The Norfolk Horn: Part 2

As promised, a second post on the Norfolk Horn. In this post I want to tell you a bit about its wonderful woolly fleece.

Facts first. Todays Norfolk horn is a medium sized, hardy sheep. With its distinctive black face, alert bright eyes, with magnificent strong open spiral horns.  Both rams and ewes have horns. Long black legs and a belly that is free from fleece. It is intelligent, inquisitive and friendly, and, relative to its ancestors, fairly docile.  Its docility is thought to be owed to the Suffolk part of the modern Norfolks genetic heritage.

If you can get your hands on a Norfolk horn fleece you will find it is a creamy coloured, down land type, with flecks of dark fibres, the amount of dark fibre will vary between fleeces.

The British Wool Marketing Board classifies its fibre as fine, with a given micron range of 32 – 34.  So not so fine.  But bear with me. It does have a soft to medium handle. It has a staple length of 7 – 10 cm. The lock structure varies from a longish pointed staple in Shearling fleeces to a short thick more blocky staple in older sheep.

older locks
Shearling locks

The fleeces are quite small weighing in between 1.25 – 2.25 kg.  But the belly and legs are not fleeced. I have found that their fleeces tend to need little skirting so don’t generate too much waste. But they are greasy.  Very greasy.

Another factor in their favour, it is incredibly reluctant to felt.  So best avoided if you want a woollen yarn to full if you’re a weaver or felter. But great if you are a bit on the heavy/careless side with your finishing and washing. That’s not say they are impossible to felt…Here’s something from my research into the Norfolk breeds history: The poor felting of the Norfolk breed was one of the reasons why Norfolk developed a thriving Worsted yarn and cloth industry during the middle ages.

Surprisingly the lovely soft chocolatey brown fleece in this photo is Norfolk Horn.  The Lambs are born with dark fleece and this gradually grows through to white with time. If you are lucky enough to get lambswool like this, the fleeces are a beautiful, short stapled but very fine and wonderfully soft. You’ll find shades ranging from salt and pepper grey through to dark rich chocolatey brown/black.  The black fades out over time but some adults keep some dark fibres which gives an interesting colouring when it’s spun.

It is a great fibre to spin giving a bouncy lively yarn. The medium staple length and crimpiness make it a very tolerant fibre perfect for new spinners. It is not slick and slippery like over processed merino. It sort of sticks together and lets the spinner focus on keeping the wheel/spindle turning, whilst drafting the fibre and letting it feed in without having to concentrate too hard on keeping the drafted fibre.

I have found it spins up much softer than its fibres suggest it ought.  But it is definitely a tickly sheepy yarn with bounce and life.  The yarn seems to carry the character of the breed it comes from.

In general I card Norfolk horn on a drum carder. I used to painstakingly comb locks before feeding on.  Took for ever.  My hands raw, sore and blistering from combing.  I don’t do this now.  Now I pick up the locks, pull out any offending neps, noils, second cuts and other reject bits.  Lay the lock perpendicular to the licker in and then feed it onto the drum sideways.  Yes sideways.  No.  Not tip first.  Not butt first.  Sideways.  Brilliant.  I promise you try this once and you will be amazed at how speedier this whole boring slow boring and tedious process becomes.  I will then split these once carded batts and then card them another couple of times.  Picking out nasty bits as I go.

In general a woollen or semi-woollen spinning suits the fine character of the Norfolk the most.

 

This swatch was spun longdraw from the batt as strips that I’ve pulled into slivers.  Its about 15 wpi and knitted on 3mm needles.

I’m useless at hand carding rolags, always seems to be full of neps and lumps and bumps. The yarn is light,airy and bouncy.  It has a much softer hand than expected but is definitely tickly.  Don’t mock the quality of my spinning, I can never seem to get enough ply twist!

The longer staples make a great worsted yarn. Unlike the sample in this picture, which is not my best. It spun denser than the woollen sample, at about 13 – 14 wpi and is knitted on 3mm needles.

