FIBERUARY – SHEEP TO SHAWL CONTEST

FIBERUARY 2017

SHEEP TO SHAWL CONTEST

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Have you ever wanted  to be in a Sheep to Shawl Contest.  I am going to share some of the ins and outs of the contest with you and hope to get some of you to participate in one..    Years ago I belonded to a spinning group WOOLGATHERES.  It was a lucky find for me.  There I found like minded people who loved spinning, weaving, sheep and other fiber animals and lifelong friends, now we stil share the same things plus rug hooking!

It all starts with a fleece and 4 people who work good together.  We had a weaver, Renee, a carder and plyer and sometime spinner Lynn, and Debbie and I who were fast spinners.    The planning started way ahead .  The first thing was finding a fleece and deciding if we should use a handspun  warp.   Handspinning the warp is something we always did, the extra points you get always helps.  We found that it was best to have one person do the spinning,  that would make an even warp..    Another consideration was to dye the warp and or weft.  This always depended on the pattern.  

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Our favorite show was The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival which is held on the first full weekend in May every year..  We did it for quite a few years.  At this show you need a live sheep and your own shearer.  We did get some lovely sheep from a woman in Maryland , the shearer was another thing.  We had asked a shearer from around here to do it and he did agree.  Never showed up on the morning of the contest, luckily the owner of the sheep was there and she did an excellent job of shearing.  We won many times there.  I will agree there is a lot of pressure in these contests.  The rules are different everywhere and need to be studied before hand.  Folks can be very competitive.  We always had fun and laughed and chatted all through the contest.

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Costumes were worn and signs were made.  A rug and flowers or a plant helped make the space more homey.  Some people played music.  We found it distracting especially when one group play wolves howeling!!!!!! (at a sheep show really!!!!!) We always had some tools you never knew when you needed to fix a wheel or loom.  At the Maryland show Shawls were auctioned off and that was very exciting.  Shawls would go up to a couple of hundred dollars and with the first price money that added up to a tidy sum.

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We did win most contests and in the first year or two we divided up the money and each went our own way.  But later we decided to pool the money and we all took a wonderful trip to Ireland on our Sheep to Shawl earnings.  I am not saying we didn’t have some losses and we did learn from them. 

I really miss those wonderful times and wish we could do it one more time!!

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FIBERuary Jill and Jim Lyons

Hello

FIBERuary Day 27   SKIRTING FLEECES

 

Skirting Fleece

 

“Skirting” is the traditional term for removing less desirable/ clearly unusable parts of a sheep fleece.  When a fleece is laid out- cut side down- it looks something like this:

(in this sketch, the head end of the fleece is facing down).  You’ll see that the outside edges of the fleece, all the way around, are the edges to be removed.  (Think of a laid out skirt, with the hem chopped off.)

 

It’s helpful to lay the fleece out on a skirting table.  Ours is about 4’ by 8’, a wooden frame around welded wire that’s set on sawhorses.  The holes in the wire let some small bits fall through.

 

The amount of skirting to be done on any particular fleece can vary tremendously:  all the way from none to virtually the entire fleece.

 

For me, the two things I’m skirting is fiber that is structurally unsound or contaminated by vegetation.  Structurally unsound fleece can be:

  • Fleece from the belly or legs (often a very different quality).
  • Fleece with kemp (hair not wool) fibers- unless from a fleece that should have kemp.
  • Fleece so weathered that all oil is gone.  This fleece is usually found around the edges and (particularly in luster fleece) along the backbone.
  • Parts of fleece that are cotted (clumped together)
  • Fleece with a break (usually caused by stress, when the wool growth has been retarded)
  • Fleece contaminated with manure and so weathered or colored.
  • “Second cuts” or short bits where the shearer has sheared some fleece twice.

 

Most vegetal contamination is caused by hay or by weeds.  Sheep are gregarious creatures, and love to chew while turning their head over the back of the sheep next to them.  (My tallest sheep almost always have less back hay than the shorter ones.)  They love to pull out great bunches of hay, dropping the uneaten portions.  This is why most sheep feeders have small openings, forcing the sheep to take smaller bites.  Sheep will also dribble hay over their own and their neighbors’ neck wool. Weeds can be of many species.  We’re renovating old pasture and my two biggest problems come from burdock and thistles…sometimes I don’t get to removing them before the sheep find them.  Burdocks aren’t too bad to get out- as long as they’re removed right after they attach.  I once had some sheep get into beggars’ ticks- most of that fleece had to be tossed.

