onsdag 5 januari 2011

Brown Shetland. My Fiber Studies 2

Tess the border collie is keeping the sheep in order on a croft in Shetland. At least she's trying, we, the tourists, didn't give her much chance. She was more interested in playing with things she found on the ground because she had an audience :)

I take part in the SpinDoctor Wool Breed Challenge on Ravelry. My blog posts are tagged "SpinDoctor". The Challenge ends June 30th 2011.

Most Shetland sheep are white, but there are also colored sheep in grey to black and light brown to dark brown and moorit. The sheep belongs to the Northern European short tailed group, and it'd dual coated, i.e. it has a short soft undercoat and a longer outercoat. The white Shetland has recovered after being near to disappear, but the colored are threatened. It's getting more and more difficult to buy good colored fleece.

The quality of Shetland fleece is graded into five grades from finest to damaged. You can read more in an article written by Elizabeth Lovick in the magazine YarnMaker, October 2010. The sheep is dual coated, but the "improved" Shetland has less differencies between undercoat and outercoat than the more primitive individuals. Colored Shetland usually has a very distinct double coat.

Colored Shetland is an adventure! You can work in so many ways with a colored fleece. There are no two fleeces exactly the same. The color and quality variation is vast. Today I show a few basic ways to work with a colored fleece except one: I did not cut off the bleached tips as I had so little fibers. If you want a deep brown even color and the wool is long enough, you cut off the tips. Colored Shetland is used in Hap shawls, Fair Isle and Aran knits.

I had only about 35 grams of brown 1st grade Shetland wool, which I grabbed from a fleece given by Oliver Henry to people take with them at Spin Night in Stirling, Scotland, in August 2010. Now I deeply  regret I didn't take the whole fleece, but at that time I couldn't see how I would get it home to Finland. I could have mailed it, silly me! At home I gently scoured the handful I had. I didn't want to wash out all of the lanolin, because that would be needed in my worsted spinning sample.

Oliver Henry is the world's greatest authority on Shetland wool. He is the director of Shetland Woolbrokers/Jamieson and Smith in Lerwick, Shetland. He has been working with wool for 50 years. Here he shows a fleece in the wool shed, where the work with the fleeces is intense i August 2010:
I had some scoured brown Finn Wool for comparison. Shetland and Finnsheep are both North European short tailed breeds. Their wool can be very similar, as you can see in the photo below. Finnsheep to the left, Shetland to the right. I think the wool in both samples come from young animals, maybe lambs. The Shetland has been shorn in August, the Finn in the autumn.

The lock structure is triangular, which is typical to double coated fleece. The undercoat fills up close to the skin, and keeps the sheep warm in rough weather. The outer coat leads the water away, and also helps to keep the fleece open so it won't felt on the sheep. In the Finn to the left you see a more open crimp than in the Shetland to the right. The crimp in this Shetland lock is even, but in the Finn fleece there were locks with similar crimp. The staple length of my Shetland was 6-10 cm, in the lock below about 6 cm.

OK, let's leave the Finn and concentrate on Shetland:

It's difficult to describe the hand of 1st grade Shetland. I think I can feel the structure of the fiber, but that sounds ridiculous as the fiber is so fine: 12-20 microns in the undercoat, 30-40 in the outercoat, but that's an average that does not count for the fine 1st grade outercoat. Anyway, you have to feel it to understand.

First preparation: separating the double coat by combing. I combed each lock separately with a tight dog comb. This is the way to prepare Shetland 1st grade wool for spinning the super fine yarn used in Shetland lace shawls. You don't want the undercoat in the yarn for the finest shawls. I learned to comb from master spinner Margaret Peterson in Shetland in August 2010. You take a firm grip of the lock and start combing from one end, then turn it over and comb the other end. I find it easier to start with the cut end, which I comb until there is no underwool left. OT: I need a new comb, do you know where I can buy one? This is a flee i.e. fleece...;) dog comb.
In the picture below you can see a lock that is rather typical to primitive sheep breeds: the sheep has shed some of it's wool at some point, and new has started growing. The breaking point is about one third from the cut end. These short, shed fibers can be carded into a woolen yarn. To the left the combed fibers, in the middle the lock, to the right what's combed off. I store the combed fibers with all tip ends pointing in the same direction.

As I had very little of the brown Shetland, I combed only about ten locks to get a mini sample skein. I spun them from the cut end on a 16 grams Michael Williams spindle. I ordered the spindle from Mike on Elizabeth Lovick's recommendation, and I have not regretted that I bought it. It's perfect for spinning Shetland lace yarn, and as Mike has made many spindles for that purpose you can rely on getting a good one. This yarn need much twist and careful drafting, which requires a spindle that spins fast and long. The yarn has to take the stress of extreme blocking of the shawl. It's often used as a singles. I plied the tiny sample on the same spindle, but I would use a heavier spindle or a wheel for plying a bigger amount of yarn. If you have a wheel suitable for this kind of yarn feel free to use it. In Shetland they have small, sturdy wheels with big ratios. Mary Kay is one of the skillful lace knitters of the island, here she is with her wheel in Jamieson & Smith's shop in Lerwick:

The best way to spin the super thin Shetland worsted lace yarn is in the grease. The fleece has very little lanolin, and the sheep are often quite clean. They graze in the vast Shetland mores and they are frequently washed by rain. As you can see from the combing picture above, most of the vegetable matter falls out in the preparation.

Second preparation: carding the undercoat. I carded the undercoat and other short fibers I combed out from the longer fibers and spun them on my Russian supported spindle from IST Crafts. Some of the bleached tips came out in the combing, and I added them to this yarn. I navajo plied it into a few meters of 3-ply just to show what kind of yarn you can spin from "waste". With larger amounts of waste you can spin a nice yarn with neps and an uneven structure. The yarn is very soft, quite comparable to cashmere, so feel free to use it for babies if the mother likes to do her laundry by hand...

Third preparation: carding undercoat and outercoat together. I wanted to have one woolen Shetland yarn with both undercoat and outercoat. I opened the locks by teasing. This time I plucked out weak tips and double cuts. I used Louet's fine carders, on which I can card a rolag very suitable for long draw. I spun with English long draw on Louet Victoria, standard flyer and bobbin, ratio 1:13.

Here you can see all three yarns together. The worsted small skein feels very silky, and it has quite a good luster. There is 13 meters in the skein which weighs less than 1 gram. The woolen mini skein with about 2 meters of yarn was spun from combing waste is soft with less luster and would probably felt good. The woolen double coat skein is very soft, 166 meters, 24 grams.

Find out more about Shetland wool:
Internet: there is much knowledge about Shetland sheep, I suggest you search internet, but here is one link: Shetland sheep on Wikipedia
Literature: M.L. Ryder, Sheep and Man. Clara Parkes, The Knitter's Book of Wool. Nola and Jane Fournier, In Sheep's Clothing. Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius, The Fleece & Fiber Source Book (to be released in May 2011). The magazines Spin Off and YarnMaker.
Spinning instruction: Watch out for Liz Lovick's CD on spinning Shetland, it's coming in the spring 2011!
Shetland textiles: Northern Lace Liz Lovick Shetland Museum Unst Heritage Centre Heirloom Knitting
Spindles shown here: Michael Williams IST Crafts