Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rare breed Spin-A-Long - Dorset Down

Brindle Shetland yarn, finished skein 466 yards
Rare breeds of sheep are so interesting.  The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius is one of my favorite sources of information on breeds of sheep and the qualities of their wool. Yet it gives only the kind of knowledge that reading provides.  As a spinner, I love the tactile qualities of the wool.  So I was immediately attracted to the Knit Spin Farm Rare Breed Spin-A-Long (SAL) that started back on the first of January.  I mentioned the Shetland that I did as my first project.  Since I posted last, I finished the skein.  It ended up being 40 wraps per inch in the singles and about light fingering weight in the finished chain plied yarn. 

Close up of Brindle Shetland yarn
Statistics: 3.7 ounces, 106 grams. 466 yards of chain ply yarn.  Spun singles clockwise on the Kromski Fantasia, chain plied on the Louet S10 13 treadles.

Dolly Dorset - raw lock from darkest portion of fleece
Now that I've finished the Shetland, I decided to do more with the Rare Breed SAL.  Thought through the list and decided on the Dorset I have in my stash.  Remember Dolly from the color study?  I'm working with her fleece on its own this time.  Took a couple ounces and prepared them on my wool combs to produce a semi-worsted top.  I did not lock wash this fleece, and I'm not concerned about having a fully worsted preparation since this is a down wool.  I wanted to have some fun with the bounce, and by combing I thought I'd be able to reduce the fuzzy factor of the finished yarn somewhat.  This is what the fiber looked like beforehand.

Saving a lock out of the raw fleece is an excellent idea, since I seldom am able to process a whole fleece at the same time.  Typically, I'll do a small sample and start the record keeping in a spinning journal.  The pages aren't in any particular format, but I do try to record things that I do with the fleece. 

Combed nests of Dolly Dorset's fleece
Back to the raw lock, there is a good reason to save it.  The crimp pattern is most obvious in a raw lock that is undisturbed.  In this particular fleece the crimp is very orderly and consistent from end to end.  The brownish tips are somewhat weathered since this fleece was not covered with a sheep coat.  Being a down wool, it should be (and has been) pretty resistant to felting.  This particular lock shows length of about four inches, which is longer than usual for down wools. A happy surprise indeed, since it allows a lot more options for processing and spinning this wool.  I usually use the snack size ziplock bags to preserve the raw lock and make a note of the breed, the name or ear number of the sheep, the source and price and the weight of the fleece and whatever other things I notice at this stage of working with the fleece.  Then I toss the bagged lock back in with the fleece.  As I process the fleece, I tag the bags as I go along so that I don't lose track of which one it is and what I've done with it.  With a raw fleece, I put any notes in a page protector since the grease of the wool will affect the paper - sometimes to the degree of obliterating the notes I've made - not a happy discovery!

Finished skein of combed Dolly Dorset
Down wools come from several breeds of sheep, and the saddest part is that few shepherds that raise them are much concerned with the quality of the fleeces and treat the fleece as more of a nuisance than a profitable product that the sheep are producing.  Perhaps this SAL and others like it can encourage a few more shepherds of these down wool breeds to place more value on these fleeces.  This particular fleece seems to be from a shepherd that does have some care for the spinning quality of the fleeces they are producing.  That being said, the fleece was still quite reasonably priced when I bought it through Ebay.  Many shepherds use Ebay and Etsy to sell their fleeces, and with the exception of the Nasty Romney, I've had little or no trouble with inaccurate descriptions.  Most sellers are very honest about the qualities of their fleeces - sometimes even exaggerating the amount of vegetable matter to be sure the buyers know what they are getting, and discounting the price to make it more appealing if there is veg in the fleece.  Such was the case with Dolly's fleece.  It was described as having some veg, which it did, but not nearly the quantity I was expecting.
Close up of the finished yarn

The spinning was smooth and easy.  The combed preparation drafted smoothly, and I did much less predrafting than I typically do.  I spun with a medium backward draw since the staple length was allowing me to do so. The singles were very fine and the plying went well.  Overall, I continue to be impressed by how well-behaved this fleece is.  Everything just works, smooth and simple. The fiber does shed slightly while spinning, and feels somewhat dry in comparison to other wools I've worked with.  I don't know if this is characteristic of the down wools or not.  I've got an order in to another shepherd for some Dorset roving to test this idea, but being a commercial prep, so I'm not sure the comparison will be valid. 

The statistics on this skein are: 31 grams, 1.1 ounce, 124 yards.  Spun singles clockwise on the Kromski Fantasia and chain plied counterclockwise 13 treadles on the Louet S10. 

Dolly Dorset carded batt
Part of my purpose for this wool in the SAL is to compare combing and carding prep on the same fleece.  I'm looking forward to finishing the woolen prep I did for this study.  I've started on it already, and the main difference I've noticed is that I'm pulling out the neps as I spin.  I rather expected this, since combing removes them before spinning.  Woolen preps mean less waste at the processing step, but more at the spinning step.  Still less overall compared with combing, since it leaves the different fiber lengths in the batt.  Combing sorts out the longest fibers and keeps them well aligned in the top.  It is a trade off in some respects, but the end product can be vastly different.  Since I wanted to test the difference in prep, I'm spinning the singles in the same way, medium backward draw, clockwise on the Kromski and I'm about halfway through the batt.  It looks and feels similar in the singles.  The washing of the plied yarn will tell a better story.  The combed prep seemed less bouncy than I expected after the washing.  The value of doing the two similar skeins side-by-side will show the difference in bounce by the length of the finished skein.  I expect the woolen prep to be much shorter in length since the crimp isn't as altered.  I'll have my answer soon.

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