fredag 21 januari 2011

North Ronaldsay. My Fiber Studies 4

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

The Sheep

These sheep have lived on North Ronaldsay for very long. They "... are closely related genetically to the prehistoric Palustris" Elizabeth Lovick writes in her informative booklet "A North Ronaldsay Yarn". She continues: "They also have many similarities with the Asian Arkhan sheep in Kazakhstan" and "... to be very similar indeed to the bones of sheep found in the stone age village of Skara Brae on Mainland (about 3 thousand BC) and virtually identical to the remains of iron age sheep found throughout Orkney". The sheep belongs to the North Atlantic short tailed group together with Hebridean, Soay, Shetland, Icelandic and Villsau. It is believed to be the ancestor of Shetland sheep. In 1832 the sheep were closed out from the better lands on the island and forced to live on the shores and live on seaweed for greater part of the year. A sudden change of the diet to normal grazing can kill them (copper poisoning).

The North Ronaldsay is a small and fine boned sheep. The rams are horned, the ewes can be horned, polled or scurred. The meat is delicious.

The Wool

North Ronaldsay is a dual coated sheep. The undercoat is "fine as cashmere" says Liz Lovick, and protects the sheep from cold. The outer coat (guard hair) is long and much coarser and leads water out from the wool helping to keep the sheep dry. The lock is triangular as the undercoat fills up in the cut end making it wider.
Scoured lock from Deborah Robson's class in Stirling 2010. Deb's sample card, my notes

The variety of color includes white, grey, black, brown in different shades. The staple length is 4-at least 17 cm. Some written sources says as short as 8 cm as the longest, but as you can see this is not true. The crimp is open in the outer coat, fine in the under coat. The hand is soft to harsh depending on the amount of outer coat and the age of the sheep.

Earlier the sheep where rooed (wool pulled off) when the sheep shed naturally, nowadays they are sheared.

The wool is used for garments like sweaters, hats, mittens. The fleece can be dehaired for a soft yarn. The outer coat can be used in stronger but more harsh yarns.

My Experience

I spun North Ronaldsay for the first time in August 2010 in Stirling, Scotland, in Deb Robson's class on rare wools. We spun from the locks, or, if we had time we combed, flicked or carded them first.

In the autumn I spun the rest of what I could take with me from that class and documented it. I combed the locks with one row Louet mini combs, threw away the rather matted short undercoat and spindle spun the top I could draft out from the comb. This yarn I will use in a hat.
                          Combed spindle spun North Ronaldsay

While in Scotland I bought white, gray and dark brown sliver from Scottish Fibres. The dark brown could be black, I don't know how black North Ronaldsay can be considering they most probably have tips bleached to brown that obscure the pure black. I took 20 grams each from these slivers for this fiber study. The slivers are carded from whole fleeces, so there is every kind of fibers in them: short soft undercoat, longer coarser outercoat and kemp. The slivers drifted apart very easily and were a bit difficult to spin even, but I wanted even yarns I could use in Fair Isle knit, so I decided to try anyway as part of the SpinDoctor's Wool Breed Challenge.

When you spin fibers from a double coated fleece you have to be aware that you are not getting a smooth merino type of yarn. But you can get a very nice yarn suitable for the weather in a cold, wet coastal area. That's what the sheep have grown their fleece for, and that is what you can use it for yourself.

I also took this as a challenge to spin three similar yarns from different fibers to get suitable yarn for a knitted Fair Isle swatch.
                                   Dark brown, grey and white sliver

Options for all three samples

Spinning wheel: Louet Victoria, standard flyer, ratio 1:8.5
WPI in singles on my wpi-tool: 28 (average).
Drafting: double semi-woolen draft. First I let in a little twist by starting what would be a long draw if I continued drafting, but I stopped when there was enough twist to hold the sliver together. Then I followed up with proper drafting and smoothing of the yarn. I wanted to trap the short fibers in the yarn for a loft, warm yarn, but still keep it fine as I also want to wear the hat or mittens. I don't like thick knitted garments because they are too warm for me.
Knitted swatch: 31 stitches, 24 rows, needles 2.5 mm. Pattern from Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting, p. 57.

As all three samples where spun, plied and washed the same way. I give details only for the first sample.

1st sample: The white sliver. There was much kemp and very short fibers from the undercoat among the longer ones from the outer coat as you can see in the first photo:

             First part of the double woolen draft: I have let a bit of twist enter the drafting zone
Second part of the double draft: I have drafted to the fineness I want and let the definitive twist into the yarn.

There is much twist in my yarn. I had to decide on lower twist for a more lofty yarn or high twist for strength and less pilling. I chose the latter.

I combed a few cm of the sliver to see what happens. Short fibers and some kemp were left on the combs after I had drafted out the top. The yarn was spun with short forward draw and then I let it ply back. The yarn is smoother and looks better, but it is also coarser.
This is what was left on the combs after I combed a few cm of the sliver: short undercoat, some long outercoat and kemp

I took the waste from the combs, added a few drops of water and just rubbed it between my fingers, and it felted. I made a small flower of it. I don't know how good felt you could get from the undercoat treated in such a rough way, first carded in a mill and then combed with hand combs,  but at least you could blend it with something else to get good felt. I didn't try needle felting, but of course you could use the soft undercoat for that technique also. On North Ronaldsay the mill owner Jane Donnelly has a felting press she has used for different kinds of felt.

The plied and washed white sample weighed 15 grams and was 83 meters long.

2nd sample: The gray sliver. There was very little kemp in this sliver, and it felt softer than the white one. But when I spun I could see the outercoat and kemp start rising from the yarn on the bobbin. The fibers were stiff and didn't want to twist into the yarn.

The plied and washed gray sample weighed 15 grams and was 93 meters long.

3rd sample: The brown sliver. This was the easiest to spin of the three slivers. It felt coarser, and I think there was a greater amount of outercoat in it. It was shorter than the orther yarns evn if I measured the same WPI ehile spinning.

The plied and washed brown sample weighed 15 grams and was 72 meters long.

                     Big sample skeins 2-ply from sliver, small skeins 3-ply navajo

This is a fiber and yarn with character. The yarn was a joy to knit.

For a sweater I would spin thicker, or a 3-ply. This thin 2-ply yarn would be very good in mittens or a hat. It could also be used in a sweater, but then I would knit on a machine. Handknitting would take forever! But as you can see in the swatch I really would need to work on the diameter control. Even in this small swatch the white yarn is bulging out to the sides because it is thicker than the others.

Read more
There is much information on North Ronaldsay on internet. Here is some:
Northern Lace Fiber Adventure 2010
Sheep Isle, North Ronaldsay
Rare Breeds Survival Trust
Wikipedia North Ronaldsay
Use a search engine to find the contact details for the mill on North Ronaldsay: A Yarn from North Ronaldsay Ltd
Elizabeth Lovick, A North Ronaldsay Yarn. The Sheep, Their Yarn and Their Island, s.a. Northern Lace
Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius, The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. Storey Publishing, to be released May 2011
M.L. Ryder, Sheep and Man. Duckworth, 2007
Nola and Jane Fournier, In Sheep's Clothing, Interweave Press, 1995
British Sheep & Wool. British Wool Marketing Board, 2010
Wild Fibers Magazine, 2004