An Adventure in Spinning, The Recap

breed specificIt was a little over a month ago that I said I have these seven breed specific fibers from Louet’s Canterbury Prize Wool Group, let me share thee adventure of spinning them with you. I can honestly say that I’ve learned a ton and I’ve had a total blast sharing each experience here. I now know the subtle differences between sliver & top, as well as the more dramatic differences between the different breeds with which I spun. Speaking of these different fibers, how about we take a tour of the yarns I made with them?

In order of how they appear in the above photo (not the order in which I spun them), they are…

Wens SliverWensleydale Sliver

Jacob SliverJacob Top

Jacob Sliver reallyJacob Sliver

Shetland Sliver FOShetland Sliver

Wens TopWensleydale Top

Finn Top FOFinn Top

Fine White Shetland FOand Fine White Shetland.

I am not only a more well-versed spinner for this little experiment, I am just overall a better spinner for it. If you have the chance, I highly recommend putting together your own similar adventure. Louet has 15 different breeds specific fibers to try out — what are you waiting for?

The Wensleydales.

The last legs of my little Louet breed-specific spinning adventure are the Wensleydales, both sliver and top.  I first spun with Wensleydale wool earlier this year with a roving a friend purchased at a local farm.  My first foray into longwool, it kind of blew my mind. I found myself taking a long time with it as it took me a fair bit of time just to wrap my head around how long that staple length was. It also just wows me that unlike many breeds which date back very far into history with many pieces of their genetic puzzle unknown, the Wensleydale breed can be traced directly to the Leicester ram and Teeswater ewe that started the line in 1838. I find the simplicity of the history to be as elegant as the yarn I spin from the wool.

Having had a bit of experience with this type of wool, I knew that I wanted to spin both the Louet Wensleydale Sliver and Wensleydale Top the same way — in a roughly sport-weight 3ply using the Navajo plying method. I knew from my Shetland Sliver & Top experiment what the differences would be like between the two different preps. In fact, I was completely ready to delight in the unique skeins that were coming my way.

It wouldn’t be a proper end to this breed specific spinning adventure, however, without including a little something new. An unknown. So, I pulled out the lace flyer for my wheel. I’ve had my wheel a few years now and I’ve been learning and expanding my skills slowly, but surely. Previous to this project, I had tried my lace flyer exactly once for about 3minutes before I tucked it back into storage. That flyer was too fast for me! I’m happy to report today that ‘was’ — past tense — is the accurate tense. I made it through both 7oz bags of Wensleydale sliver & top singles using the lace flyer. Not only did I make it through, I enjoyed it. I am more than a bit chuffed at this accomplishment. And the yarn even turned out great. Double chuffed.

First, the sliver.

Wens Sliver no tagThe snowy white sliver is just a light, gorgeous dream.

Wens Sliver CloseIt has a hint of drape, but its most prevalent quality is that it is airy. Delicate.  I can see it shining as a simple shawl.

The top is denser, of course…Wens Top skeinAnd has drape to spare.

Wens Top CloseIt has more of a creamy color and is much silkier to the touch. I see this skein making any intricate lace shawl look amazing.

Wens TogetherBoth of these lovely skeins were an absolute delight to spin, especially with the lace flyer. The fibers flew through my hands both into singles and while plying. I don’t think I can pick favourites, but of this entire breed specific journey, I have to say that this pair of Wensleydales rank very high on my list. The experience of spinning these Wensleydale is actually somewhat hard for me to put into words. I love that — as I said earlier — it is so simple. The long staple length, the fast flyer. It is just an elegant process producing a beautiful yarn. From start to finish, I give the Louet Wensleydale sliver and top both an A+.

