Its ready! My Norfolk Horn yarn is finished. It will be wending its way to me very soon.
Gulp. Golly, shit just got real! I’m having a bit of a panic attack. What have I done? Is this project going to do what I want it too?
Its been a long journey already. Beginning in the winter of 2015 when the first itching of wanting to do something for these regal wonderful sheep who helped me out so much.
The itch would not go away. I knew from my spinning life that many small holders have nowhere for their fleece to go aside from the odd one to spinners like me. Most talk of using them for mulch or compost or worse still burning. This lead to more research into what happens to wool in the UK. Phone calls with the wool board. The prices paid. Conversations with local sheep farmers, small holders and their shearers. The appalling situation that people who keep small flocks of rare breed sheep face when it comes to their fleeces made me more convinced to do something. I wrote up what I found in a post on the issue here . Rachel Atkinson (Daughter of a Shepherd) wrote a particularly impassioned blog post : fleeced in her blog My life in Knitwear. Recounting how her father received less than £10 for his entire clip of Herdwicks from the Wool Board, roughly 3 pence a fleece. I was convinced that this was absolutely a good thing to do.
More research. How exactly did you get fleece turned into yarn? Is it possible to produce a yarn from Norfolk Horn that would be beautiful and economically viable? Who would spin it? It had to be done properly. And by properly I meant not just spinning the breed to its best but also with care to the environmental impacts from this process. If you know me you know I live my life trying to do less evil so this is a non negotiable part of it. The Natural Fibre Company had answers to all my questions.
It was a fun spring and summer finding the people who keep Norfolk horns that would sell me their fleeces. People like Oliver in the village with his tiny flock. The team of volunteers and Richard the farm manager at Gressenhall Museum of Rural life who gave me their entire clip. Waiting on people who turned out not to be able to help me. The weird and the wonderful. I’m not a sociable type, so for me this was well out of my comfort zone. But it was good for me to have something to focus on.
Another question was how do I raise the funds to pay for it all? This project had to stand on its on its own. No funding. No raiding the pension fund. No savings to draw on. I spent the summer at local events with The Fibre Workshop squirrelling every penny into to the Norfolk Horn Project fund. So thank you to every one that bought a mini batt, handyed roving, spindles, fleece and felted nicnaks. I could not have done this without you.
And, in October 2017 I took my tiny crop of 3 bags full to the mill. You can read about that adventure here.
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.
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.
She is a Norfolk Horn. Medium sized, hardy breed with a distinctive black face. Long in the body and limb with alert, bright, inquisitive eyes. And those magnificent strong open spiral horns sweeping backwards found on both ewes and rams.
I have been developing something of an obsession with the Norfolk Horn.
Me and the Norfolk Horn have history. It was the first fleece I worked from start to finish. From scratch. It took a year. It was not a good year. It was the year I hit a wall and something inside me shattered and broke. I’m not going to dwell on why it happened, that is another story, but I guess some explanation is required. It occurred after a protracted period that began with the death of a parent after a period to watching them dissolve over Skype from Motor Neurons Disease, we emigrated to New Zealand, then came back again, picking up the old life as best we could, renovating a house whilst burying myself in work (over the subsequent three years I wrote my PhD thesis in 18 months, co-authored a book, started working as a lecturer as well as taking on three research contracts). I was sleeping 3- 4 hours a night. And then the crying started. My brain felt like it had literally broken. Snapped. I could barely string a sentence together. I could not work anymore. I was just functioning. Everything went monochrome and tasted like cardboard.
Working the small, dense, very greasy, crimpy fleece saved me. Is that too dramatic? Scouring it, carefully combing it and dizzing it into rovings. At this time I only had two dog combs and a vice with a button for a diz. Spinning it. Dyeing it. Designing a pattern and knitting it up. I think that through this slow, slow, oh so very slow process I was mending myself. I’m alright now, different, but doing ok. This year I have rediscovered sleep. Its wonderful.
Suffice to say, I have a deep personal affection for these mad looking wee beasties. The more I find out about them the more questions I seem to have. Their story is an extraordinary one that I can only summarise for you here.
