The most expensive sheep ever sold. Posted on CNN August 29, 2020.
Last I wrote, Jacob is great, but didn’t thrill me. I implied the ol’ “it’s not you, it’s me” excuse to not explain anything. Even as I wrote it, I kept asking my self “but, why?”. Why do I feel like this? What’s not to be thrilled about? By all standards of measure, it’s a great fleece. What do I not like about this fleece and maybe Jacob in general? I can’t just go around thinking I dislike a breed without recognizing the reasons why.
I’m fairly new at hand processing wool – about 2 1/2 years of experience. In the world of wool and spinning is not a long time. Especially now, I feel like it’s important to sort out my thoughts about each fleece I process. Sorting out the more technical aspects is pretty easy. Using guidelines of the breed to assess what your working with really gives you an opportunity to learn the breed. Whether your fleece meets all the standard criteria or not, working raw fleece to yarn gives great insight into that breeds wool characteristics.
“Too medium” just keeps running through my head. But really, all that means is I need to put more thought into this. I need to discover just what too medium means. As of my last blog entry, I had only spun a very small sample of this Jacob fleece. It had been right after washing, before I flicked nearly the entire fleece. So often, from even a small sample spin, I get that “ok, I see what this wool is all about”. I really get to the heart of the characteristics – the length, the crimp, the softness or coarseness, the loftiness or silkiness – the combination of characteristics that make the wool special in it’s own right. This fleece did not want to reveal itself right away. Oh the mystery…
My first mistake was only spinning one little kind of sample. Making a judgement from that, is just not fair. I should know better and I usually do. Normally I sample spin several methods, pull them off the wheel and study them to see which one works best. I have now spun two more samples that are larger in order to get a better understanding. I can still say, this is a Medium wool. In fact, I can’t say that enough.
Flicking: it was deceptive. It looked as though it would flick easily. It was actually quite difficult to get through each lock. No, there was no matting at all. I experimented with two types of flickers and ended up using both throughout. Some of the locks needed a good whacking to loosen up the wool (again, even though it was not matted or felted). The fibers just held together on both the butt and the tip ends. Especially the tip end though. Even the little amount of VM wanted to stick to the fiber. All of my flicking sessions ended with soar and fatigued wrists and fingers.
Carding: this was a breeze. It went easily and smoothly through the drum carder. I have to say, the batts were quite lovely. I did one solid brown and one mixed color. I only put them through once so the multi-colored was purposely blocky.
Spinning: a nice experience. Spinning was pretty effortless. The wool was easy to manage. I spun one in a backwards draft with a sometimes long draw style just to see. The multi-colored batt was spun short forward. Both methods of spinning worked just fine, drafted consistently. Not too slippery and not too grabby. It was soft, but not too soft, had a sturdy handle with just enough grip.
As far as having similar characteristic to a down breed, well, maybe ever so slightly when spun from hand carded rolags, which was my first sample spin. After having just worked a Suffolk fleece, I’d have to say, “eh, not really super down-like”. Downs have sturdy hefty loft. This Jacob’s loft was a bit mushy. But Hey! That’s not to say something bad. Jacob loft is more delicate which can make for some very nice easy moving draping fabric. Also I’d be curious to try a slightly more mature sheep fleece to see if I’d get the same results. Remember, this is a yearling fleece.
The resulting yarn from any of these spins – worsted, semi-woolen, woolen – would work well for all different kinds of projects and garments.
The upside: The dark brown is a rich color that in so very pretty. That dark contrasted with the white really creates a nice pop of color on the multi-colored yarn. You could really get a good variety of color blends with a Jacob fleece. The soft but sturdy nature and medium/low elasticity really makes this yarn very versatile. I am happy with the resulting yarns. My favorite from this fleece is the semi-woolen. Just enough squish to be ultra cozy.
The downside: Obviously, the joint fatigue I experience was a big downer. The VM was hard to get out which means 1) I had to pick at it after flicking, basically it turned into a whole extra step in the processing, 2) it takes a lot longer to get to the fun part of spinning it.