Sometimes You Have To Be Brave

I’ll be honest. I have an irrational fear of paddling (read: I am occasionally paralyzed with fear when in a canoe). When we first met, my husband and I had both done a fair bit of paddling in canoes & kayaks and I was cautious, but loved it. Over the years there have been a number of unfortunate events that have eroded my confidence. There was that time we decided it would be all right to kayak up a relatively big river with a strong current. And then there was an incident when my husband tried to prove we could canoe into a riffle after I specifically & emphatically asked him not to and we totally overturned (perhaps caused by me panicking). And then last spring, I had a full-on one-for-the-record-books panic attack on a local river in spring. I’m not proud to admit there was a lot of loud sobbing involved and we ended up getting out barely downstream and walking back to the car. I kind of thought Mr Knitting Sarah might divorce me for that one — he is a patient man, but it was pretty bad.  Thankfully he didn’t, he just wasn’t very interested in ever being in a boat with me again. You get the picture though. It has been a steady downward spiral.

Since the last incident, I have been trying to over-regulate the environment in which I paddle. Little to no current. Little to no wind. Me in a kayak instead of canoe where I have more control over my own destiny. Basically speaking, I made a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t be in a boat. Earlier this week Mr Knitting Sarah suggested we go for a paddle and I set out on listing off my rigid set of guidelines. He cut me short and explained — as only he can — that this was irrational and I needed to face it & get over it because he had no interest in coddling my irrational fear. I cried. I was angry that he was so not understanding of what I thought I needed to get my confidence back. He was telling me I simply had to be brave — to face the ‘danger’ even though I was scared. I was not ready to accept that. I made arrangements to start paddling with a friend who was excited to do some low-key paddling to make an effort to get back on the water (and have a good excuse for some time with my friend) and figured I’d eventually get to where we could boat together again.

Then yesterday afternoon my husband had off of work and he informed me that he wanted to go canoeing with the kids after school. He said I could come or not, it was wholly up to me. He was not judging, but I could see from his face that he was not going to accept any irrational panicking and if I was going I had to commit to being a good, calm example for our kids. At first I said no — he was planning to go on a river (with a current) and there was a little wind out, occasionally gusting to a shocking 10mph maybe. I was pretty scared that I wouldn’t be able to hold it together. It only took a few minutes to realize that I didn’t want to miss out, though. I could still take my kayak while the rest of the family canoed, so that was something anyway. I officially changed my mind and we loaded up my gear. And the craziest thing happened…

sarah kayakI loved it. We drifted down following a Bald Eagle all the way to its nest and got to see a number of beautiful Blue Herons and Wood Ducks and Orioles along the way. The kids had a blast, my husband was happy, the sun was out — I just loved it.

I won’t say it was totally uneventful. There was that point in the very beginning where the current was a little stronger and I found myself somehow going backwards directly toward a big rock. Then there was an incident where I was struggling to get enough speed to get up a swift spot because I was only in about 6″ of water so I couldn’t use my whole paddle. When I said I was stuck, my husband actually grabbed my boat from his boat and threw me forward to force me to make it happen (and so I wouldn’t cause them to overturn). Somehow though, I managed to not panic and I got back to the put-in spot. No, save for a blister on my thumb I felt great. Who knew that would happen?!

Another thing I’m pretty terrified of is spinning stand-alone singles. When making a plied yarn, I always feel like I get a second run at my yarn before it’s done — an extra shot at correcting any over-twisting. Singles are just spun & done. It scares the you-know-what out of me. It feels like walking a tight-rope with no safety net. When I touched the Finn Top from Louet’s Canterbury Prize Wool Group though,  all I could think about was a gorgeous squishy, slightly thick & thin single. Finn Top — also called Finnsheep or Finnish Landrance — is known for being very merino-esque, but with a slightly longer staple length which makes it a little easier to spin. As with the paddling, I hesitated ever so slightly and then just went for it.

20140523-080050-28850260.jpgI cannot express in words how soft this fiber was. Imagine the softest thing you can think of, but fluffed with air.

20140523-080051-28851451.jpgAt this point, I was so pleased with how the single spinning was going and so addicted to to the fiber itself that I was glad I started when I had a block of open time. I knew it would be tough to stop.

