söndag 19 juni 2011

Soay and Soay/Poll Dorset Cross. My Fiber Studies 24

I take part in the SpinDoctor Rare Breed Wool Challenge on Ravelry. My blog posts are tagged SpinDoctor. The challenge ends June 30, 2011. You find SpinDoctor's podcasts in my Link List to the right.

This is my last fiber in the Challenge, but I'll continue later with more studies. There are quite a few samples on their way to me from people who want to contribute, thanks to you nice spinners! I also want to thank all who have commented my studies in the SpinDoctor group on Ravelry and by personal mails to me.

Special thanks to SpinDoctor! The yarns the people in the Challenge have shown in the group have been gorgeous, and the discussion has been a wonderful way to learn more about different wools. The podcasts have been like stepping into your studio and having a chat with you and the inventive cat :) For people who haven't listened I suggest you do it now! Much information, personal touch, and lots of people to meet.

Special thanks also to Deborah Robson! You are the primus motor of us who have fallen in love with rare wools. Thank you so much!

Photo from Spin Off, Summer 2011, Deborah Robson on Soay sheep

The last fiber study in the Challenge is - a challenge! I'm happy to finish with this :) It takes me right back to history even more thoroughly than earlier old breeds, and back to this day with the crossbreed wool as an evidence of how you can change wool by breeding.
Vitmossen. Reconstructed Bronze Age settlement in Vörå, Finland (1500-900 BC)
View from the smaller house on Vitmossen. My Soay and Soay Dorset cross yarns on the stool

Soay

The Sheep

Soay is probably the oldest sheep breed there is. It's origin goes back to the Bronze age or even the Neolithic age of the British isles. That means four thousand years of sheep in the St. Kilda archipelago. There are four varieties of Soay sheep in out days. The sheep has a fascinating history, far too long to cover in a short blog post. One thing though: the Soay sheep have been living on their own for long periods, and because of that they were feral for a while. They are still difficult to herd, but it can be done.

Today there are Soay sheep in other parts of the world also. Here is interesting information from Saltmarsh Farm about two types of Soay: British and North American.

If you are intersted in Soay I strongly suggest you read Deborah Robson's article about Soay sheep and wool in Spin Off magazine Summer 2011. She is very thorough and the article is a joy to read.

The Wool




Four unwashed wool samples from the same Soay fleece

Soay fibers have a micron count of 29-36. There are hair, wool and kemp in the fleece. The weather bleeched tips make a nice tweedy yarn, but they can also be plucked off for a deep brown-black color. The variations between the fleeces are big. The sheep molt, which makes the wool difficult to prepare and spin if the wool has been sheared at the wrong time, when the old fleece is coming off and new has already started to grow.

My Experience

Soay

Jane sent me half of a Soay sheep. It was a deep, rich brown with a few bleached tips before I scoured it. It was pelty! I wish I had a place to wash fleece outdoors so I could take the water to the flower beds. Something to wish for in the future, a wool room with sinks, hot water, shelves, a sturdy table for combs and drumcarder.

After the scouring the fibers were still very dark blackish brown with bleached tips. A good thing was that I could spread the wool on the attic floor to dry. The attic is a warm an undisturbed place in spring, summer and autumn, in the winter it's as cold as it's outdoors. But I can't leave the wool on the floor for long. Moths will come in, and that is one of my biggest fears in life. They live on fat, so a properly scoured fleece is not a big temptation for them.

The wool was short, and there were skin flakes as you can see in one of the photos above. Deb writes in her article that a Soay fleece has many types of fibers from quite harsh to very fine, and from very short to about 2 inches long, and I could see that in my fleece too. Separating them would be impossible.

Preparation:
1. A few locks combed on Gammeldags two row mini combs
2. A few locks carded on Louet fine cloth handcarders
Spinning wheel: Louet Victoria
Ratio: 1:8.5
Draw: woolen (both preps, producing a few meters of semi-woolen and woolen yarns)
Twists per inch in singles:
1. semi-woolen 8
2. woolen 9
Twist angle in singles:
1. semi-woolen 45
2. woolen 45
Twists per inch in finished yarn:
1. semi-woolen 10
2. woolen 12
Twist angle in finished yarn:
1. semi-woolen 45
2. woolen 45
Wraps per inch in singles
1. semi-woolen 18
2. woolen 20
Wraps per inch in finished yarn
1. semi-woolen 10
2. woolen 10

I combed a few Soay staples. Deb Robson has showed it can be done, and she advices you to comb if the fleece has skin flakes or curf like this one has, because combing takes away at least some of it which carding does not. We are so focused on fiber lengths nowadays that we often forget combs are much older than handcarders. The short fibers from primitive breeds was combed for thousands of years before there were any carders. With combs designed for short fibers we can still comb them.

