yuglet [2009] Shaela [102]
Fawn Fawn Fawn Sholmit [2007] Mogit [107]
Gray Gray Gray Shaela [2003] Sholmit [103]
Light Gray Light Gray Katmollet [2008] Eesit [105]
Mioget Lightest Brown, warm yellowish overtones Gaulmogot [2006] Eesit [105]
Moorit Reddish Brown, ranging from Fawn tones through to Dark Red-Browns Moorit Moorit [2004] Moorit [108]
Musket Pale Gray-Brown, from mixing both Gray and Brown fibres Mooskit [2002] Mooskit [106]
Shaela Dark Gray, two types the name has different meaning in different parts of the Isles Yuglet [2009] Shaela [102]
White White White White [2001] Natural White [104]

Some of these colours are rarer than others. Statistics from 1994 listed in Robson & Ekarius indicate that only two of the eleven colours are common, with the remaining nine shades only being registered for a total of 214 sheep.[xii] More recent statistics concerning the number of Shetland sheep on the islands indicate that there are just over 2000 registered pure bred examples of the breed.[xiii] The rarity of various colours appears to be continuing. Observations placed on a discussion thread on the Ravelry Jamieson & Smith forum provides a good indication behind the reasons for the decline:

The main problem stems back a few years to government legislation. It was thought at that point that certain genotypes were more likely to get scrapie – a sort of sheep brain disease that they thought might be able to pass to humans. So they gave farmers and crofters money to cull sheep with that genotype. At the same time, vast quantities of extra paperwork were put in place.

Now there has never been a case of scrapie in Shetland the place or Shetland the breed. But the extra hassle meant that quite a few people who had been keeping 20 or 30 sheep decided at that point to take the money and give up with their sheep. It was only at the end of the year, when the fleece started to arrive with Oliver, that he realised what was happening. It turned out that a big proportion of the coloured fleece was kept by these folk with small herds. The folk involved didn’t realise they held an important resource – no one knew it at the time.

By the time Oliver realised what was happening and got on to the media, it was too late. Those sheep had been culled. I well remember him saying that there was going to be a shortage for coloured fleece. And he was not wrong.

Now some people are realising that breeding coloured sheep is worthwhile, and with luck, the price increases will mean that more will be bred. But that will take time. And a good percentage of the gene pool has already been lost in Shetland itself. As Oliver has said many times, thank goodness for the hobby breeders down south – they have kept the colours.

From a forum post by Ravelry User NorthernLace[xiv]

In addition to the colours, there are also a significant number of markings associated with Shetland Sheep. These have no impact on the colours available for spinning but certainly demonstrate the variety associated with the breed.[xv]

My Shetland Spinning

  1. Ring-a-Rosie Shetland Top
  2. HilltopCloud Shetland & Kid Mohair

[i] D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p. 184

[ii] S. Adalsteinsson (2000) 1000 Years of Sheep in Shetland. A later date linked to Norwegian rule of Shetland has also been suggested.

[iv] The Shetland Sheep Society – History (2012).

[v] The technical information is derived from D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.192; The Shetland Sheep Society – Shetland Wool (2012).

[x] See D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.186-187; The Shetland Sheep Society – Colours & Markings (2012).

[xi] Derived from D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.186-187; The Shetland Sheep Society – Colours & Markings (2012); Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme & Natural Shetland Fibres (2013); Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift (2013).

[xii] D. Robson & C. Ekarius (2011) The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, p.185.

[xiv] Ravelry profile for NorthernLace. For the forum thread (published 2012), see here, particularly pages 6 and 7 of the discussion. The post quoted above is #136 in the thread.

Changes Afoot

The eagle-eyed amongst you will probably have noticed the new button in the top menu bar. For those of you that haven’t, I’ve added a spinning section to the site.

This is very much under construction at the moment, so if you go and look at it now, you won’t find anything other than some lists and some *coming soon* notices. The plan is to add description pages for each fibre type – both natural and man-made – which is available commercially for the handspinner. I’m planning at the moment to include a few non-commercial fibres used historically as I personally find them interesting. Obviously, this will take a not-inconsiderable amount of time (and fibre) to generate so it is very much  long term project.

So where to start? The logical starting point is focusing on fibres that I have already spun, or have in my stash waiting to be spun. Some are blends – which obviously can be very different to spinning pure fibre types, but it seems appropriate to include them. I’m aiming to provide some information on the breeds – their history, information on the fibre itself, ease of spinning and my own observations. The plan is to include references and links wherever possible so that if more information is needed – it can be found.

Spin: HilltopCloud Shetland & Kid Mohair

More spinning! This time some Shetland and Mohair, from November issue of HilltopCloud’s Best of British Club. An unusual but extremely lovely combination of fibres in a gorgeous colourway, the very aptly-named (for December) Sitka Spruce.

Again I spun it up before I took a picture of the braid!

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I tried something a little different to my normal spinning and opted to aim for a heavier-weight yarn. The colours look great all spun up and sitting in a row though. I got 91 yds of a 2-ply Aran / Bulky weight yarn. It looks and feels fabulous, especially since it was my first time spinning a thicker yarn on the wheel.