Spinning Dorset Horn Roving

It’s been awhile since I’ve finished a Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project – the last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind and haven’t left me much time for spinning. I’ve been working on this lovely natural gray-brown Dorset Horn from Covered Bridge Fiber for several months, and finally finished it off last week.

According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, Dorset Horn sheep originated in Dorset, a county in southwestern England, and have fleece with a regular, fine crimp with plenty of elascticity. The micron count is typically between 26 and 33, which puts them in the medium wool range. The Livestock Breed Conservancy lists the breed as Threatened; you can find a fiber profile on the Conservancy’s website. They are usually white but can occasionally be near-black in color. Lucky me to have found this gorgeous shade of fiber!

After spindle spinning just under an ounce of the fiber for my blanket project, I set up to spin the fiber on my wheel. While Dorset Horn not a Down breed, this fiber did have a bit of that spongy feel that’s characteristic of the Down breeds, so I assumed this fiber would be amenable to spinning londraw. I had visions of a hat or mittens in a lofty thicker yarn.

But I had trouble initially spinning it as fine as I wanted with longdraw, perhaps because the staple length is a bit longer than other breeds I’ve spun longdraw, such as Clun Forest. I don’t often take the time to actually measure staple length of fibers I’m spinning; I just pull out a staple and eyeball it. But this time I got curious and actually measured – the staple length was around 3 inches.

I found myself wanting to spin the fiber semi-woolen with a short forward draw. It seemed to want to spin relatively fine that way, so I settled on a fingering weight 2-ply. I figured it could be used to knit a sturdy pair of mittens or even as a weaving yarn.

I started spinning the singles at a 12:1 ratio with about a 2-inch draft. But I found I wasn’t enjoying this project over the long haul, and about 3/4 of the way through I gave long-draw another go. This time I was able to spin fine enough to match the singles I already had, so I went with it and finished the bobbin that way. Needless to say, this spin isn’t going to win any consistency awards, but I’m satisfied with the end result. Oddly enough, the skein spun completely with a worsted draft seems to have fluffed up more after finishing than the skein where I switched to long-draw halfway through. Go figure.

The resulting yarn is pleasantly soft, if not next-to-skin soft. I could see buying a sweater’s worth of this fiber and spinning it for a fingering-weight sweater.


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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.

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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.


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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Spinning from Raw Fleece

Last year while visiting my aunt in Saskatchewan I purchased a few ounces of raw fleece from a local yarn shop. This was my first time working with raw fleece, and I never got around to sharing my experience. The fleece is a Clun Forest/ Corriedale cross, and since I hadn’t worked with Clun Forest before, I decided to buy a few ounces as a souvenir. I’m not sure how much the characteristics of this fleece resemble pure Clun Forest, but I’ve recently purchased some Clun Forest Roving for one of my Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em projects, and both have a certain spongy quality that is different than other wool types I’ve encountered.

My first adventure was figuring out how to get my purchase across the border. I learned that it is legal to send fleece across the border, but decided to mail the fleece home in case the TSA agents weren’t aware of this fact. I figured the postal inspectors know what they’re doing, but I was still a little bit nervous about it being confiscated.

Raw Clun Forest x Corriedale fleece

The fleece did arrive in the mail, however, and I set about washing and drying it. There was a fair bit of dirt and VM in the fleece, so I went through several soakings in plain water after the initial scouring with mild soap (I used Dr. Bronner’s unscented formula).

Washing the fleece
Locks post-washing

Once dried I decided to process the locks with my flick-carder. About half the fleece was leftover from this process, so I hand carded it to spin separately. I was finding it difficult to manage a short-forward draft, so after a bit of experimentation I settled on long-draw, which I used for both the flicked locks and the carded fleece.

A single lock
The final skeins. (L) Flick-carded, undyed. (R) Hand carded, dyed with avocado pits.

I’m pretty pleased with the finished result. The carded fleece had a few neps in it and so is a bit more irregular. The flick-carded yarn is fairly even and pleasantly bouncy, and the yarn took the dye well. I’m looking forward to spinning the Clun Forest roving I’ve bought so I can compare the two.

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