I lost about half of the fibers in the process, so I decided to leave the rest of these precious fibers for now and prepare them later when I have more time, and perhaps use other combs that would leave more of the short fibers in the prep (Louet one row). The bleeched tips came off i the combing process, and the carding also produced lots of neps.

You can spin Soay yarns in the same ways I spun the Boreray fibers if you select your fleece carefully: Boreray, my fiber studies 17

Conclusions

If I one day would spin, weave and sew the dress I have been thinking of, I think Soay and/or Boreray would be very high on my list for fibers. Just like Deb Robson I feel a bit solemn when working with wool with such a long history. I like the uneven, stretchy but somehow very real yarn I can spin from wools like these.

The dress is this one, or one of the others that have been found in Finland: Euran muinaispuku

Soay/Poll Dorset Crossbreed

A spinner on Ravelry had Soay/Poll Dorset crossbreed fleeces for sale, and I was lucky to have one. The fleece was in very good condition with very little to skirt off. I washed a few locks and realized I had to be very careful. The wool was long compared to the Soay, and it was fine. Poll Dorset is a sheep breed with 8-10 cm long white wool with a micron count of 33-34. The cross wool from this Soay/Poll Dorset fleece is of very good quality and as I estimated of medium range.

I spread out the fleece on the kitchen table. The fleece had been folded in one piece, so it was easy to skirt. I loved that! Usually you get fleece in one heap with no sorting been done, and that's much more difficult to work with.

The first thing I noticed was the length of the wool. It was much longer than the Soay. Then I found that the fibers were very soft and fine. The whole fleece seemed to be very consistent compared to other fleeces I've worked with. The harshest parts had already been picked out, so I saw only a few locks where the Soay genes were visible.

My experience

Preparation: combed on Valkyrie Extra Fine combs
Spinning wheel: Louet Victoria
Ratio: 1:8.5
Draw: short forward and short backward (changing the draw while spinning depending on what the fibers asked for)
Twists per inch in singles: 10
Twist angle in singles: 45
Twists per inch in finished yarn: 8
Twist angle in finished yarn: 45
Wraps per inch in singles: 42
Wraps per inch in finished yarn: 13

Combing the fleece showed a double coat. I combed out some of the undercoat, but left some for more loftiness in the yarn. As the fibers are of different lengts I get tops with fibers of different lengths, and that explains why I have to change my draw while working through the top.

I spun with a worsted draw because I thought the fiber wanted to become a smooth, fine 2-ply yarn even if it has quite a lot of crimp in the undercoat, but also found that a short backward draw worked better in the parts of the top with undercoat in it.

I also tried to spin a thicker singles to be used in the same way you use Faeroese yarns in lace shawls, but I'm not very good at that kind of spinning yet. But I realized I have to comb out more of the undercoat to be able to spin a smoother yarn. I would also have to spin with less twist to get a more balanced yarn. But you could knit a nice garter stitch shawl from this yarn also.

Conclusions

Spinning this wool was much like spinning longwools, but there was far more crimp. I like the color, a warm light brown. The combination of Soay and Poll Dorset in this particular fleece came out very nice. I read in the Ravelry forum where I found the buyer that the lady who breeds these cross sheep takes very good care of them. You can see that in the fleece.

The finished yarn bounced up far more than I had expected. The WPI was 42 in the singles, and 13 in the finished 2-ply. The crimp in the fibers is the reason for this, but also the low amount of twist in the singles. This allows the fibers to move away from each other when the yarn is washed. The yarn is also much more stretchy than I thought it would be.

This is really nice wool. I don't yet know how I'll use the fleece, but I hope to keep the color variations and be able to catch them in the finished garment, and also to use the crimp for a soft and warm result. Because of the way I combed the fleece the yarn will not be consistent. There will be parts with only hair, and parts with both hair and wool.

Conclusions about the Soay and the Soay/Poll Dorset

If someone would give me the cross fleece without me knowing what it is I could never guess. I would also have big difficulties in deciding weather I have a Soay or a Boreray fleece. The Soay and the cross are two completely different wools, but both make squishy, medium soft yarns with a lot of air and quite stretchy. They can be used for knitting, weaving, crochet and nalbinding.
 
Read More

Internet
The Soay and Boreray Sheep Society
The Soay Sheep Chronicles. Blog about raising Soay
Saltmarsh Ranch
Rare Breeds Survival Trust

Literature
Deborah Robson, Soay Sheep. Connecting today's spinners with thousands of years of heritage. Article in Spin Off, Summer 2011, pp. 86-91. The article has an impressive list of sources for further reading.
M. L. Ryder, Sheep & Man. Duckworth,2007
British Sheep & Wool. British Wool Marketing Board, 2010
Nola & Jane Fournier, In Sheep's Clothing. Interweave Press, 1995