Rare, now found mostly in or around East Anglia, the Norfolk’s story is one of abundance, decline to near extinction and, tenuously, back from the brink.
It is thought to be one of the oldest breeds in Britain. It is currently thought that they came to Britain with the Saxons. It can trace its ancestry back to the Saxon Black faced heath sheep that once roamed over Northern Europe from the Netherlands to Russia..
It was the breed that was found everywhere across East Anglia from the Anglo-Saxon period through to the C18th. The Norfolk was a tough hardy breed. Small, feral and deer like, well suited to life ranging on the relatively poor Heathlands found in the region. It thrived on the poor sandy soils in the Brecklands and North-West Norfolk. Excelling at converting the low-grade heath pastures into milk, wool, manure and meat under the fold-course agricultural system unique to East Anglia.
Its wool is said to be the wool that created the wealth that built Norfolk’s numerous and ostentatiously over-large wool churches that pepper the county. It produced the wool that was exclusively used in the famous worsted yarns upon which Norwich’s medieval worsted textile industry was founded.
Later, the Norfolk Horn found itself at the heart of the modernisation of livestock breeding during the C18th. Ironically, acting as the agent of its own demise. It was the crossing of The Norfolk Horn with the Southdown during the 18th Century that produced the Suffolk. Why is this important? Today, the Suffolk is the ram most used to produce the British Lamb that you will find on your plate.
By the mid C19th the Norfolk Horn was deeply unfashionable, considered a poor and troublesome breed by the Agricultural reformers. Their feisty, wild nature and inability to remain where they were put – leaping fences to keep roaming – made them ‘difficult’ to manage. They were replaced by these heavier docile Norfolk/Southdown crosses which were held as superior in every way. The number of Norfolk Horns declined.
There was a small Antiquarian revival lead by gentleman farmers such as Prince Duleep Singh at Old Buckenham, and (another ironic twist) Lord Leicester at Holkham. But this was over by the start of the First World War. By 1917 there were no Norfolk’s left in Norfolk and just one flock remained.
The survival of the breed is down to one man, Mr J. D. Sayer. JD Sayer kept the only flock known in existence from 1895 until 1947. At this time the flock of 13 surviving Norfolk’s were moved to the Cambridge Animal Research station, later the remnants of this flock became the nucleus of what would become the Gene Bank at Whipsnade Zoo. Over the next 20 years The Norfolk’s situation went from bad to disastrous. By the late 1960s all that remained of the breed were 14 badly interbred individuals. The breed was on the brink of extinction.
The last Norfolk ram died in November 1971. This has me welling up, it is so sad.
It isn’t the end though, clearly.
In yet another ironic twist of fate, to preserve what was left of the Norfolk’s genetics and to increase the genetic diversity of the breed, Joe Henson and his daughter Libby at their then recently opened Cotswold Farm Park in 1969 and in subsequent years, in an extraordinary act of foresight outcrossed one of the final surviving Norfolk rams with some of their Suffolk’s. Outcrossing with the Suffolk was continued in the early 1970s ensuring the survival of the breed.
It is at this point in the Norfolk’s story that it finds itself at the centre of the fledgling Rare Breeds Movement story as the Gene Bank Project was closed down in the late 1960’s. It was the desperate situation of the Norfolk Horn breed that led to the awareness of the need for genetic conservation of traditional farm animals. The Norfolk was the most at risk of all the breeds identified at the formation of the Rare Breed Survival Trust in 1973.
Through dedicated and careful stewardship by a number of people the breed survived and by 1994 The Norfolk Horn Breeders Group was established. By this time were less than 300 registered breeding ewes. By 2005 RBST moved the breed to Category 4 ‘At risk ‘on their watch list.
Today, there are more than 2500 sheep dispersed between 79 flocks, predominantly in its ancestral home of Norfolk. The Norfolk Horn is now off the critical list and is a Category 5 – minority on the RBST watch list.
I don’t know how the modern Norfolk Horn compares with the Old Norfolk. They look stockier, less agile and less wild. But they have a certain way about them, in the same way that Irish Wolf Hounds do. A rough raggedy regalness in the way they carry themselves. And I love them for it.
