Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Spinning High on the Hog....Island

Hog Island

Critical Conservation(less than 200 registered animals)
Staple length 3.8-6.5cm
Micron 22-32

My Hog Island sample came from Nosheepyet on Ravelry, along with a short history of the breed. This was the defining moment where my interest in the history behind the fleece and beyond the lamb chop was awakened.
So...this breed originated from Hog Island, off the coast of Virginia, USA in the 1700s. There they roamed free, without fences or predators for hundreds of years, until 1933 when people left the island fleeing a hurricane. Many sheep remained, reverting to their feral state until 1974 where they were rounded up by the Nature Conservancy and now many remain part of the heritage landscapes of living history museums, including Plymouth Plantation, the Museum of American Frontier Culture, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, George Mason’s Gunston Hall, George Washington’s Birthplace, and the National Colonial Farm.
Hog island sheep are tough and hardy. Interestingly lambs are usually born with spotted or speckled fleece which disappear upon maturing. Spotted faces and legs are common. They are primarily white fleeced with about only 10% black.  Making them even more interesting and unique is the fact that their lines have been preserved as an insight into American history and not bred for characteristics as with most modern sheep.  Feral sheep are rare in itself and Hog Island is one of the few feral populations in the US.

My Spinning Experience: My particular sample was just awesome for providing a medium workhorse yarn. Whilst perhaps not high on my Princess Skin Softness Scale, it is right up there as a must-have-a-go-at-spinning fiber. Enjoy!
Recommended further reading: livestock conservancy

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Whitefaced Woodland ( a.k.a. Penistone)

Rare breed(registered RBST)

Staple: 15-20cm

Micron: 28-38/extremely broad range


The Whitefaced Woodland originated in the Pennines on the borders of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, from the blackfaced Linton type of mountain sheep with Cheviot and Merino also used in the breed’s development. Also known as Penistone after the town that has held a sheep fair since 1699, Whitefaced Woodland used to be two distinct groups: the Woodland were leggy, rangy sheep and the Penistone were stockier. In time the two groups amalgamated and formed the one breed.  

The Whitefaced Woodland is one of the largest of British hill breeds.  Both sexes are horned. The wool is white and finer than that of many other hill breeds, attributed to the addition of Merino blood in the 18th century. The breed is very hardy and able to thrive on poor quality grazing and harsh terrain. This and the fact they are primarily raised for meat would contribute to the widely varying micron range for hand spinners. The fiber is valued for its ability to take up dyes. [1]A ewe's first shearing usually gives the finest of fleeces.


My Spinning Experience: Deborah Robson reports in the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook pp.311-312 greatly varying samples. My sample from Woolforbrains gave me a soft-medium soft spun yarn. It was a very enjoyable spin and given the chance with a larger amount, it would be worth the recommendation from to blend or ply with mohair or silk. 




Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Art Yarn: A flock of flowers

I had been asked “just how did you do that?” in regards to not only turning silk cocoons into flowers but adding them to yarn. Spring is upon us so why not add flowers to your fiber? So, as promised, especially for Mara in Germany, this is exactly how I made the flowers and added them to yarn.

Please, before you start out be sure to check that you will be able to put your silk cocoon flower through your orifice. They are quite forgiving as to being pushed through the orifice and helped over your flyer hooks. As for bobbins? Size does matter. The bigger the better! My pictured sample was produced on an Ashford Joy with Freedom Flyer.

Of course there is no reason why you can’t do this technique with a spindle.

All is not lost if your wheel’s flyer cannot take in the cocoon flowers and you are not a spindler as you can attach your flowers to your finished yarn by securing them with sewing thread. 

 What you need:

  • Whole, undyed silk cocoons Oh, and that rattle you hear? That’s the silkworm.
  • Sharp exacto knife or scissors
  • Toothpicks or bamboo skewers
  • Craft painting brushes. Japanese calligraphy brushes are ideal
  • Silk paints
  • Paper towels
  • Styrofoam block
  • Steamer or double boiler (non-food use only)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Old towel
  • Craft flower stamens
The yarn:
  • Handspun yarn plies. One thick and thin ply is great. The other ply needs to be thin or a commercial thread/fine yarn also is awesome.
  • Tiny crochet hook (0.75mm)

Making the flowers:
1. With a sharp exacto knife or sharp pointy scissors like embroidery scissors, you are going to cut a zigzag opening around the middle of the cocoon. I cocoon makes 2 flowers. [1]For your first one or feeling a little tentative, try drawing your zigzag cut line first with a pencil.  Just a word of warning: this process doesn’t smell so great…just so you know. Once the 2 halves are separated, discard the worm.

2. Setting up to paint, cover your surface well and set out your paints/dyes. I use steam set silk dyes. Poke a skewer or toothpick through the bottom of each cocoon half and stick the other end into the block of styrofoam.

