I am a spinner, both drop spindle and on one of my 4 wheels that range from ancient to less than a year old. I started spinning about a decade ago only on drop spindles and using easy to spin, clean, dyed wool and silk. My knowledge of wool was that it came from sheep, little did I know how many different breeds of sheep there were and how different the properties of their wool varied. Along the way, I did get introduced to Alpaca and helped with a couple of shearings, being rewarded with some of the fiber to spin. Alpaca lacks the lanolin of sheep wool and is easier to clean and can be spun directly from the dirty locks and then washed as yarn. But I prefer wool and have had my preference for the breeds that I spun.
A couple of years ago, there was a new vendor at the weekly Farmer’s Market and she had yarn and roving as part of her goods. The wool was a breed I had not spun, in fact, had never heard of and I made a new friend and learned about the breed that was on the Livestock Conservation list, Leicester Longwool. I enjoyed spinning the wool I bought from her sheep being raised locally. I have been to their farm, visited with their critters last spring when there were lambs bouncing around and one little beauty being bottle fed as she had been rejected by her mom.
This friend asked me this past late summer if I had any interest in participating in a project that the Livestock Conservancy was putting together that would allow using fiber from threatened sheep breeds. This was perfect timing as there was so much contention with the anti wool ads that were being publicized. I said yes and she said she would share the information when it was getting going. She did, the idea that you purchase a minimum of 4 ounces of wool or yarn, spin, knit, crochet, needle felt, or otherwise produce something with the wool. When the wool is purchased, you get a sticker, and that sticker goes into a passport book that you get for registering as a fiber artist with the program. The program is scheduled for three years and to earn a prize, you have to use at least 5 of the 22 Conservation Priority breeds. I fell in hard and immediately ordered several wools I had never spun and finished the first 3 before I could even officially register to get my passport.
The first three I spun were Jacob, Navajo Churro, and Shetland. Shetland is the only one I had previously handled. I enjoyed all three of these, really falling in love with Jacob. As I started the fourth, Karakul, they opened the registration and I quickly sent my $15 to get the passport, a lapel pin, and more information which I am anxiously awaiting the arrival.
Last night I finished the Karakul, an ancient Asian breed that as lambs have a decent fleece, it is a primitive breed with a double coat and as they age, the coat often gets fairly coarse. It is the wool of Persian rugs. The Karakul 4 ounces was interesting to spin, feeling much like spinning flax or a horse’s tail, but the whole purpose of this is to experience the different breeds and to support them as they are all in need of conservation.
Many of the fiber providers offer a breed card with information on the breed and how to spin it and some have offered small samples from a sheep of the same breed, but a different color than the one ordered. I am using the card to hold a bit of unspun fiber, a bit of spun yarn, and either using the sample to make a mini skein or just winding off a few yards of the spun yarn to make a mini skein that I will be able to use when I do demonstrations or teach camps to show the different textures and natural colors of these Conservation Priority breeds.
My fifth breed, Romeldale CVM is currently being spun. In my basket are Tunis, Clun Forest, Leicester Longwood (from my friend), Gulf Coast Native (which is raw and has to be washed and carded but also from a local farm), and on order is Lincoln.
My goal is to try to obtain and spin all 22 breeds within the three years. The ones that aren’t so coarse that they must be felted or made into rugs, will be knitted into a blanket, probably a log cabin blanket for our log home.
Supporting this endeavor, the shepherds that raise these sheep, and helping to dispel the horrible inaccurate ads that shearing is wrong is such a delight. Thank you shepherds for keeping my wheels and hands busy and helping the public see that fleece comes from a sheep, not a roll of plastic cloth.