If you want to know more about the Norfolk Horn story the best reference I have found is Peter Wade Martins book. Black Faces: A History of East Anglian Sheep Breeds.
In the next post I will blog about the fleecey aspects and talk about the fibre side of life.
 Ryder, M. L. (1983). Sheep and man. Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. . Wade-Martins, P., & Martins, S. W. (1993). Black Faces: A History of East Anglian Sheep Breeds. Norfolk Museums Service.
 Fold-course or Sheep-Corn system is unique to East Anglia. Under this distinctive form of agricultural management flocks were run on the open heaths during the day time and then folded (penned) on a set field area overnight to tathe (manure) the fields and feed on the crop residues. See Allison, K. J. (1955). The wool supply and the worsted cloth industry in Norfolk in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Doctoral dissertation, University of Leeds).
I have finally got it together to finish writing the pattern and here it is: Blakeney. A simple cardigan with a raglan sleeve and modern tapered fit designed for knitting with handspun yarn (weight 12-14 WPI (alternatively a commercial DK weight yarn). Handsomely modelled here by Sean.
I wanted it to have a clean silhouette, with a tapering to the waist for a contemporary fit. With an unfussy plain knit fabric, I think the yarn should be the star here and not fancy-pancy technique or stitch-craftery.
It is knitted using a seamless construction, worked from the bottom up, with the body knitted in one piece. The sleeves are knitted in the round and assembled with the body for knitting onwards through the raglan. The button holes and a neat I-chord edge are knitted as the garment is worked. Thus avoiding any tedious after bands. Which always take me at least 3 attempts before I get it right- and I have knitted many…you would think I would be whizz at them by now… but no. I also spent some time playing with different buttonhole methods. but that is a whole subject in itself. So maybe a topic for a later post. I finished it with a tape which gave the garment a very nice drape and handle. Hard to describe what I mean, but it really gave it a quality finish.
I worked on this design whilst I was knitting a particularly complex Patricia Roberts textured pattern, so I am wondering if the simplicity of stitch and construction was an antidote to this.
The yarn, a subtle marled 2-ply, in shifting blues and grey tones was inspired by the shallow seas of the North Norfolk Coast. I wrote of this in a previous post here.
In particular the pattern is named after Blakeney, one of my favourite parts of the coast. Once a thriving port, Blakeney also had a colourful reputation for piracy, smuggling and general lawlessness. I’m not sure of the veracity of the claims but there are records of the men of Blakeney boarding ships, bringing them to harbour and stripping them of their cargo. As well as incidents of Merchant Ships resting in the harbour and finding their cargos mysteriously vanishing. Indeed the residents refused to supply a ship for the battle against the Spanish Armada. So it seems fitting with the Spinzilla Team HSNs Pirate theme.
I found writing the pattern out an odd process. The act of writing and planning was a more rigorous approach than I am used to. My normal approach is quite instinctive, usually involving a great deal of trial and error, much swearing and ripping and reknitting till I get the perfect finish I have in my mind. Over time I have got better so there is less trial and error. Grading was also a new skill that I had not any experience of. hopefully I have it right (ish). If you do have a bash at this pattern (and thank you so much if you do) let me know your experience of it, feedback is very welcome.
Pattern is now available in on Ravelry here. 10% of all pattern sales will be donated to MND Association.
The pattern is in 4 sizes: Small, medium, large, x-large (105 [108, 112, 115] cm (40[42, 44, 45] inches). Shown modelled by Sean, wearing the large size.
Handspun isn’t to everyones taste nor accessible if you are not a spinner. I suggest a millspun alternative would be something woollen with a soft to medium handle. The pattern would need a Double knit (DK) (US no 4 Medium) with a gauge of between 21-24sts over 10cm. Just a suggestion but something like Blacker Pure Shetland DK knitting yarn would do well.
So, I’ve been working on the Wasted? thing. In the first post I had drum carded the fibre into something that looked like it could be useable. It was lumpy and bumpy and less than perfect. Adopting the philosophy of true beauty and harmony comes from working with what you have and not how everyone thinks it ought to be I decided to roll with those neps and bumps.