 

So from a shepherd’s perspective, how do you keep the fleeces clean?  There are lots of strategies:

  • Most time consuming, expensive and effective are sheep coats.  These need to be kept clean (washed and dried after a bout of hot, wet weather- and other times.  Lots of labor- but the value of your fleece is doubled- or tripled.
  • Pay attention to your pastures.  Always check them and remove weeds before turning the sheep into a new section.
  • In winter with snow, ground feed your sheep on clean snow each day.  When you do this, you break the bale into flakes and lay each flake out about 3 feet from any other.  This reduces hay from one dropping into the fleece of a neighboring sheep.
  • We’re trying a new experiment this year, shearing in the fall instead of the spring.  This means that we’re shearing fleece that’s been grazing and not eating hay for five or six months.  The hay falling onto shorter fleece seems to stick less- and some likely washes out over the summer.  The couple we experimented with worked well- we’ll have to see what the whole group look like in October.

 

The photos are of a Romney fleece with six months growth which was shorn in the fall.  The fleece is a bit jumbled- but  the first picture shows about one third of the fleece, with the two small piles on the right being the fleece I’ve skirted out.

The next photo is a close up of some of the wool so you can see the staple.

From a spinner’s perspective, a lot depends on how bad the fleece is and how much you like it.  One of the frustrations is that the finest fleece around the neck is generally in the worst shape, as shown on the two diagrams below. 

When I skirt I actually sort into three bags:  Prime, Seconds, and Skirtings.  I’ve learned that I can often use the seconds- after washing and dyeing they can surprise me.  I’m still looking for skirting uses.  It composts very slowly, makes lousy mulch.  I’ve had people use it for insulation in a double wall (unwashed….not sure what it attracts).  Someone tried to use it as the first layer on a green (ie, planted) roof.  Our dogs have bags of it to sleep on during cold winters….but I just replace the wool if it gets soaked with urine or throw-up.

 

I do weigh and make notes about each fleece, and I use those notes when breeding and when culling.

 

When you buy a fleece it should be clean!  You still should lay it out and look at it whole.  Are the different sections of fleece similar in staple length and softness?  If not and you want to make one project from that whole fleece, you’ll need to take care to evenly blend the different kinds of fiber.  Lots of times I just use the different types of fleece in different ways.

 

Hope this helps you approach a fleece- buying one raw (in the grease) is a great way to start.  Fun- and it smells good.

 

Jill Horton-Lyons

Winterberry Farm

 

FIBERuary Eric and Barbara Goodchild

Hello

FIBERuary   Day 19  Eric and Barbara Goodchild -Handspun Yarn

HANDSPUN

Hello.  We are Barbara and Eric Goodchild of Barberic Farm in Shelburne, MA.  We are going to tell you about our handspun wool yarn.

Handspun yarn is yarn that is created by “hand” using just fingers, simple sticks, or more complicated machines run by people power, to twist fibers into heavier string than the original fiber.  This twisting holds the many short fibers together to create a stronger and longer “string” to make items from.

On our farm, handspun starts with our Romney sheep.  Care is taken all year to keep the wool on the sheep as clean as possible.  The sheep are fed from pastures free of high weeds and grass, with seeds that could get into their fleece.   In the winter, once the sheep are off of pasture, and in the barn full time, we put coats on the sheep.  A sheep coat is much like a dog coat.

Extra nutrition is given to the ewes (female sheep) when they are nursing their lambs, to keep the fibers strong while there is a big drain on the ewes natural resources as she feeds her lambs and grows her new fleece.  If a sheep becomes under-nourished or sick, this can cause the wool fibers to become thin or brittle.  This will cause a weak spot in the fiber that will break while being made into handspun.

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Shearing time on our farm is in March, about 4-6 weeks before lambing.  At that time each fleece is skirted to remove the dirty fleece and vegetable matter, weighed, measured, and labeled with the sheep’s name.  Fleeces are stored in brown paper bags until they are sold or sent to Still River Mill in  Eastford, CT to be made into roving.

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Roving is a continuous  length of washed, combed fibers that we use to spin into handspun.  The spinning of the yarn is done on our Ashford spinning wheel, which is powered by a foot pedal that causes the fly wheel to turn that powers the spinning apparatus.

Handspun wool yarn can be spun fine, medium or thick.  Just like commercially made yarns, the yarns thickness is defined by a number system.  Lace is #1. Sock is #2. DK or light worsted is #3. Worsted is #4. Heavy worsted is #5. And Bulky is #6.  These weights allow the knitter to know how best to use the yarn.

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Once the yarn is spun, we can ply 2 or more strands together to make a thicker or variegated colored yarn.  Once the bobbin on the spinning wheel is full, we remove the yarn and put it on a kniddy-knoddy.  This stretches the yarn to prevent tangles, and makes what is called a skein.  After plying each skein is soaked, drained, squeezed to remove the water, and hung at full length with a weight at the bottom to dry.  This process sets the twist of the yarn.

After the yarn is fully dry, we measure the skein’s length, weight, and thickness.  Now it is ready to be made into beautiful wool garments or crafts.