Two skeins of handspun Florida Cracker yarn next to a stamped SE2SE passport page.

Spinning Florida Cracker Wool

I recently finished my 5th Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em spinning project – 4 oz of Florida Cracker roving from Flock Ewe Florida Fibers. Florida Cracker is one of a group of ‘feral’ breeds, descendants of sheep left behind by the Spanish that adapted to the heat and humidity of the Southeastern United States. Until 1949 they were allowed to range freely and rounded up twice a year for shearing. There is no entry for Florida Cracker in The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, so my information on the breed comes from the fact sheet provided with my fiber and The Livestock Conservancy’s website. Florida Cracker is listed as a Critical breed by The Livestock Conservancy.

The wool is in the medium softness range. I didn’t measure the staple length, but on inspection it was in the range where I could have used either a worsted or woolen draft. Since I have been enjoying practicing my unsupported long draw, I decided to go with woolen and make a 2-ply yarn. I used my Ashford Traditional wheel with a ratio of 9:1. I found it didn’t want to spin terribly fine, and I ended up with a yarn in about the DK range at around 14 wpi. I also had quite a few thick spots – they were noticably fewer when I spun from one end of the roving versus the other, however, and I got a relatively even yarn after plying.

The finished yarn is softer than I was expecting based on how it felt to work with. It could easily be used for hats, mittens or a sweater. I also think it could be nice to dye for tapestry weaving.

Here’s a roundup of my first five projects. I’ve already purchased wool for two more projects – next up are Gulf Coast Native and Dorset Horn.

Images of handspun rare breed yarns with their SE2SE passport stamps.
5 hand

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Sampling CVM for Cables – Woolen vs. Semi-Woolen

I’ve been sampling some CVM fiber (from Heelside Farms) for my next Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. I’ve been thinking I might want to knit a cabled sweater with this fiber, and I was wondering if my drafting method would make a difference in the cable definition. I would expect that, since worsted-spun yarns are often touted for their cable definition, getting closer to that with a semi-woolen yarn would give me cables that ‘pop’ more while retaining the softer, rustic look of a woolen-spun yarn. But a woolen spun yarn would likely be faster to spin, so I wanted to make sure the extra time for a worsted draft was really worth it. So I did a little experiment.

I’m starting from roving, so my options are to create a semi-woolen yarn using a short forward draft, or go for a fully woolen-spun yarn using longdraw. I pulled off a small amount to sample each way, and attempted to spin yarns with approximately the same diameter and ply twist. Both yarns came out to around a DK weight, and with similar ply twist. The woolen-spun sample came out a bit more uneven, and has a bit of a thick and think quality to it. I also had some areas that were underspun in the singles, so breakage was a problem. I would want to spin a more careful sample before I decided to use this for a sweater, but for my comparison purposes I assumed it would suffice. Unsurprisingly the woolen-spun sample had slightly less twist overall in the singles.

Yarn butterflies of CVM - woolen-spun and semi-woolen.
Left: woolen-spun CVM (spun longdraw); Right: semi-woolen CVM (spun with short forward draft)

I cast on and knit two swatches on US #7 (4.5mm) needles, using a simple 3×3 cable as a test. The woolen-spun swatch came out slightly bigger for the same number of stitches as I would expect – it measured about 3 3/4″ over 20 stitches vs about 3 1/2″ for the semi-woolen swatch. And the cable does appear a bit flatter and less three-dimensional, which I suspected might happen. The semi-woolen swatch also has better stitch definition overall. What surprised me a bit, though, was in that the swatch spun with a short forward draft the stitches appear a bit puffier and seem to fill in the space better. That could be because of my inconsistency in spinning the woolen swatch, though. The other thing that surprised me was the difference in weight of the swatches. I know woolen-spun yarns tend to be lighter, but I was surprised that the two swatches spun from roving were so different. The semi-woolen swatch weighed 4.5 g versus 4.3 g for the woolen-spun – not a huge difference in a swatch of this size. But it made a noticeable difference to the feel of the swatch in my hand. It might be worth sacrificing a bit of cable definition to get a lighter, cozier feeling sweater. I like the look of both cables, and even though the draft did make a difference I’m not sure it was enough to prefer one draft over the other on that basis.

Two handknit cable swatches comparing woolen-spun vs. semi-woolen CVM.
My two cable swatches: woolen spun using longdraw (L) and semi-woolen (R) using short forward draft.