3. Glove up to protect your skin and now you are ready to paint your cocoons.

4. Have fun with your paints then set aside to dry

5. Once dry, set according to silk dye manufacturer’s instructions. What I do is wrap the cocoons separately in [2]paper towel. Line your steamer with an old towel and then place your cocoons on top of the towel. Fold the towel over and close your steamer. Do not use anything you use for food. I picked up a great steamer at a thrift shop I only use for crafts. Once the dye setting process is complete (approx. 20 minutes), you can remove the cocoons and whilst still a little warm and pliable, you can shape the petals.

Now I guess you want to know just how to get them on the yarn, eh?

1.      Your plies are of course your own choice but I will say in order to aesthetically balance the yarn, I recommend one thick or thick/thin ply and the other a thin one. The thin ply is what you will be adding the flowers to as you go. For the pictured example I used a commercial metallic filament.

2.      I add approximately 12 cocoon flowers per 2oz handspun but this  is entirely up to you. I also add it randomly so…..start plying and stop in a [3]thin section of the thick/thin ply when you want to start with your [4]first cocoon.

3.      Insert your crochet hook from the inside of the flower to outside through the hole put in earlier during the painting process.

4.      Catch your thin coordinating ply and pull it through the hole into the inside of the flower.
5.    Insert 2, 3 or how many stamens you want through the loop of the ply you just pulled through.

6.      Fold the stamens in half and pull the ply at the back of the flower firmly. This secures the stamens inside the flower.

7.      Carefully continue to ply, ensuring the back of the cocoon flower is plied in snug. Also observe how it passes through the orifice and flyer hooks and help along as needed. You can continue to ply without fussing over the flowers that are on the bobbin. You will have to pay a little more attention to filling your bobbin as you won’t want your flowers to lie on top of each other in order to get as much yarn onto your bobbin as possible. I haven’t had any problems with any tangling if I let them lie on the bobbin how they go naturally. I don’t wind off onto my niddy noddy perhaps as fast as I would a yarn without add-ons, but these flowers should be securely in place.

So Mara and others, this is how you do it but if you have any questions or get into any trouble with my directions, please do ask. It really is quite easy and opens up oodles of possibilities for adding you your yarn with the same technique. You could always add a bead instead of the stamens or lock all kinds of goodies with a loop in your plying. Please enjoy and I would love for you to share your yarn pictures.



[1] Thanks to Dotty for proof reading and handy hints.
[2] Or you can use tissue paper. There will be some dye transfer to the paper so that the paper makes awesome wrapping paper afterwards.
[3] The flowers ply in more securely on a thin ply than the fluffier thick part of the ply
[4] Keep in mind if you want to use your yarn beyond it being a finished skein for anything that may require a longer leader.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Down breed

Staple: 6-10 cm

24.5-32.5 microns

[1]Conservation Breed

 Rare breed timeline
·         1973 Shropshire Sheep numbers 'critical' on the RBST's watch list
·         1984 Increasing numbers mean Shropshires move to the watch list 'endangered' category
·         1991 Shropshires move further to 'at risk' on the watch list
·         2005 More increases see Shropshires move to 'minority breed'
·         2013 Shropshires removed from the conservation watch list

Shropshire Sheep are the oldest breed of British farm livestock to have officially recorded pedigrees. Descendants can be traced back to 1792, where Morfe Common sheep were found grazing the rolling pasturelands of Shrewsbury in Shropshire County, England. The native Longmynd also contributed to its ancestry, as well as the Cannock Chase, Whittington Heath and Clun Forest.

Originating from the hills of Shropshire  and North Staffordshire, England, during the 1840s, the breeders in the area used the local horned black-faced sheep and crossed them with a few breeds of white-faced sheep. Southdown (to breed out coarseness and horns), Cotswold, and Leicester (to improve size and wool length). This produced a medium-sized polled (hornless) sheep that produced good wool and meat. In 1855 the first Shropshires were imported into the US and was primarily raised for meat.

The breed's adaptability to most environments and their dual-purpose nature led to them quickly becoming a popular breed.

1940s US breeders began producing Shropshires with more wool cover and decreased size which led to problems resulting with loss of popularity to becoming increasingly rare around the world, even in its homeland. By the 1950’s they were again being bred back to their original popular traits. Today the traditional Shropshire sheep is considered a rare breed in most countries. Canada's Heritage Shropshire sheep are close to extinction with less than 125 registered breeding animals remaining.
The Fiber: Shropshires are covered with fine, dense wool, elastic to touch, medium fine, well crimped, with evenness of texture throughout. Shropshire are primarily white and free from black fiber. Coloured strains exsist

My Spinning Experience: [2] My sample was from a coloured strain. A pleasant medium soft, shorter staple spin with resulting next-to-Princess-skin softness of yarn



[1] Whilst this breed was on the conservation list, at time of spinning and initial research, Shropshires had just been removed from the conservation watch list . The Shropshire Sheep Breeders' Association welcomed the news and confirmed the breeding population had increased from fewer than 500 in the early 1970s to over 3,000 in 2012. This is an increase of 500%
[2] A lot of my British Breed samples were obtained through Caroline’s Etsy store, Woolforbrains, where they are consistently high quality.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Goodness gracious, Zwartbles of Fiber!


