I wanted to get something on the wheel as soon as the sea foam green oddness came off… so I reached for the Spinner’s Sampler I got at the PA Farm Show earlier this month. First up: Shetland!Good thing I have a couple of reference books on hand. From Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Wool, we learn that Shetlands fall into the category of “Northern European Short-Tailed” sheep and are cousins to Finn and Icelandic sheep. The fiber can vary quite a bit in terms of staple length and softness. Even on the same animal, one can find 5 different types of fiber. The really, really fine stuff is what they make the famous Shetland lace wedding shawls out of (the ones that can pass through a wedding band). Mine wasn’t that fine. Oh, and Clara says that Shetland wool is typically spun in the woolen style so that those short, crimpy fibers can bloom. OOPS! I spun in more of a worsted style (which is my fallback style). I let a little twist into the fiber mass, so I suppose it was a hybrid technique. (All this Shetland info is from pages 75-76.)
That may explain why my finished yarn feels a bit rough.
Okay, so I started out with one ounce of fluff that looked like this: I spun the singles on my 14:1 whorl on my Ladybug. The bobbin looked like this as it started to fill:I LOVED how lively this fiber felt as I worked with it. It was so much more substantive than the alpaca-wool sliver I worked with most recently. It had a bit of lanolin left in it, and it smelled sheep-y – but in the best possible way. I was very disciplined and made a little sample card this time. It shows the singles and a small piece of 2-ply. The idea is to use this as a reference to achieve a more consistent single. Check out the single up close – doesn’t it look springy and alive?
Since I only have a small amount of this fiber, I spun it all on one bobbin and then navajo-plied it on my next bigger whorl (12.5:1). This produced a 3-ply chained yarn. I know you’re not supposed to try navajo ply with long-stapled wools and this one wasn’t…I have 61 yards of finished yarn, and the skein weighs exactly one ounce. It was really twisty when it came off the niddy noddy but calmed down a lot after its hot water bath. The skein was still slightly unbalanced, though (and I didn’t determine whether it was underplied or overplied). I wonder if navajo plied yarns are ALWAYS super twisty when they come off the niddy noddy? Anyone know? I could really use a spinning mentor! Deb Robson’s The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook devotes a full 10 pages to the Shetland breed, including some gorgeous photo spreads of the sheep themselves, the fiber, and yarn and cloth made from the fiber. She says Shetland is a “conservation” breed. I didn’t find a precise definition of this, but it isn’t as bad as “critical conservation breed” (which is globally rare and on the precipice of extinction) or “extinct” (p. 6). It shows a skein of Garthenor Shetland yarn that looks super yummy. I could see myself knitting a sweater out of this stuff.
There is a Ravelry group for The Knitter’s Book of Wool (of course there is!) and they’ve been studying breeds since it came out. Back in August 2010, they focused on Shetland (I’ll look forward to reading the backfile). Here is the breed description that’s posted there:
Shetland: This hearty, short-tailed, longwool sheep is actually a Primitive or landrace rather than a breed, meaning that Shetlands breed other Shetlands all on their own, if you get my drift. Because of their diversity, many colors and patterns of Shetlands developed, though some colorations have dwindled as shepherds have selected for easy-to-market white fleeces. Their 11 remaining colors and 30 pattern variations are codified using terms that derive from Norn, the Germanic language formerly spoken on the Islands. Their ancestors were most likely brought to their North Sea Island homes by Scandinavian settlers more than 1000 years ago: Shetlands are related to Finns, Icelandics, and other Scandinavian sheep. They’re the smallest British breed. The ewes are polled, while the rams have beautiful spiraling horns. When well tended and fed, Shetlands produce fine-crimped, long, soft wool between 20 and 30 microns, and the sheep will roo if given the chance, and some are double coated, revealing their Scandinavian ancestry. The harsh climate of the Shetlands has helped these sheep develop a great independent streak—Shetlands can handle harsh climates and terrains, and are very quick witted. That independence makes them easy to care for, and their small size keeps feed costs down.
Hmmm, that description says “longwool” – did you notice? Again, could use a spinning mentor.
I haven’t started spinning another breed yet. Would you care to vote? Other choices in the sampler include Lincoln, Coopworth, and Romney.