I space dyed the batts with brown, orange and grey leaving quite abit undyded. After dyeing, I ransacked my ‘bling’ box pulling out some dyed silk neps in turquoise, shocking pink and orange.
The batts had already been through the carder three times prior to dyeing but dyeing had compacted the fibre a bit plus I wanted to blend the blend the colours and add in the silk neps. Plus the really chunky woolly bits were standing out so I could pick them out as I carded (or not depending on how lazy or bored I got). Carding again also meant I could pull off the batt as rolags (or should I call ’em fauxlags to suit the pedants?).
The woolly chunks show up well don’t they.
I decided to pull of the batt as rolags because the fibre was so choppy and was quite short staples. Drum carder rolags are quite tight compared with those from hand carders. I like this as it puts a bit of tension on the draught. I like to spin with a relatively high tension. No particular reason other than its what I prefer. I like to see the crimp and the fibres pulled nice and straight. Heres a couple of pictures of the singles, the first as it was spun the second on the bobbin:
The lumpy thick and thin nature is quite obvious. It was spun long draw – sort of some bits I went short worsted. It was a real joy to spin. I just let it do its thing. Some bits draughted smooth and relatively thin. Other bits clogged in the rolag and draughted chunky and bumpy and thick. I only pulled off neps if they offended me but mostly I ignored them. I really didn’t do much quality control at all. It was fast and fun.
And here it is plied:
Isn’t it lovely. Not my hands though, definitely not lovely. I had been in the veg patch planting broad beans (too soon?) and went straight in to the workshop to get the plying done so excited was I to see how it was going to turn out.
The final stage was finishing the yarn. As this yarn was intentionally neppy and would have loose bits that will pill or fall off I decided that it would need to be fulled to some degree. Yes. It needed a bit of felting. On purpose. And how do we felt wool. 1 heat. 2 soap. 3. Agitation. 4 Temperature shock. So two bowls. One seriously hot with some non foamy detergent (I use wool wash, but baby shampoo has been recommended) and the other nice and cold. Plunged the skein in the hot soapy water and gave it a jolly good thrashing. Pulled it out gently squeezing it and then throwing it into the cold bowl for a swish and rinse. Repeat. You need to watch your yarn like a hawk. Blink and you will miss the point where fulling becomes felting and you end up with a very lovely very thick dreadlock rather than the fully integrated lovely soft usable yarn you were aiming for. I only did this twice before I felt the fibres begin to lock together. a quick spin dry and hang and hey presto Isn’t she lovely:
I’ve just finished knitting up a sample:
Its super soft and very textured. Ought to have used bigger needles to really let it fluff up and show off its best bits. I think it looks its best in simple stocking stitch. So please with the outcome. I have had a rummage in the workshop . This one is Hebridean carded with silk neps ( I very nearly ruined it by over fulling it so it is not as soft as it was and i regret that a bit):
And this one is some castle milk Moorit and Shetland with some soy silk fibres:
the lumpy bits tended to spin out of the yarn in this one. Not my favourite.
I hope this has inspired you to dig out your ‘waste’ and have a go. If you do I would love to know how you did it and to see the results.
This is Olivers hat. I made it as a thank you. I hope he likes chartreuse. Everything I do at the moment seems to have chartreuse in it. I can’t help it.
Now I knew Oliver kept a couple of pigs on the village allotments but what I didn’t know was that he had also recently started to dabble with sheep (Norfolk Horn). These are they:
I found this out when he sidled up to me at a concert in the village hall and said ‘ you spin don’t you?’ and offered me one of his fleeces. For free. Gratis. Niet. Well you can’t turn down a man that makes an offer like that! A few days later a potato sack turned up by the back door stuffed with one of the nicest fleeces I have seen in a long time. It was better than many that I have paid for. I have this thing where I can’t take anything for nothing. I have to gift something back. Its good form and helps keep the karma going in the right direction. Hence the hat. But it got me thinking.