I haven’t decided yet if I will knit a sweater with this fiber – I would need to purchase more of it – or, if I do, which draft I will use. I also want to test how these swatches will stand up to wear – maybe a topic for another post. But I do have an idea of how my choices will affect the final yarn and what I might use it for.


Spinning Round Up – Shave ‘Em To Save ‘Em ProJects

I recently completed my second and third Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. So far I’ve done Clun Forest (which I wrote about in this post), Tunis lambswool, and Leicester Longwool. If you’re not familiar with the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em (SE2SE) program, it’s a program run by The Livestock Conservancy to promote rare and endangered sheep breeds. You can learn more by visiting rarewool.org.

Now that I’m knitting my hexagon blanket ‘squares’ for each breed it’s given a bit of structure to my breed sampling. For each new breed I take around 1/2 an ounce to an ounce of the wool and spin a ~DK-weight 2-ply to get a gauge that will work for the blanket piece. Most of the time I spin with a short forward draft, but sometimes another draft just works better, as with the Clun Forest. If I have more than about 2 oz, as for the SE2SE projects (the minimum purchase is 4 oz), I spin it however I think will be best based on my sampling. I have to admit I haven’t been great about keeping fiber or plyback samples, but I do record the WPI, weight and yardage of my finished skeins, so that I can figure out the grist for selecting a potential knitting project. Note that I record my grist as yds/ 100 g for easier comparison to commercially-spun yarns.

My second project was American Tunis lambswool roving from Tarheel Billy Farm. I didn’t really know what to expect from this breed. The information I have from the breeder and The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook tells me this is a dual-purpose breed (bred mainly for meat) and that the first Tunisian Barbary sheep were sent to North America when a few sheep were sent as a gift to the government in 1799. Tunis lambs have a reddish color to their wool when born, which fades to a creamy white over time. The breed is well adapted to hot, humid climates and is popular throughout the Southeastern US.

This lambswool was lovely and fluffy, and after spinning a two-ply sample for my blanket square, I decided to spin the rest into a 3-ply woolen yarn using a long draw technique. I think the resulting yarn will make a lovely hat and/ or pair of mittens.

Two skeins of woolen-spun Tunis lambswool next to a SE2SE passport
Tunis lambswool 3-ply, woolen spun

Final yarn: grist 152 yds/ 100g; ~11 wpi

My third project was Leicester Longwool spun from washed locks. I bought this wool from Fuzzy Ewe Farm after seeing a photo of the dyed, millspun yarn on Instagram – it had so much depth sheen you’d swear it was silk! While I had worked from raw wool before, this was my first time working from washed locks. Since I don’t yet have wool combs I decided to use my flick carder to maximize the sheen. After sampling I also decided I needed to re-wind my bobbins and ply in the same direction that I spun in to make the yarn as smooth as possible.

I divided the flicked locks into two groups by color and spun separate skeins. Although washed, the locks still had a fair amount of grease in them, and I found the fiber somewhat tricky to spin. I probably would’ve been happier if I’d given the wool another wash before prepping, so I did wash the leftovers from flicking before carding it. For the carded batch I blended the colors together at random. I was pleasantly surprised by how soft and fluffy the leftover fibers were. Since the fiber lengths varied a lot in the carded preparation, I decided to try spinning it with supported longdraw. It came out rather uneven, but I decided to knit my blanket ‘square’ from this carded preparation.

(L-R) An knitted hexagon from carded longwool; two skeins of Leicester Longwool yarn.
Leicester Longwool spun from washed locks.

Final yarn: grist 220 yds/ 100g; ~17wpi

This project confirmed my sense that I don’t love spinning longwools. I’m still fascinated by their sheen, and I just might have to buy one of the dyed millspun skeins and knit up a project with it. I also really liked the color variation in this fleece. I’m not sure yet what I’ll knit or weave with the yarn I’ve spun, but I think maybe some lace knitting or incorporating into some free-form weaving might work well. If you’ve worked with longwools, what have you knit or woven with them?


A skein of undyed handspun Clun Forest yarn.

Spinning Project Roundup

I confess I haven’t been knitting all that much lately. True, it’s summer in North Carolina, and some afternoons it’s just too hot to knit. But like many people in these COVID times, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the things that usually give me joy. I have, however, been doing a lot of spinning. There is something so fundamental about the rhythm of the spinning wheel (or spindle) that I have found comforting.

