Sunday, January 4, 2009

Icelandic Sheep Wool

Winter is a great time to chat about Wool. It makes me feel warm just thinking about this wonderful wool. This blog will let folks know a bit about the Icelandic Sheep and their lovely wool.

Now, why would someone be crazy enough to want to take raw wool and spin it, making your own clothing? Why not I ask? With the economy being in the mess it is, what would happen if everything crashed? The more self sufficient one is the better and these skills need to be passed down to the next generation. Hand made clothing from a renewable source is a trend of the future, not just a hobby.

Also, the Icelandic comes in so many lovely natural colors, chemical dyes are not needed. If allergies are a problem and skin conditions react to clothing, natural wool is an option. If you want bright colors, this white wool can be dyed with Koolaid, available anywhere and cheap! Not all wool is the same and the thel of this sheep does not itch. Fine wool is very expensive and that is why not to many people have even experienced fine wool or know what it is.

The Icelandic Sheep are a dual coated, primitive sheep. Their wool can be prepared 3 different ways. The inner "thel" , or undercoat is 3 to 4 inches long. It is a fine, soft as cashmere and lustrous. It has a 65 to 70 spinning count or is 20 to 21 microns. It is classified as a fine wool. Lofty when spun, it makes luxurious warm woolen yarn for next to the skin.

The picture to the left is an example of a raw Icelandic Fleece freshly shorn. This is a gray.

The outer "tog" is a medium wool 50 to 53 spinning count or 27 microns. It is very wavy with little to no crimp and is therefore perfect for worsted spinning. Pure tog yarns make excellent warp which can be weaved without breakage.

Most spinners today blend the two wools together, the yarn is called lopi yarn and is great for sweaters, socks and caps.

The lower picture on the left illustrates the separated tog, far left, separated thel, middle and the two together on the right. This picture is from Susan Brigg's website.

In Iceland, the two wools were usually separated and the tog was used for things such as rope and saddle blankets, with the finer Tog used as mohair for shawls and rugs.

The average adult Icelandic Fleece weighs 5 to 7 pounds and has about a 29% shrink. The locks range from 8 to 10 inches from a fall fleece grown for 7 months. The fleece can grow to 18 inches if left to grow for a year. Most sheep are sheared twice a year. If one wants to send the fleece to have it processed, most mills do not want a fleece over 8 inches long. If a spinner wants to spin in the grease, then length won't be a problem.

The picture at the left shows Havvah with the wind blowing into her lovely fleece. She is standing on a hay bale, checking out everything. One can see the luster and almost feel how soft her fleece is. She is registered as a moorit (brown), but is actually spotted, with white as one can see in the picture. Her undercoat is gray and when I have her fleece made into roving, it is a lovely brown gray and there is enough white to lighten it slightly. I try to keep the fleece as free from vegetable matter (seeds and hay) as possible. One can see how clean Havvah is. Lots of pasture and having the goats clean up burrs and thistles is the secret. We also planted winter grazing to decrease the amount of hay fed to the sheep.

Of course the lamb fleece is the premium fleece.
The picture to the right is one of Havvah's ewe lambs, a lovely white lamb. One can see the wind moving her fleece as well. The white fleece is great for dying. The ram checking out the lamb is The Trump. He is a beautiful Gray Moorit ram. The white Mini Cheviot sheep in the background (on the other side of the fence) is a medium wool sheep.

Hand Spinners usually purchase fleece raw, meaning unwashed and carded, or they purchase roving, which is washed and carded wool that comes in a long 2 inch wide length. Most purchase by the ounce or pound of roving. Below are examples of roving. The two gray rovings at the top and far left are Icelandic roving. The one on the bottom right, is a light moorit gray (oatmeal color) Icelandic ewe. The top orange is Cheviot roving which has been dyed with koolaid, and the bottom white roving is natural Cheviot roving.

I prefer to send the wool off to be made into roving because working a full time job and running a farm leaves little time to wash fleece and carding it is a lot of work. If one wants to work out your arms and pecks, just card a bunch of wool... Wow.

So what is the next step you ask? Spinning of course! I started on a hand spindle. I purchased one from a farm and could not figure it out for the life of me and the instructions sucked! Then I met a weaver named Nancy who had another type of hand spindle and I took to it like a duck to water. It is a Schacht Spindle and has an inking of a herd of sheep on the underside. I have a photo of it to the right and below. I have an example of white yarn on the top and some black gray yarn I had spun in the raw at the bottom.

I love this little hand spindle and Nancy gave me this one and am not sure where she purchased it from. I recommend trying to spin on one of these if you do not want to spend the money on a spinning wheel. I went this way to see if I really wanted to do this before investing in a wheel. The hand spindles are not expensive and you can spin anywhere. I hate going to the doctor's office and really hate sitting there for an hour or more for a 5 minute visit. I take my spinning and spin or knit while waiting.

At first your spinning will look like binder twine, mine did. I used cheap wool to practice with and did some macrame with the ugly yarn. But after awhile, your yarn looks better and better. I used the single ply and made socks and hats out of it once I could get it even enough. You can double ply the yarn for thicker hats and sweaters or a blanket. I double plyed on the spinning wheel, just because it is easier then on the hand spindle. It can be done, but the wheel is easier.

Now for the spinning wheel. I purchased an Ashford Traveler (below left), because it was light enough to take with me and was a reasonable price. The instructions to assemble it were excellent and I had no problem putting it together. I went over to a friend's house in Watumpka and she has been hand spinning since a kid. She showed me the basics and practice, practice, practice and before you know it, you are making some decent yarn.

An example of some gray Icelandic roving is pictured at the lower right with an example of gray yarn spun on the spinning wheel, still on the bobbin. You can knit it in single or double ply right off the bobbin or wrap it into a ball to knit at a later date.

So what can one knit with the home made wool. Anything you can think of. I make a lot of caps, socks and am working on a sweater.

I will post some pictures of my creations on a later blog. Enough for now...