In the UK sheep are primarily raised for meat, wool is perceived as a by-product of limited value. Shearing is done for welfare, to avoid stress from overheating and from fly strike. Shearing sheep is a cost that erodes still further narrow profit margins. I don’t keep sheep, I don’t have anything to do with the raising of sheep, I don’t shear sheep. I just want their fleece.
So I don’t really have any idea of how much it costs to shear a sheep. A quick trawl through the internet didn’t give much information, which normally means the data either doesn’t exist or its held in some vault somewhere so someone can sell it or hide it. Someone somewhere must keep statistics on this – if you know where or have them please let me know. However, the little snippets I did pick up gave a range from £1 – £2.50 up to £4 for longwool breeds. Which must eat into profit margins (if any) possible from the revenue that can be generated from sale of the clip. There are many anecdotal stories of it costing more to shear a sheep than the wool was worth.
But, thankfully, things are changing. According to the British wool marketing boards average clip value statistics in 2015 the average clip value was £1.05 per kg. Which makes 2015 a very good year for wool prices. In 2015 wool was actually worth more than the cost to get it off the sheep. Yay!
The table shows the actual wool clip value (£/kg) from 2010 to 2015 (guide). In five years the value has fallen and remained low but showed signs of an upturn this year. I also did a very quick and very dirty average fleece weight to see roughly how much value there was in a raw fleece for each of the main breeds shown (Note this is not a robust investigation so please interpret accordingly and use wisely). You don’t need a PhD to see sheep farmers can’t be in it for the veritable gold mine that is wool…
For small holders – the main resource for spinners who like the raw stuff – the costs may be even greater. They are typically not participants in the BWMB. They generally have smaller flocks. The costs of shearing will be higher. Typically smaller flocks mean a greater outlay in terms of transport and overheads for the shearer or a slower rate of clipping for the smallholder which increase costs. Indeed, many smallholders undertake the shearing themselves. Often this leaves the small holder with fleece that has ‘no value’ or rather no market. It is not unusual for fleeces to be burnt or disposed of in some other way. If they are fortunate they will know someone who knows someone who spins and they will give it away happy in the knowledge that it will go to good use.
So if you get offered fleece for free. Bear all this in mind. Gift something back. Whether it be a crisp £5, some of your time, a cake to go with the cup of tea you will inevitably be offered or a beautifully hand spun hat/scarf/teacosy/gloves/doily or whatever you have made from said fleece. Answer this question: Do you work for free? Why would you think that someone else would not deserve the same?
It’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.
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:
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:
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.
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).
The 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.
September is a crazy stupid busy month. The last of the fleece that will be spun up and knitted over winter needs to be scoured whilst there is still power coming out of the PV panels and sunshine to dry it before storing. The garden is banging out so much fruit and veg that needs eating (yum my favourite thing), freezing, pickling and jamming/chutnifying. There is no more room in the freezer, the pantry is nearly full, as is the workshop. The green tomato chutney is on the hob as I write and this weekend is all about Christmas booze. Sloe gin, damson vodka and getting the cider on the go. Oh I’m very amused when I read about ‘Slow Living’. An oxymoron? You tell me. I can’t move fast enough nor have enough time in September.
Its just about over now and I have some space to focus on Spinzilla. Spinzilla kicks of next week 5 – 11 October – go Team HSN UK! Which incidentally also coincides with UK Wool Week 2015. I’ve been thinking about my own personal challenge. I have two. The first is to spin enough yarn for two projects. A cardigan with some cabling in Castle Milk Moorit and a circular shawl that has been in my head for a year but more on that one in another post. My other personal challenge is to speed up my spinning. Yes, I am well aware that this may appear contradictory to my own ethics.
The fundamental reason I spin is the very slowness of the whole process. Particularly if you are working with raw fleece fresh from the farm. It allows for a very deep connection with the things made. From what the weather was like when I collected it, who I have to thank for providing it and the conversations we may have had, to the very sheep it came from embedded in the smell of its fleece and how it feels in my hand. Everything made is unique and has a story woven into its making.