My wow moment did not come until the very very end. After I spun up both of the last samples, took a good look, I finally realized how pretty and functional Jacob yarn is. So often there is an “ah, I love X about this wool” moment early on. When that didn’t happen, I think I unconsciously moved on to my next fleece. Which, by the way, I had just washed. I believe my excitement for the next fleece played a part in my lack of enthusiasm for Jacob. Chalk it up to bad timing. While it’s still not at the top of my list, I like and have a great respect for Jacob. I have come to appreciate the qualities of this wool. It is a nice spin, nothing to technical or annoying about it. The final yarns are quite beautiful.
Have you ever come across a fleece that is captivating? It pleases your wool senses. It inspires possibilities. It begs to be handled. You love it so much that, after washing, you diligently check on it every hour or so to see if it’s dry yet. Deep inside you know it’s really just an excuse to gaze upon it’s loveliness just a few more minutes. The hand, the crimp, the color… the everything…too wonderful for words.
So, Jacob… um…well.. Jacob didn’t do that for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. It’s a good breed with good sturdy wool. It just didn’t thrill me like I thought it would. High expectations (and lack of doing my homework) is so often a downfall. I got this nice fleece from a farm in New York. It is a yearling fleece! The staple length is 4 to 5 inches which falls right into the expected 3″ to 7″ range. It washed up nicely with 3 washes and 3 rinses. It has a nice balance of dark and light colored wool being a piebald (white with dark spots).
Jacob’s have medium soft wool. This one is, for the most part, pretty soft, which you would expect from a yearling. After washing, I dug into a section to start getting a feel for the wool, it was riddled with kemp. Ugh, I was confused and a little worried. Visions of limited-use skeins flashed before my eyes. Oh dear!
Further investigation revealed it was just that one little area with kemp. Oh, thank goodness! Regarding kemp, I have since read two different things. One, it’s common for Jacobs to have kemp. Two, another source said there should be little to no kemp. Huh. The length is more than great on this fleece. It ranges from 4″ all the way up to 6″ with the bulk of it in the 5″ range. Another common acceptable Jacob trait is varying lengths of wool on each sheep. Often the darker wool is shorter. Jacob fleece is also know to have a nice open structure and light in the lanolin department. It has a down-like quality even thought it is not double coated. It fluffs up with lots of spring when spun. The micron range for the breed is 26-36.
Oh, I almost forgot, one of the main characteristics is the horns. Jacob are polycerates. They have 2 to 6 horns.
A brief history: These charming small framed sheep come from England where they have been very popular for centuries. Beyond the most recent centuries, it is unclear of the original original decent. Some think maybe the area of Syria. Today there are British Jacobs and American Jacobs. Jacobs were imported to the US during the mid 1900’s.
The British decided to breed Jacobs for an even fleece and larger overall body structure. Jacobs in the US have been breed to enhance the quality of wool but leaving other original characteristics the same.
Jacobs are a Heritage or primitive breed. In the United States, they have been put on The Livestock Conservancy conservation list, currently at a “Threatened” status.
Small batches of washed locks and flicked locks are available in my Etsy shop as of the publishing of this blog entry.
Today is the first of two Rest Day’s for the Tour de France riders. It marks the end of the first week for the well known bicycle race that is a grueling three weeks long. In all, it’s 23 days (2 day off). Each day of riding is a stage, there are 21 stages with 2 challenge days…as if riding for 3 weeks isn’t enough of a challenge. In all, the participants from all around the world will ride over 2,000 miles. Here is an informative (and easy on the eyes) website to read more about it – https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/18769169
Ok, that race originated in 1903. The Tour de Fleece made it’s debut in 2006. Star (https://www.ravelry.com/people/starathena), a knit designer and spinner, came up with this wonderfully clever way to bring spinners and fiber lovers from around the world together for three weeks of spinning. Tour de Fleece which is hosted on Ravelry – https://www.ravelry.com/groups/tour-de-fleece – coincides with the Tour de France. All the same stages, same rest days, same challenge days. There are official teams and unofficial teams. There are diehard teams and teams that spin for fun. Many use it as a motivator to kick start spin projects and use up fiber stash, as well as finish those spins that have been nagging since last TdF. It’s open to all spinners new and experienced. For the motivated and serious, it can challenge your strength, stamina, and will power.