 

When combed and spun worsted the resulting yarn has a lovely lustre and an amazing memory. Although it has a crisper handle the stuff is like elastic! It just keeps springing back to shape. It makes a perfect sock yarn. I’ve wondered about adding blending in some mohair for a harder wearing sock yarn. Haven’t got around to it yet. Although you will also lose a lot of fibre through combing but this can be carded and spun into a lovely textured woollen yarn. This swatch is spun worsted short draw.  Sort of. I may have drifted of at points and forgot to keep with the inch worm…its firmer and a little harder hand that the woollen spun.

This cardigan is Norfolk horn.

I was in a silk phase so everything was being blended with silk.  Didn’t need it.  The brown pattern work is Alpaca.  Despite being light its incredibly warm.

Heres another example.  These are socks are Norfolk horn.  I knitted them from a two ply worsted yarn spun from combed top and then dyed. They never, ever sag or bag. And I really like the lustre and good stitch definition. They have also more than a few trips through the washing machine at regular 40oC cycle.  Did not felt. Amazing.  The pattern, if you are wondering is Sunshine by Cookie A.  Love love love her socks….

To sum up, its sheepy, bouncy, a full of life, versatile, dyes well and is virtually a natural superwash  fibre.

Hopefully that’s what you need to know. Go find some if you can and give it a go. I would love to know how you find it.

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Saori and me

I recently spent a very happy few hours playing in a Saori Weaving Sessions with Kim at the Saori Shed.

I confess I am not a weaver. As a craft it has never really appealed to me. I don’t know why.  It has always seemed so complex, all that talk of ends, so much jargon and all those rules. Too many rules. Too many conventions. Too controlled.  Too complicated.

Saori (pronounced Sa-Ori) promotes freestyle weaving with no rules or restrictions. Saori is an art form in which the weaver can express their true self in weaving. There are no mistakes, no patterns to follow. Weavers just weave what they want to with complete freedom and creativity. This resonates with me and my approach to making.

I first met Kim a couple of years ago when she gave a talk and demonstration to my Guild (Mid Norfolk Guild of weavers, spinners and dyers). Kim weaves some extraordinary, breathtakingly beautiful textiles from handspun yarns using wool, natural and local fibres and recycled materials. She combines her woven fabrics with knitwear to create garments that can be worn in many ways. A very talented lady indeed.

I spin and I knit. I don’t weave.  Aside from keeping me sane I spin for two reasons. Firstly, to make yarn to feed my knitting. A knitting addiction that could quite quickly drain my very limited funds dry. The second is for pleasure. I gain huge satisfaction from dipping into bags of fibre, locks, threads, random found things and creating textured arty yarns.

These yarns are fragile and delicate. Whimsical and decorative. Beautiful but limited in practical application. They are Divas of the yarn world. They make great accents in garments, beautiful cowls, wonderful cuffs, collars and cushions. But, unless they are given enough freedom in the knitted fabric to really strut their stuff they become trapped, caged animals. Loosing something of their wild, unconventional ballsy nature.

I have often heard spinners of textured art yarns recommend weaving with them. Somehow, trapping them in a woven fabric keeps their character. I was curious but also as someone who sells their yarns I really ought to know the process and how my yarns behaved so I could talk about my experience to my customers.  And this curiosity is how I came to spend a couple of hours with Kim at the Saori Shed clutching a skein of my handspun.

I had quickly thrown together a single skein in a grey Romney with some mohair locks in pastel candy shades the day before and bought it along to try out.

Firstly Kim took me through the origins and philosophy that underpins Saori. Then we were introduced to the looms.  The looms were already warped up ready to start weaving. So no time wasted for warping, an art in itself.  We began by raiding the ‘Wall of wool’. An amazing resource.  Coned yarns in different textures, colours and weights and baskets of brightly coloured fibres, locks and an assortment of objects. I went for grey and dark purple for the base colours with a bright citrusy green and pale lilac for accents.  With some locks and roving.

I found it difficult getting the gist of the rhythm. A dance of beat, feet, hands, repeat. I can understand why weavers find it meditative and restful. But for me the dance did not come naturally.  Maybe I have no innate rhythm?  Or maybe it was just new and needed time to get ingrained into muscle memory to achieve that restful meditative state as I do when I spin and knit.

Keeping the grey I introduced the hand spun.

The thickness and texture meant it was slower going but faster growing. I interspersed my yarn with some of the coned grey, wondering if it would blend with the first section. It didn’t.  The handspun fabric was thicker but softer. Weaving was most definitely faster than knitting.  It was amazing to see the fabric grow so quickly.

