Saturday, July 31, 2010

First Fleece Revisited

With Tour de Fleece done, I've had a little more time to give to my little Santa Cruz fleece before buckling down for the last of the State Fair knitting and spinning.

A little more on the fleece: this little fleece was courtesy of Sonja Straub at Legacy Farm in Corbett, Oregon. She and her husband are trying to help preserve this rare breed, descendants of sheep (probably merino) left by Spanish settlers on the Catalina islands off of California. To preserve the native vegetation, the sheep have been removed from the island -- Santa Cruz sheep, not being endemic, can of course be raised anywhere that sheep can be raised -- and several breeders are trying to keep the breed alive. The sheep have a short, but fine and tightly-crimped fleece.

Washing continues, one small bit at a time.

There's still a lot of VM -- vegetative material -- in the fleece after washing. It took intensive combing of each of the locks to get most of the hay and stuff out. The crimp just hangs on to any little bits.

Curious to see if carding would make cleaning go any faster, I put some uncombed locks on to some borrowed hand cards.

Hmm... in a word... no. At least not the way I was doing it. All I got was a tangled mess of wool and hay.

However, carding some combed locks made a few nice, fluffy rolags.

Using the rolags, I tried spinning woolen using the long draw, and it produced a fluffier yarn, though less even than the worsted-spun from locks:

Here's the worsted-spun (left) and woolen spun (right) side by side. Still tiny bits of VM in the finished yarn, not so as to make the yarn scratchy, but I'd probably want to dye this to make it look nicer.

The wool wasn't as soft as I thought a merino-type sheep should be, and the fibers feel as though they may be coarser (that is, a higher micron count) than merino wool, but it's incredibly elastic. The yarn stretches and bounces back amazingly. If the fibers were longer (for better wear), the wool would made great-fitting socks. It could be just the thing for mittens and gloves and for close-fitting sweaters.

Verdict: The tight crimp and the high grease content (yeah, that's a merino characteristic all right!) make these sheep into dirt and hay magnets. For the best quality fleece, they'll have to be coated in those fetching little canvas jackets to keep the fleece as clean as possible. The downside to coating sheep is that the tips of the locks tend to felt a little, but I'm not finding felting to be a serious problem with this fleece as I wash it. If I really agitated it, the fleece may felt, but the amount of agitation I'm giving it isn't causing felting. As short as the locks are, these sheep are going to need skilled shearers to get the most out of each fleece, and to keep out the second cuts. The short fibers are a challenge to spin, but they're suitable for both worsted and woolen spinning. While this particular fleece isn't as silky soft as merino gets, it's not downright scratchy, just a "crunchy" texture. The high crimp produces a highly elastic yarn that would be great for fitted garments, particularly outerwear where softness is less of an issue. I'd be interested to know what the micron count is for these fibers.

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