20140523-080052-28852711.jpgAnd thankfully I didn’t have to. This happened in the span of an afternoon with just a few spots of over-twisting — a real win for me.

I let it rest over night and then onto the niddy-noddy it went.

20140523-080054-28854174.jpgSee that little pink reflection? That was the light of sunrise. I could not wait to see if/how this yarn turned out!

I did the cold/hot/cold/hot/cold baths to shock and set the single. And then a good 5 or 6 thwacks (my very favourite technical term in spinning) on my back porch. And then I let it dry…

20140523-080055-28855801.jpgWith the help of some Hunt’s tomato sauce. I rotated it on the post every couple hours to help it dry faster and to be certain I was getting the twist thoroughly set throughout the skein.

The result?

20140523-083919-31159865.jpgYeah. I’m not even kidding. If ever there was a time I wish I could enable you to reach through the screen and touch some yarn, this would be the moment.

20140523-083918-31158768.jpgIn the end I have about 250yds of a slightly thick & thin worsted weight yarn. It is exactly what I envisioned — very reminiscent of a skein of Malabrigo Worsted. It simply could not have turned out better, could not be any softer, and could not make me any more proud & happy. This Finn Top from Louet — I am officially a HUGE fan.

All in all, I have to say that when you face your fears head-on the rewards can be pretty darn amazing. Sure, you could end up floating by your PFD with an overturned kayak while giant carp thwap you with their big gross fish bodies. You could end up destroying some beautiful fiber. Failure is always a possibility. You might, however, have a great time eagle & heron watching on the river with your family. You might wind up with an absolutely dreamy skein of yarn. Sometimes you have to face your fears. Sometimes you have to risk failure. Sometimes you have to be brave.

My Second Jacob, My First Sliver

When shopping for fiber, you see a lot of words to describe what you’re getting. Top, roving, rolag, sliver, batt, etc — simply put, these words describe how the fiber is prepared. When I began spinning I was told to pick up top or roving. Generally speaking this is good advice as top & roving are for the most part the easiest fiber preparations to just pick up and spin. As someone who doesn’t prepare any of my own fiber by hand and never have, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in these methods of fiber prep were not always obvious. Heck, they still aren’t always obvious, but slowly but surely I am learning. With this in mind, you’ll understand why my latest spin was especially fun.

In my big glorious box of Canterbury Prize Wool Group fiber from Louet, I had both a Jacob top & a Jacob sliver (pronounced sly-ver). What exactly is a slyver? I had no idea, but I was excited to try it side by  side with the top. No better way to learn than by doing a side by side comparison, after all! With a little research, including this fab article by Abby Franquemont, I learned that sliver is kind of like if you were prepping a roving, but stop before extending the fibers and adding that subtle twist. How exactly do top and sliver compare? Well, I popped over to Nola Fournier & Jane Fournier’s In Sheep’s Clothing where they state: “Sliver is a more or less continuous strand of carded fiber; top is a continuous strand of combed, untwisted fiber, with all the short fibers removed…”

 Before they ever made it to the wheel, I could instantly feel a difference between the top & sliver — the top is clearly softer, more processed, and the fibers were more organized — it felt like a dreamy little cloud. Any spinner knows, though, that sometimes the softest fibers aren’t always the easiest spins. As I mentioned in my last post, the top is a bit slick so perhaps tough for a true newbie. The sliver, however, has less processing, less organized fibers, and more air in the fiber itself. Just by the nature of its prep it has more grip as it is being spun, — kind of like natural spinning brakes. Ironically, it made this fiber an easier fiber for me to spin quickly because it had that built-in control.

For this project I chose to do a standard 3ply, so I divided up my fiber into 3 equal portions.

20140521-061615-22575337.jpgYes,  this — or some variation of this ‘controlled’ chaos — is what my kitchen table typically looks like during the post-school to pre-dinner time frame.

20140521-061611-22571404.jpgAnd I spun away, really impressed with how easy this fiber was to handle.