I’m undecided as to what this cloth will become.  At the moment I am just enjoying looking at it.  It will tell me what it needs to be when the time is right.

I had a great time with Kim but, I know in my bones a weaver I will never be. However, I also know myself well enough to know never say never…

 

Wovembers Robins Pincushion Pi

DSC04757It’s taken a year in the making but it’s finally complete. The Robins Pincushion project is done.  Spun for Spinzilla, knitted for Wovember, covering me up on the sofa whilst binge watching too much crappy TV in December/January/and or February.

As you may well be aware, I love walking my local woods and fields. On one of these walks I became completely obsessed with the Robins Pincushions that were infesting the wild dog roses. These amazing galls are caused by a gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae) which induces the most gorgeous distortion of an unopened leaf axillary on field roses or dog roses.

They have a spectacular appearance. All wild wind spun sugar in colours running from
gold through rose to brilliant scarlet reds and on to rusty dried blood reds and browns.

Bedeguar Gall or Robins Pincushion

Unsurprising these common galls have a rich dense folk lore attached to them. The Robin referred to here is the Woodland sprite Robin Goodfellow  aka the mischievous and malicious Puck, he of Midsummer night’s Dream fame. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he is a jolly trickster who loves nothing better to “change shape, mislead travellers, spoil milk, frighten young girls and trip up venerable old dames”. He may also be a derivation of the great Norse Trickster Loki.  Although you wouldn’t think that from Cecily Mary Barkers 1928 very lovely and whimsical autumn fairy print:robins pincushion fairy cicely mary barker

From a technical stand point this was quite a taxing work. I knew it had to be circular, I also knew that it needed a colour graduation from the centre out changing from golds through greens, onto reds and finally to rusty reddy browns. The pattern structure also needed to spiral out from a dense and textured centre gradually become looser and lacier as it spiralled outwards. And points. It had to have pointy bits.

Never one to shy away from a technical challenge I wanted to make a 2-ply yarn rather than my usual low twist single. This was going to bring some major headaches on how to dye up the fibre so it would spin into two roughly equal singles that, when plied would match (or mostly match) colourwise.

The dyeing was solved by space dyeing four carded batts of Romney (each wieghing 65 g giving a total of 260g fibre).  These were laid butted up together in two strips (each two batts long). The dyes were then painted on in series across both batts:  Each strip was then rolled up in a cling film sausage and streamed.  These were hand carded in two roughly matching series of rolags to spin long draw:

DSC04475

All this was done in preparation for spinning up the yarn for Spinzilla (you get credit for plying hence the two ply…er herm…embarrassed cough).  Spinzilla equals spinning fast.  Not very beautifully.  But fast.  Very fast.  My wheel blurred like a time machine.  The yarn turned out thicker than intended, close to a double knit rather than my usual 4-ply.  The total came to 767 meters.

I knew I wanted to use the great Zimmermans Pi circular shawl template as the starting point. But didn’t really have any fast and firm ideas for the textural and lace patterns. So I knitted up the lace patterns on the fly without much planning or forethought.  The consequence to this (very lazy) approach was that it certainly lived up to its namesake and was a tricky testing thing indeed. But that’s my own fault for not planning ahead but just rolling with where it wanted to go.

Starting with a 6mm circular needle and plain garter stitch for the first few sections. Then moss stitch for the next 12 rows.  Changing up needle size to 8mm.  For the following 24 rows I used pattern no 48 in Leili Reimann’s Pitilised Koekirjad.

DSC04760

I hadn’t a clue for the following sections.  The lace patterns I thought I wanted to use didn’t knit up well.  So after much frogging and faffing I altered the original pattern (I turned it upside down and changed the starting row to give a distinctive flower on a stem).

DSC04761The final band a lace pattern I made up.  Which just about used up most of my yarn.  To get the open lacey edge I cast off using a crochet cast off.  Miraculously I had exactly the right amount of yarn.  So maybe Puck smiled on me in the end.
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You can find out more details on my Ravelry Robins Pincushion Pi project page if you are interested.  I might write the pattern up.  Do you think anyone would be interested?