As an activity spinning is a repetitive, mindful activity that I find totally immersive and (mostly) relaxing. My mind is occupied enough for it to loosen its focus on the brain babbling and helps deal with anxiety. This is well observed, creative activities, such as spinning and knitting, can ease stress, help with anxiety, depression and pain may counter the effects of stress-related diseases (see for example this review by Gutman and Schindler 2007).
Spinning faster is not necessarily a contradiction. During a week of intensive spinning (a luxury that life very rarely affords) I want to work at improving my hand (drafting) and feet (treadling) co-ordination so I don’t have to concentrate so much, to let the rhythm take over, and the mind to become freer. The whole spinning process ought to become not only more productive but, more importantly a more relaxed and deeper meditative experience.
The spinners nirvana. A perfect state of bliss. Just ask any spinner.
From competitive spinning comes the road to enlightenment…who knew.
With the winter is coming feel in the air the bird feeders are alive with birds. The tits (great, blue, long tail, and coal) seem to be especially abundant this year. Which on the one hand I love to watch the highly entertaining circus acrobatics from the kitchen window. On the other hand my car gets parked under this tree – so either it has to be cleaned every time I use it or I rock up to where ever with a white on blue Jackson Pollock paint job. Which, as you can no doubt imagine, results in glances of shock and awe in the eyes of friends, family and strangers. Have resorted to pulling a tarp over the poor wee Fiesta when not in use.
We have also had the odd VIP guest not least of which was the woodpecker, but more recently we have had a regular visitations by a greenfinch (Chloris chloris). I was inspired by its beautiful colours, subtle chartreusey greens and grays with a brilliant flash of golden yellow under its wings. NOTE: How impressed was I when I popped out with the camera just now to take above photo of tits on fat balls and the damn thing showed up as if on que! So, after moaning about lack of time in the workshop I spent a happy moment dyeing up some Romney top from Romney Marsh Wools. More on Romney Marsh Wools in a later post.
I used a low immersion kettle method and a range of greys, two chartreuse greens and a gold yellow. I think I used too much water in the kettle and lost the bright yellow splashes I was aiming for. On the whole though I’m really pleased with the result. Will definitely be repeating this one.
Sheep are important. Sheep are amazing. I love sheep. Wonderful multi-functional creatures that provide, in addition to wool, meat, milk, cheese, skins, lanolin, tallow and many other products. Not to mention their enormous cultural, ecological and economic importance. All on four legs. All made from nothing but grass and so very beautiful.
In an earlier post on FSM I spoke about the amount of energy and water needed to in scouring a fleece at home. And it got me thinking. Just what are the environmental impacts of wool?
In our knowledge driven world, we know that all is not as rosy as it should be. The production of wool and the manufacture, use and disposal of the products we derive from it will have environmental impacts.
On the plus side wool is (mostly) a sustainable, renewable and low impact resource. Sheep don’t need massive inputs of artificial stuff, they get by on grass and can live in places that aren’t useful for other forms of agricultural production. Wool can keep us warm. Not just jumpers but also insulating carpets and insulation in our homes, reducing our need for heating energy. Wool is not a highly processed material. Its clipped from the sheep, scoured, organised and spun ready for use. Its reusable, recyclable (see Tom of Hollands great blog on re-purposing and mending) and it’s biodegradable. What else? Wool is also hygroscopic – that’s science for absorbs moisture – so it can keep you and your home low in humidity. Dragging the bottom of the barrel now – but I’m sure there’s more – let me know.
On the other hand the production of wool (more so in intensive systems) can use pesticides, fertilisers and, if housed indoors at any point, feeds. These all require energy, resources and emit greenhouse gases and produce wastes in their production and use. These include the use of organophosphate pesticides in sheep dip. If not managed sustainably overgrazing degrades land.
Wool scouring can use huge amounts of water – although information is difficult to find I have a figure of at least 5 cu litres of water per kilo of fleece. Fleece typically looses about 30 of its weight during scouring. Some of this is lanolin which is collected as a useful co-product but the remainder will be found in the effluent waste water stream. This waste water contains particulates and suspended organic matter (polite way of describing things such as pooh and dandruff) and residual pesticides and insecticides from ectoparasite treatments of the sheep (including organophosphates) and cleaning agents (this is covered really well in this post by Ecotextiles ). As does treatments of wool products for insect resistance and stain resistance.