20140521-061612-22572838.jpgThis guy was impressed, too. Or he just likes when I spin because I stay in one spot. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking sometimes, but he’s indisputably cute regardless.

20140521-061614-22574028.jpgAnd the whole ‘easy to handle’ thing meant I flew through the singles. Honestly, it was the first time I felt like using my lace flyer was actually an option.

20140521-061610-22570301.jpgThanks to my Monday knitting date being open to me spinning, I wrapped up my singles within a 24hour time period. 24hours which included a trip to the dentist. And sleep. And some snacks. And coffee. And getting lunches made and kids to school. I know lots of spinners are speedy like that, but historically I have never been that spinner. That middle bobbin is a little uneven as I rushed to get the last bit spun before having to pick up my kids from school. No harm in the plying though…20140521-061609-22569142.jpgWhich was as smooth as the singles and the result…20140521-061606-22566594.jpg This beautiful skein. It turned out to be about 200yards of probably a DK or light worsted weight yarn. I will check for sure once it is dry. Oh, and another special treat…

20140521-061605-22565450.jpgI got to try the jasmine scented Eucalan wool wash. I love jasmine — so much — and have been eyeing a big bottle of Wrapture by Kristin Omdahl since it hit the market. Unfortunately, since I had a big bottle of grapefruit & lavender at home, I couldn’t justify it. When I got this little sample in the mail I couldn’t wait to try it, but true to form I saved it for a little something special. Let me tell you, when it comes time to restock my supply, the jasmine will be coming home with me.

20140521-061607-22567765.jpgAll in all, I am considering my second Jacob & my first sliver a huge success. I love the yarn I made and really, really enjoyed the spinning. I can’t ask for anything more than that!

My First Jacob

I’m so new to so many things when it comes to spinning. One book I’ve found to be an essential asset in my spinning toolkit, however, is The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius.

Photo Courtesy of

Why? Because it is packed with useful information about breeed-specific wools. Technical information, yes, but also breed histories. Stories that walk you through the bloodline of breeds that have survived for centuries in some cases (the Jacob line is is one such bloodline). It is easy to overlook these stories and just spin the wool, but I think they really enrich the spinning experience. My Jacob Grey Top isn’t just a brilliant wool from a distant island. It’s a breed with a past that is pretty fascinating. How amazing! How inspiring!

From a quick foray into this text, I’ve learned a couple neat tidbits. Jacob sheep have been bred in England for centuries, but they may have originated in the Middle East and had a brief stay in Spain before making their way to England. Named for a character out of the book of Genesis but not necessarily related to his flock of sheep, Jacob sheep are known for their unique coats — often multicolored — and crazy horns — they can have 2, 4, or 6.

While hand-spinners prize Jacob fleeces for their multicolored individualism and the joy of playing with those amazing spots of color, commercially processed fiber is often less wildly variant in color — but still amazingly beautiful in a more subtle fashion, as you can see by my own Jacob Grey Top from the Canterbury Prize Wool Group from Louet.

jacob grey If you look closely and keep in mind that photos never relate the true beauty at work here, you can see the variation in color — from brown to white to grey to even more hues of brown. These subtle differences in color were sure to spin-up beautifully into a dark heathered natural colorway that would be tough for anyone to resist.

jacob grey staple length Although I tend to spin most of my yarns quite light, I’ve aimed for a slightly heavier yarn with this fiber — perhaps for a nice hat or hat & mitt set for the fall. I’ve opted to spin it into a worsted yarn (as opposed to woolen), partly because I’m not too skilled with woolen yet and partly because from my research I believe the stitch definition should be much better in a worsted yarn – we shall see about that soon enough!

By touch, the roving feels kind of like a softer version of Corriedale. In practice, it is fairly slick — there isn’t a lot of crimp to give you brakes here — but despite this fact I found it to be a really easy, comfortable, fun spin.  I have read a lot of reviews stating that Jacob can be hard to handle, but I really didn’t have any trouble. Anyone with a fair amount of control of the wheel shouldn’t have any trouble managing it. In fact, the top drafts easily with minimal (if any) pre-drafting necessary — an aspect I really love. My spinning time is somewhat limited, so the fact that I can literally just take out my fiber and start spinning means a lot.