This year, of course, there was a delay on the original race because of COVID19. It normally happens in July. This year’s new race dates are August 29th to September 20th. It was decided that Tour de Fleece would go ahead during the original race dates, PLUS do a 2.0 during the actual race.
Freshly washed and in progress – Suffolk.
This Suffolk fleece came from Black Sheep Gathering in Albany, Oregon. I grabbed it at the last minute on my final pass through the fleece market. The breed was not marked, but it was dense, fluffy, nice crimp, not terribly dirty, and in my price range considering I just spent a boat load of money at the market and already purchased two other big raw fleeces.
After months, I finally got around to sending a couple of emails to find out exactly what kind of sheep this lovely fleece came from. A very nice coordinator at BSG contacted the ranch where “Bella” resides. Heard back, Suffolk! Suffolk was not on my “learn more about” radar. I hadn’t ever even considered it. I am so glad I grabbed this fleece. I love it.
It was a real pleasure to wash. Most of the dirt came off in a pre-soak. The lanolin came off with one wash. Beautiful fleece with half the wash work! It’s a nice white and has all the characteristics you expect from the breed.
Suffolk is a down breed. This fleece is medium, slightly on the softer side of medium. It cards up wonderfully on the drum carder and hand cards. The first quick sample yarn I spun straight from a lock, separated with my fingers and spun on a wheel (a). I get so eager to test once a fleece is washed and dry! I spun an extra nice lock on a support spindle as well – teased by hand (b), it was easy and nice spinning (note: Don’t judge my sample too much. It was a grab and go situation. Spun to test the wool, not make a perfect yarn.). The last sample, which I just spun up yesterday, is from roving I made on my drum carder (c) and (c2).
I have three small batches (6 ounces each) of this washed fleece in my Etsy shop. Coming up, I’ll have either batts or roving available as well. Feel free to contact me via email if Etsy isn’t your thing.
Spinning and curiosity, that’s how this happened.
Wool by the fleece. I need a small spread sheet to keep track of it now. It happened so subtly I barely even knew it was happening. I almost feel like an innocent bystander. Except I can’t deny, this is all my doing. I just want to learn more about different sheep breeds. Seems like a simple idea. By the fleece makes a lot of sense. It’s a good amount to work with. I get to see, feel, smell, and spin the whole thing (or the parts I choose) starting from it’s natural state. Still seems fairly simple. It is, until the boxes of wool fill the master bathroom and begin to block walkways in various parts of the house. I suppose it’s not a lot of wool in general, but it’s a lot of wool for me. A lot of wool and a lot of knowledge gained! As I work my way through fleece by fleece, I thought it would be mutually beneficial if I shared my wool bliss – informational tidbits and actual wool with others.
About two years ago, as a trial run, I purchased just over one pound of raw fleece at a fiber festival – Gulf Coast Native from a farm here in Texas. It was a slow start. I’m always a slow starter in actual physical time – it probably took me at least a month to test wool washing. After a trial run, or two or three, with the end result finally meeting my expectations, I got a good, clean, felt-free washed wool. So exciting! That excitement never wears off. It happens with every new batch of wool. I’ve been working this way for a couple of years at, what I would consider, a mostly ultra slow pace. As I go, it becomes more clear to me how to handle things and find techniques that work for me. A lot of “my technique” is actually time management. Ah, time management, the key to so many things…how I have struggled my whole life with this concept… That aside, a momentum is finally becoming a thing! While I’m not trying to rush through like it’s a big ol’ race, I do have to admit, about half way through, I get excited at the prospect of getting my hands on the next fleece. Despite the pressure of time vs. quantity, my goal is to enjoy the work and make some nice yarns by the end of every fleece.
So, pounds and pounds and pounds of wool to wash and use… in comes my Market Days booth (October 2019)… followed by an Etsy shop for good measure. It makes a lot of sense to me, to make wool available in all different stages of hand processing. I love it; I figure there are lots of wool loving/wool curious people who want to experience various types of non-commercially processed wool without the big investment of time and space. So, that’s what I offer, small batch fiber (sometimes very very small), random breeds, in various stages, starting at washed all the way up to ready to use yarns.