Dyeing can also involve the use of toxic materials and can cause the pollution of water with heavy metals and other nasties (and natural dyes aren’t entirely off the hook here – some of the chemicals used as mordants are real nasties). And there’s the transport, all that southern hemisphere merino…
Actually putting numbers to the environmental impacts such energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions, land use degradation and toxic impacts of wool is difficult. A recent report (Understanding the Environmental Impacts of Wool) found that there were many problems. Firstly, wool is a secondary product to meat so how do you allocate the impacts between them? Secondly, supply chains are diverse both between and within countries. Thirdly, sheep farming covers a very wide range of geographic and climatic regions. Sheep farming practices are incredibly diverse. As are processing and manufacturing technologies and production efficiencies. And finally, there is very limited data available on wool production globally and very few studies. So, we simply do not have any usable answers to that question yet.
In my other life I recently came across a recent paper by Weidman et al (2015) which examined the environmental impacts of raising sheep in four case studies including one UK hill farm with a flock of Lleyn and Cheviots, one New Zealand flock of Romney and 2 Australian Merino flocks. The UK case housed flock in a barn for one month, the other 3 case studies were 100% pasture.
The study used an environmental assessment method called life cycle assessment (LCA) to estimate the environmental impacts the production of meat and wool from cradle to farm gate. I deal with LCA in my other life so this post is a bit two worlds colliding.
Here’s the science bit – feel free to skip to the punch line if this bores the pants of you.
The biggest problem with LCA studies in systems like sheep is that wool is not, in general, the only product. It is what is known as a co-product. The other dominant product is meat. So how do you separate the environmental impacts of a sheep’s fleece from its meat? Allocation is the thing. The impacts need to be allocated according to a specified ‘thing’. Allocation can be done in many ways. In systems like agriculture the most often used and easiest is by economic output (i.e £/kg). But the results will vary hugely between different markets and over time, so the results will be relatively unstable and difficult to compare. Interestingly this study allocated the burdens using biophysical allocation. Not as complex as it sounds. Impacts were allocated according to the percentage of total protein mass in the meat and the wool. This method produces more stable and reliable results. It’s based on actual sheep biology and not a spreadsheet of funny numbers that changes on a whim driven by a bunch of numpties sat in front of computers buying and selling stuffs they will never see. Clever hey.
In this study the production of a sheep was found to produce green house gas emissions of between 8.5 to 10.5 kg CO2-e per kilogram total (including wool and meat). This includes not just carbon dioxide but also methane – sheep eat grass, they digest grass, they fart – alot – and other greenhouse gases. I’ve played with the results and made some lovely charts showing greenhouse gas emissions as kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2 e) and energy as MJ of oil equivalent (MJ oil-e) per sheep for biophysical and economic allocations. These two charts show the difference that allocation method can make.
When allocation was based on biophysical (protein content) the results for wool production are less variable between the four case studies. It would be great to see what a similar study based on the same sheep breed would show.
The UK has the lowest GHG impact and energy demand. This is even more pronounced when using economic allocation. Wool was only 4% of the total value of a sheep for the UK case compared with approx 50% for the Australian cases. As we all know, there is not much value in wool in the UK .
But of course what we don’t have is the rest of the lifecycle for wool. The shipping, scouring, processing in to lovely spinable fibre. I will keep digging and let you know what I find.
Wool is fabulous. Wool is the perfect material – almost. So what can you do to keep things just so? I guess the main thing is know where your fibre and yarn comes from. Can you source sustainably produced, organic fibre and yarns? Shift from imported sheep breeds and play with British breeds. There are now many producers that you can buy direct from. I’ve used Romney Marsh wool top and have my eye on some of Risby Granges Leicester Longwools.
Just look at Louise’s wedding dress! Just look at it!
Can you go even more local? Source fleece and fibre direct from the producer and support your local and regional flock.
Me, the most perfect thing I can do is to get on my bike in June to the farm down the road to get my fleece.
And don’t forget Wool Week is 5th – 11th October