Friday, 29 July 2011

The origins of my yarn

I promised to tell you over a week ago about the yarn I’ve been dyeing.  I’ve been keeping you waiting, but all for a good cause. So much has been going on.  

Last weekend I had a stand at Fibre East, my first ever stand at a fibre event.  The weekend before I was demonstrating hand spinning at the Kent County Show with my Guild.  Sadly it poured with rain both days I was there so I spent several soggy hours spinning damp feeling fibre with the wind blowing the rain into the tent, spattering my wheel.  When I was off duty I did get to lurk around the sheep lines taking photos of each breed.  I also caught up with the Sheep Show guys.  If you’ve never seen The Sheep Show it is well worth watching.  Hilarious and educational, I never get bored of the performance. 

This week I have been trying to reconcile what I thought I sold at Fibre East with what I actually sold and get my stock sorted and back into storage.  I have also written an article for YarnMaker about Fibre East, the deadline was today.  Things have been completely manic.

Now I’ve got that lot off my chest let’s get back to yarns.  The yarn I have been dyeing is rather special, it comes from fleeces I selected at shearing time.  I had the fleeces spun at a small mill near me and I have been dyeing some skeins with natural dyes and some with acid dyes.  The sheep the wool came from are all Texel cross North of England Mules.  This type of sheep is normally bred for meat but the particular sheep who contributed their fleeces to the yarn are pets.  I will try to explain the sheep production system in the UK so you can understand how these crossbred sheep came about.  

The North of England Mule is a very important sheep in the UK.  The Mule is created by breeding a Blue Face Leicester (BFL) ram with a Swaledale, an upland sheep.  The Swaledale ewes are good mothers and very hardy but may only have one lamb.  Swaledales also tend to be on the small side.  Blue Face Leicester sheep produce lots of milk and have multiple lambs but they are long, tall leggy creatures, not very meaty.  Crossing the Swaledale ewe with the BFL ram produces the North of England Mule, an excellent mother who will have lots of lambs and produce plenty of milk.  To make sure those lambs will please the butcher, The North of England Mule ewe is put to a meaty ram, such as a Texel.  So we get the Texel cross Mule. 

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of Blue Face Leicester sheep or Swaledales, I haven’t come across any here in the south but I do have a picture of a Texel from the Kent County Show.  He isn’t really yellow, he has been dyed temporarily for the show.

See how stocky this sheep is?  This breed have been developed for meat production.

 This isn’t a great picture but this sheep is a fairly typical North of England Mule, see how slim she is compared to the Texel?

As you will know if you are a spinner, Blue Face Leicester sheep produce superb wool.  Swaledale wool is coarser.  With North of England Mules you see a range of fleece quality, their fleeces are generally long but the BFL seems to come through more in some sheep than others.  Although bred for meat, Texels also have decent fleece.  I only selected outstanding fleeces for my yarn, fleeces with a long staple length, good lustre and softness.  I was very excited to get the finished yarn back from the mill.  The yarn has a good lustre and is soft although not as soft as the wool from purebred BFL sheep.  At Fibre East I wore a scarf knitted from the yarn for two days against my skin.  Some people may not be comfortable with the yarn against their skin but I found it perfectly acceptable.

Here are some of the lovely sheep who contributed their fleeces to my yarn:

Look at that lovely fleece!

More about my yarn and the sheep the fleece came from next time!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Possibly the world's cutest sheep

Look at this guy, he has such an expressive face!  This is why Southdowns are known as 'teddy bear sheep'.  This chap ought to be called Rupert.  He was being shown at the Kent County Show today.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Hand painted yarn - the results

Well I promised to show you how the yarn I was dyeing on Friday turned out.  Here is the skein:

I'm really excited with how the colours came out.  They look a bit different in the photo, in reality the pink is less red.  Here's the skein wound into a ball:

I knitted a square to see how the colours would work out:

Next time I will tell you the story of this rather special 100% wool yarn.  But now I must dye some more skeins for sale at Fibre East.