Starting with a raw fleece means I get to touch every inch of that wool to make a yarn. It is a satisfying (and once in a while arduous) process. It must satisfy some sort of innate primal, primordial basic human function/need to create to survive. Ok, ok, that’s getting a little too deep… I love to process wool from raw fleece to make yarn. That’s what I do. Doesn’t matter why. I do it. It’s a good thing.
It’s a process that should start with a mental grip on the fact that it will take time. It takes the time it takes. It will be an antsy cumbersome drudge if you expect it to go quickly. Sometime it provides a quiet break from everyday interactions. Sometimes it’s a great time to listen to those 30+ hour audio books that you first purchased as real books years ago but never got to actually reading.
I split the tasks up into days and weeks. After it’s all washed and dry, I can do “drive-by” flicking and combing/carding if needed. Organized piles are always there ready for the next step. In fact, begging to be handled and transformed into it’s new existence.
The Key: must keep washed wool within site. It’s like the ring from Lord of the Rings except no bad guys, no evil, no elves, no hobbits, no ring…ok, it’s not like that at all. But the wool has some kind of spellbinding power and the magic will always draw you near.
An entrepreneurship urge drives me … a little bit crazy. It whispers, it whines, sometimes it howls, it nags at me. It seems like the right thing to do. Haha, but I’ve been down this road before! Can’t fool me. Business is tricky. Having a little single person business is like riding a teeter totter alone. Up and down, the other side always needs your attention as much as the side you are on. To keep it going in it’s intended motion, you either have to move to the other side or push hard from the side you are on to keep it moving. If you decide to sit in the middle, it basically feels like each side is neglected just a bit. The balancing act never ends. But hey, that is just life anyway – sustenance, balance, sanity…we were made for this. Here I am, gonna give it a go.
“This time it will be different!” – always announced with bright ambitious energy.
Fiber Fate is small, for now. It’s a tiny business with small quantities of handmade and hand processed goods. Fiber Fate is a place to find unique yarns and wool in all stages of hand processing for spinning. I thought others could benefit from my curiosity. My interest to find out what wool is like straight off the sheep for all the different sheep breeds in the world. Hilarious – I doubt I’ll get to all of them. So steadily and slowly I’m working and sharing via Fiber Fate. I want to share my love of wool and yarn and things that are earth friendly and natural. I love making yarn. I love working with wool. I love the practice of less trash, less plastic, offering alternatives within this modern throw away (majorly polluting) system. As tiny as Fiber Fate is, even small can make a difference – a lovely yarn here, a totally functional reusable bag there, a small section in a weavers weft, a head protected from the cold.
I joke with my family that the sloth is my spirit animal. I’m not sure it’s really a joke though. Slow and steady is my natural pace. I like to work alone. I like taking my time and doing a good job. I like to do one thing at a time. And I don’t mind time consuming tedious work. If I can have silence while doing it, it’s the perfect working environment – calm, meditative, “free-thinking” time… ah, how wonderful…
Snap back to reality. Of course, that is totally ideal, we all know ideal isn’t always the norm. Lots of times there is balancing time, juggling projects, interruptions, kids, animals, other human beings around making noise… Regardless of the perfect (or not so perfect) working environment, I’ll take wool work any way I can. 15 minutes or hours upon hours, as long as I get my daily sloth-like dose, I’ll be ok.
#awoollife: all the knowledge and prep and practice of wool and creating with wool has no finish line. There is no point at which I will be able to say, “there we go, that’s enough, I pretty much got all I need”. Lured and spellbound by spinning and wool, the desire is firmly planted. I could not imagine a life without this kind of naturalness.
Being pretty new, looking ahead, it’s a long road. Or is it a shorter road with lots and lots of roundabouts and cul-de-sacs? Doesn’t really matter much. As long as there is movement, an element of learning more often than not.
Some days it is how to spin a certain wool in different ways. Some days it’s how to get that wool washed and prepped. Sometimes it’s simply reading or forum chatting about wool…and wool tools, of course. Some days it’s this wheel vs. that wheel or a wheel vs. a spindle. And let’s not forget all the different kinds of wool there are in the world to explore. Limitless…