52 Weeks of Sheep: Polwarth

The breed for the week of January 8 is Polwarth. Now, I am a known snob about LOTS of stuff – yarn, chocolate, tea, fabric, and now that I have started working with wool straight off the sheep and using Valkyrie Superfine combs, I’m also a Wool Snob with a preference for “real” wool.

Commercially prepared fiber has usually gone through a chemical process to remove vegetable matter and whiten the fibers and generally has no life left in it when compared to hand-prepared fiber. (In my opinion, the quality of the wool used in commercially prepared top isn’t going to be as high as wool purchased locally, and especially not as high as wool coming from a spinner’s flock.) While I would have preferred to work with fleece for this study, all I had in my stash was 106 grams of commercially-prepared undyed top. I spun about 13 grams of it in my normal go-to thin weight. (I didn’t spend as much time as I should have spinning the Polwarth because I was combing the Texel fleece for next week’s breed.)

There really isn’t much to say about it – after working with hand-washed and hand-combed top, most commercially-prepared 100% wool top feels pretty much the same to me. I’m going to keep my eye out for some Polwarth fleece to sample properly.

Polwarth is very similar to Merino, so that’s how I treated it. As I spun, I wasn’t really enjoying the top too much. There was kind of a resistance to the “grain” of it so I began working from the other end and it was much nicer.

I think I put too much twist in the single so the finished 2-ply isn’t balanced but the chain ply looks nice.

Finished Polwarth handspunIMG_3638

If you found this interesting, check out the Facebook group for 52 Weeks of Sheep.

52 Weeks of Sheep: Spinner’s Choice – Tunis

I’ve joined a really fun group on Facebook called 52 Weeks of Sheep. The purpose of the group is to spin a different kind of wool every week. I’ve been wanting to do a breed study like this for a long time! I decided to write a blog post every week as a more in-depth record of each breed that I spin.

For the week of January 1, Spinner’s Choice, I chose to use Tunis. For the past 5 years or so, my husband and I have been apprenticing with some friends who have sheep and they introduced me to some other local shepherds, including one who raises Tunis. She raises them completely for meat and all the wool just goes to the wool pool. She often loses money each year on the wool by the time she pays the shearers. (I had hoped to change that for her and for other local shepherds by starting a wool business, but shortly after beginning to buy enough raw wool to fill my house to bursting, I became ill and even after I recovered, the wool business never got any farther.)

On April 10, 2015, I was able to attend the shearing day at her farm and bought a bunch of fleeces as they came off the sheep.

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Freshly shorn Tunis ram lambs

The sheep were sweet, with such adorable faces! I loved how the heads and legs were red with their wool being white. The lambs are all red, with reddish wool on their bodies as well as their heads and legs, but I didn’t arrive in time to get any lamb fleeces. Now that we have a farm, I’ve been thinking about adding a Tunis ewe to our Border Leicester flock.

The fleeces were dirty and had extremely heavy VM. Some areas had so much that I ended up throwing them away.

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The Tunis I used this week was some that had been discolored by the marking belt worn by the ram (so they can tell which ewe has been bred). I was told that it would wash out, but I decided to remove all colored sections and process them separately. I’m glad I did because the wool still has a decidedly blueish tint to it. I can’t remember for certain, but I’m fairly certain that I washed it in Unicorn Power Scour. (Either that, or Dirty Rotten Bastard.)

After washing it and combing it on my Valkyrie Super Fines, I ended up with about 19 grams/.67 oz of top. I set aside about 1 gram of top to put in the Breed Study Book that I want to put together for this spin-a-long. I think that the staple length was about 3″. I spun about half of the remaining top thin and the other half fairly thick. Of the thin single, I plyed about half as a 2-ply and half chain-plyed. I plyed all of the thicker single as a 2-ply partly because there already wasn’t going to be much yardage and partly because the yarn was going to be fairly bulky as a 2-ply and a chain-ply would be that much bulkier.

Tunis singles

I tend to prefer a decent amount of pre-drafting/attenuation but the top still felt quite dense and very springy and bouncy, which is to be expected with down-type wools. Honestly, it felt a little bit like fiber fill, or polyester stuffing!

I spin mostly worsted, also known as “inch worm style” lol I’m still struggling with putting in too much twist when spinning down-type wools, which obviously spin NOTHING like my beloved Border Leicester lol, and then I think I may have under-plyed the yarn as well.

The finished yarns dried very quickly. The two thinner skeins feel completely dry after only a couple hours. The finished yarn is still bouncy (though underplied in spots) and still retains an almost man-made feeling, like a acrylic blend. I can’t wait to swatch it and I really want to do some more experimenting with it to find out how well it takes dye and if it resists felting. I’ve read that it doesn’t dye or felt very well and it would be *very* interesting to see if I could find a locally available fiber that I can process myself (or send to Zeilingers Wool Mill) and have it be machine-washable.

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What are are your thoughts about trying out unusual sheep breeds? Have you ever tried Tunis? If so, what did you think of it?

Saturday with Sheep

Last Saturday, Marcus and I were invited to help with some sheep chores at our friends Bill and Sharon’s farm. Besides putting blankets/coats on some of the sheep to keep their wool clean and some¬†hoof trimming, which Marcus has gotten pretty good at, Maxim the Border Leicester ram needed to be sheared and Sharon let us shear him!

Maxim is a nice ram who has a really sweet personality. Any time we’ve helped with him, he is so good and cooperative. (Unlike some Blue Face Leicester yearlings we worked with after Maxim. One of those wild ewes tried to drive a hoof through poor Marcus!)

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If you think that Maxim looks a bit “pink” that’s because Continue reading