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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Diary of a handspun cardigan

Have you noticed how awful mens knitwear is?  Tragic!  Absolutely gopping! I live in a houseful of menfolk. None of whom wear knitwear. Is this the reason why? Who on earth thinks that men should wear these awful shapeless ugly patterned hideous body boxes?   So in a weak attempt to be bang on trend I wanted the perfect man’s cardigan.

This was in June 2016 by the way. It’s now finished. It is mid February 2017.  It is worth it. It will be with him until he leaves the house feet first.  Slow fashion?  Indeed.  Which is why I am often asked ‘seems like a lot of work.  Why don’t you just buy one?’  Which misses the point entirely.  Through the ‘work’ comes the pleasure.  It is pleasing to sink hands into beautiful lanolin rich pungent fleece, to prepare it and to spin it into yarn.  It is pleasing to think about the wearing during the knitting and the wearing or the gifting once it is done. And to remember those moments when the garment is in your hands over the years that follow.  So, my response is ‘why would you buy one.  Where is the pleasure in that?’

So, I thought you might be interested to see the process by which a hand spun cardigan is born.

For me it starts with the idea.  I find it difficult to spin for the sheer joy of spinning. I typically have a very clear idea in my head for a design.  In this case it was for a simple, fuss free, fitted cardigan in response to the sheer ugliness of mens knitting patterns out there.

The muse looks good in blue but I hate solid slabs of bright colour (especially blue).  I am reminded of those makeover programmes where ‘She doesn’t like orange’ so everything gets done in orange…Anyhoo, the answer was a marled yarn, in blues with a neutral base.  Grey is currently my favourite.  Or deep rich chocolate brown.  I digress…

spin-fresh-480x359

The tropical blue Top came from John Arbon Textiles. As a nice digression that I think you will like, John Arbon Textiles blended up a new top called Spin Fresh in honour of Spinzilla Team HSN 2016 Pirate theme, they donated some fibre to the team and made the remainder available for purchase exclusively at Fibre East 2016. I bumped up my Team HSN batch.  It is a glorious blend of 55% dyed Merino/33%Perendale/12%Zwartbles in the colours of a really tropical Caribbean blue sea. I send a big huge hug of thanks to the guys as John Arbon Textiles. I can honestly say it was just beautiful to spin.

For the grey base I used a natural grey whitefaced woodland/Jacobs fleece that I purchased at Ickworth Wool Fair – the result of a happy accident – happy for the Jacobs Ram less so for the Shepherd…I scoured, sorted and carded this in September.  About 6 hours work altogether.

John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin
John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin

The yarn was spun during Spinzilla October 2016. All  the fibres were spun separately and then plied to give the marled yarn.

Full bobbins ready to ply
Full bobbins ready to ply
Plied hanks of finished yarn
Plied hanks of finished yarn

Just over 1000m of plied yarn. The spinning took just over 10 hours altogether.  Lovely speedy longdraw.

Next, tedious yet vitally important – swatching. What can I say – don’t be lazy SWATCH! This was a happy couple of hours in front of the TV.

One of many swatches
One of many swatches

The first draft of the pattern followed from the gauge in the swatch. This was tested in the the knitting… and the frogging…and the knitting again.  Roughly 3 weeks of evenings (christmas came and went) and a few lunch times.img_20170112_140808756The finishing took about 2 hours. And here is a sneeky peek of the finished article.

img_20170215_151457624The pattern will be coming soon. Watch this space.  But these things can’t be rushed…