Micron: 20-35
Staple: 10-12.5cm

The Zwartbles, meaning black with a white blaze, is a breed of domestic sheep originating in the Friesland region of The Netherlands. Developed from 2 native Dutch sheep being Friesian Milk sheep and Drenthe, they were often kept alongside dairy cattle herds. Traditionally used for both milk and meat in the Netherlands, they declined significantly in use, primarily due to changes in Dutch dairying practices, until listed as critically rare by the Dutch Rare Breed Survival trust in the mid-1970s. They were introduced into Britain where they easily adapted in the 1980’s and Ireland some 20 years later, increasing numbers and popularity.

They are a black/brown fleece with white facial blaze, 2 - 4 white socks, and a white tipped, traditionally undocked tail. They are a relatively large sheep with a dense fleece.

My spinning Experience. Reflecting back upon my notes taken at the time I just wrote Holey moley, is this fiber the sproingiest fiber ever? Not super soft but a really, really enjoyable spin. The fiber has quite amazing crimp with an intense black natural colour. Zwartbles will provide you a fabulous spinning experience and resulting yarn well suited to a very special cardi should you have enough. My princess scale gives Zwartbles 5 crowns on the spinning experience and 3 for next to skin soft.
As I spin my fiber, I have thoroughly enjoyed researching each breed for a deeper understanding and even respect for them , along with the people and organizations that protect and breed each one. Whilst I find snippets of information all over the place, I found this website on the commercial cleaning of Zwartbles Fleece just amazing.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Skuddlebutt on Skudde

Rare breed. Endangered.

About the Skudde Sheep: The Skudde is a Nordic, short-tailed heather sheep belonging to the family of the mischwolligen or heath sheep. Its original homeland was East Prussia and the Baltic States. Evidence suggests it was in existence during the Iron Age and they are possibly direct descendants of the Stone Age sheep. Known as the 'sheep of the Vikings’, they accompanied the Vikings on their travels. The Skudde is culturally important and is also genetically of immense value as they are one of the purest breeds still in existence.

Uses: The wool mixture typical of this breed consists of fine wool fibers, dispersed with short hairs and course cover hair. Traditionally, Skudde would have shed their fleece naturally but this trait has been bred out. The wool was used for rugs and blankets in attractive natural colours. The guard hair is evenly distributed with the wool which makes it appropriate for felting as well as water repelling properties. Shepherds of these flocks always wore hooded cloaks made from Skudde felt. A strong rope can be produced by spinning and plying the wool. Pelts were used for rugs and leather. Males have the snail shaped horns which were used, along with bone for buttons and toggles. The colors are white, brown, black, and gray. White Skuddes have small pigment spots on the head. Although the meat is held to be a delicacy in circles of connoisseurs, for economic reasons (like slow growth rate) they are not kept for their meat. They are suited for pasturing more barren areas where they are indiscriminate in their browsing and foraging habits (like thistles, weeds and other scrub) and are ideal for landscape conservation.

My spinning Experience. Another rare and endangered breed that I have been most fortunate to work with.  Coming to me washed and carded, I didn’t have the opportunity to work with the raw fleece. I did get to experience the fine wool and longer cover hairs which I spun together giving an overall medium coarse spun yarn. Absolutely not next-to-skin-soft for this Princess but would make fine outerwear.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Steinschaf Sheep

Rare Breed

About the Steinschaf Sheep: The Steinschaf is a direct descendent of the now extinct Zaupelschaf or Neolithic Torfschaf making it one of the original breeds of the European Alps.  In the beginning of the 20th century the Steinschaf still roamed the meadows of Bavaria, Germany, especially the areas around Berchtesgaden, Traunstein, and Rosenheim. In Austria, its range was mainly in the Salzburg area.

The original Steinschaf was a dual-coated, small, and wiry high mountain sheep, characteristics making it ideal for the high mountains in the Eastern Alpine regions. The modern Steinschaf is now a robust, small to medium-sized sheep with dual coated fleece with pithy, long coarse hair and fine wavy and short under coat

 With every wool colour from white to black to browns,as well as brindled. They have small heads, free of wool, straight noses and short, pointed ears stuck out sideways. The tail is long and thin. 


According to the Society for the Conservation of old and endangered Livestock Breeds, In 1863 about 208 000 animals existed. Numbers were reduced to 1000 in 1964. Breeders in Germany and Austria collected 30 animals  in 1985 leading to 2004 where they created a programme to market high quality products made of Steinschaf wool. This successfully helped to increase Steinschaf numbers.


My spinning Experience: I was fortunate to have a Steinschaf lamb sample. It was a gorgeous dark, dark shade. A bit neppy, likely through the carding process ,the fibers were short but created a rustic yarn. This Princess recommends spinning a sample of this rare fiber and should you gather enough, it would be an amazing conversation piece(whilst supporting increased Steinschaf numbers) for an outerwear garment…just not next to Princess skin soft.