Monday, February 15, 2021

Herdwick and Black Welsh Mountain - Breed School 2.0

I recently finished the January fiber for Breed School 2.0, and realized I hadn't shared the December fiber yet. Can I blame it on pandemic time?

Both breeds were new-to-me, which is so fun and exactly why you join a breed club. December was Herdwick, which is the sheep that Beatrix Potter raised in the chilly, wet hills of the Lake District. Herdwick have multi-coated fleeces that contain different types of fiber: a soft undercoat, guard hairs, and "heterotypic hairs" which actually change consistency with the season. They can be wooley or hairy, depending on the time of year. And there's also kemp! None of these like to be separated from the others, so I didn't even try (nor did the mill that processed the fleece). 

Another fun fact about Herdwick sheep is that they are "hefted" to the land where they are born. They don't leave. They won't leave. They don't need fences to stay where they are. When farms in this part of England are sold, the sheep stay with them. They are called "landlord flocks." The more you know!

I made four samples, and decided to spin the rest long draw from the fold on a larger pulley (7:1). I had to concentrate on slowing down my drawback rate so that the fiber wouldn't fall apart. This was good to practice. I think I used some of the same moves I learned on the Gotland fiber last year.

One thing that was very clear from the start is that this fiber likes to fall apart. It shed SO much while spinning that I had to vacuum my wheel area every second spinning session. (I meant to take a photo of the mess, but forgot.) And the morning after I wet finished my yarn (which included some "thwacking" of the skein against the counter), there were Herdwick hairs all over the kitchen. One even made its way into the cake stand, under the dome. At least I knew what it was when I saw a stiff white hair in the chocolate cake!

My finished, 2-ply skein weighs 98 grams and is 232 yards. The WPI is 9, which I could characterize as an aran weight yarn. You can really see the white and black hairs in this close-up photo. They will not be tamed!

The yarn is quite rough, thanks to several of the coats. It would be suitable for a rug. I think I'll weave some "mug rugs" on my Cricket loom come summer. I'll wait until summer, because I think this would be a good project to work on outdoors (because of all the shedding). The yarn should shed less than the fiber, but still.

The January fiber is Black Welsh Mountain, which is one of several breeds in the Welsh Mountain family (and reportedly the softest one). Sasha characterized it as "down-like," which might explain why I liked it so much. I am developing a real soft spot for the down breeds. It was a very deep brown (this is undyed, like all the Breed School fiber), with a 2-4" staple length, and kind of slippery. I only made 3 samples this time:

To my complete surprise, my favorite was #2: short forward draft with twist in the drafting zone. I have never chosen this approach before - ever! (Never say never, right?) Perhaps it worked this time because I was using a slower pulley than usual (10.5:1), and it happened to work just right with this staple length. So my final skein is SFD w twist, 2-ply. My yardage on the skein winder was 294 (I didn’t re-measure after finishing to see if the circumference changed) and the skein is a plump 131 grams with 10 WPI... so worsted weight. Here are the singles as I was working on them:

The only thing I would do differently next time has to do with the wet finishing. I did my usual soak with Eucalan and the water was really dirty, so I did a second round. The water was still quite dirty, so I pulled out the Unicorn Power Scour and washed it again. I fear this took things too far. I could hear a difference in the fiber when I dried it in a towel and snapped it before hanging it up. So I gave it ANOTHER soak a few days later with Unicorn Fiber Rinse (basically fabric softener), which helped it recover a bit. My finished skein is pretty darn nice, if I do say so myself:

So to review, here are the fibers that have been part of Sheepspot's Breed School 2.0 club which started last July:

  • July 2020 - Targhee
  • August 2020 - Gotland
  • September 2020 - Whitefaced Woodland
  • October 2020 - Southdown
  • November 2020 - Perendale
  • December 2020 - Herdwick
  • January 2021 - Black Welsh Mountain
  • February 2021 - today is the 15th, which is breed reveal day - and it's Rambouillet! I haven't received mine in the mail yet.

So far, the new-to-me breeds are: Gotland, Herdwick, and Black Welsh Mountain. Sheep are endlessly fascinating...

1 comment:

  1. They are endlessly fascinating, and I certainly learned a lot from your post. The Herdwick looks quite rustic and robust, and I love the color and look of the Black Welsh Mountain. Looking forward to the Rambouillet!