I’ve already written about my main Tour de Fleece project. I had a bit of time left after finishing my mini skeins, so I did some sampling on another Three Waters Farm colorway: Radicchio (also on the Polwarth/ silk base). I plan to use it for colorwork, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a 2- or 3-ply yarn. So I took a third of the braid, which is one complete color sequence, and tried both a straight 2-ply and a chain-ply. I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to get the colors to line up so well in the 2-ply, and I like the way they reflect the light more than the chain-ply, so I think I will do the rest of the braid that way. First I want to swatch it to see if I’m happy with the length of the repeat.

Two small skeins of handspun yarn in shades of pink, turquoise and gold on a concrete and brick step.
Handspun Polwarth/ silk yarn from Three Waters Farm in colorway Radicchio. On the left is the straight 2-pym on the right the chain ply.

I’ve also completed my first Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project, which I shared on Instagram. I bought Clun Forest roving from Left Hand Wool Company – you may recall I got my hands on some Clun Forest x Corriedale awhile back (I wrote about it here), and I really wanted to see how it compared to 100% Clun Forest. This is also my first time spinning a Down-type breed (Clun Forest isn’t one of the true Down breeds, but it has similar characteristics). This roving had the same spongy, springy quality as the Corriedale cross I had spun, but it’s less soft. It’s not prickly, though, and I think it will do nicely as socks. I plied it with a high twist with that purpose in mind – so much so that the finished yarn is a bit wavy. I’m confident that it will knit up okay, though. I’m also thinking of dyeing it using walnuts or other natural dyes I have available.

A skein of undyed cream-colored Clun Forest yarn sits on a wood table.
The finished Clun Forest sock yarn.

Before starting the sock yarn, I also took a portion of the roving and spun it a bit thicker for my blanket project and knit it up into a hexagon. I’ve got 10 hexagons so far, representing 9 different sheep breeds (I’ve used Corriedale with two different natural dyes; the rest are undyed.) I figure I need at least 24 hexagon pieces to make a small blanket, so I need to spin a few more breeds!

A knitted hexagon in cream-colored yarn, still on the needles, sits on a wooden table.
My Clun Forest blanket ‘square’.

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Eight skeins of solid-colored Polwarth/ silk yarn in various colors

Tour de Fleece Spinning

This year I joined the Three Waters Farm Tour de Fleece team for the second time. I decided to spin the braid of the Mountain’s Edge colorway on Polwarth/ Silk from my stash. Until now I’ve been somewhat intimidated by hand dyed braids (if you’ve been following me you’ll notice I spin a lot of undyed roving and top), but I decided to get a bit adventurous this time.

A braid of handyed fiber in shades of teal, purple, yellow and brown.
Mountain’s Edge on 85% Polwarth/ 15% silk from Three Waters Farm

Much as I love to look at beautiful hand-dyed fiber, I don’t really knit with variegated yarns all that much. I’m not one for gradient or self-striping yarns, except for sock knitting. I guess I’m too much of a control freak – I like to have control over the color changes. So I decided to break down the braid and spin mini skeins to use in colorwork knitting. When I broke down the braid, I ended up with sections where two colors were mixed, and so I was inspired to try a bit of color mixing with my handcards. I was inspired by an article in Spin Off last summer (?) [Spin Off article] about creating tweed yarns.

I grouped my leftover sections into three piles: teal/ purple , teal/ yellow, and purple/ gray/ white. I used my handcards to blend those sections as evenly as I could, then removed them from the cards (without forming rolags, so the fibers were still somewhat directional) and did a bit more blending by hand as I formed the fibers into a loose roving. I didn’t get a great picture, but you can see my roving in the photo below.

Nests of blended, dyed roving.
Blended Rovings

And here are the resulting yarns. At the top you can see the full set of mini skeins from this braid.

Three mini skeins of handspun yarn in blue, yellow and lavender.
The resulting blended yarns

I think the blends turned out beautifully, and I can envision combining the skeins in any number of ways for colorwork. I spun them into a fingering weight (the Polwarth did fluff up a bit after washing), and with the sheen from the silk these will combine wonderfully with one of my favorite colorwork yarns, Tukuwool fingering. In fact, I’m thinking my first project will be to use the blue blend, and maybe a bit of the yellow or green, in a cardigan I’ve been planning for my niece.

Photo of a childs cardigan pattern next to three skeins of yarn.

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