Because I was spinning slightly heavier singles, I had a bobbin full & half my singles done in no time.

20140513-192752.jpgI wrapped up the other half that night and in the morning I had just enough time to ply.

20140514-172655.jpgAnd today I have one darn pretty skein of Grey Jacob yarn totaling about 145yds of 2-ply bulky weight yarn hanging out to dry. It is rustic, kind of like a handspun, 2-ply version of Rowan’s British Sheep Breeds Chunky Undyed — a beautiful heathered greyish-brown indeed!

20140514-172646.jpgIt is really quite lovely — I just can’t wait to knit it up!

Especially considering that the  Louet North America price for this Grey Jacob Top is very reasonable, I am really impressed with the quality of this fiber.  With a minimal amount of research on my part, I was able to have a thoroughly enjoyable spin that resulted in some gorgeous yarn.  All in all, this adventure in spinning — my first Jacob — was exceptional.

An Adventure in Spinning

In the realm of the fiber arts, I got my start somewhere in the neighborhood of 25years ago as a crocheter with box store acrylics and then later wool/synthetic blends. Then I picked up knitting & started to sample different types of wool and animal fibers. Eventually my love of knitting led me to start spinning — you know, one thing leads to another. I am a relatively knowledgeable & experienced knitter, but nothing… nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of knowledge that followed my learning to spin. Of course, I had expected that I would be learning about twist & staple length & spinning different weights of yarn in different ways. What I hadn’t realized was simply how many different types fiber there are out there.  And they are all unique. I recognized Merino and Icelandic, Blue Faced Leicester and Teeswater (because a farm nearby happens to raise Teeswater sheep), but there are simply oodles of sheep breeds out there each with their own signature qualities. Whoa.

Aside from initially being completely overwhelmed, as with all things spinning I’m just diving in. After all, the best way to learn about breed specific wools is to spin with breed specific wools. I spin a fair bit from indie dyers — you see Cloudlover Yarn & Fiber and Dyeabolical here a lot — but I also really love a good, natural fiber. Before the dyes, just from the sheep to me. There are a lot of versions of sheep to wheel and I’m very thankful that for those like me who don’t have the space, time, tools, or cash to bring home a fresh from the sheep fleece to clean and card that there are places to get ready-to-spin breed specific fibers. The fine folks at Louet North America are one such source with their Canterbury Prize Wool Group.

The wonderful thing about this wool is that it is selected with the mindset of giving spinners the authentic, unique feel of each breed. Although experienced spinners will appreciate its high quality, this wool is also the perfect way for newer spinners — like me! — to really learn the difference not just between Jacob and Wensleydale, for example, but also to get a taste for sliver (pronounced sly-ver) versus top and so forth. I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on seven (yes, seven! wow!) different varieties from the Canterbury Prize Wool Group and I cannot wait to share the journey of spinning each with you.

breed specific
Top from L to R: Wensleydale Sliver, Jacob Grey Top, Jacob Sliver — Bottom from L to R: Shetland Sliver, Wensleydale Top, Finn Top, Fine White Shetland Top

Over the coming months, I will be sharing each of these spins here on the blog — from the research I do to learn about each breed to the thought process that goes into deciding how to spin it. These are almost all new to me, so it is sure to be a wild and wonderful learning experience for all of us! If you are a spinner, by all means, feel free to join me — I would love to hear your input, too!

Would you like to see a close-up of some this beautiful wool?

Wensleydale close upThis is the lusciously smooth Wensleydale Top. I love the variance in colors and it is so soft.  Seriously, I wish you could reach through your computer and touch it. You probably wouldn’t let it go if you could! And that’s just the thing with breed specific wools and spinning — each wool has such personality. From the first touch, you can see and feel the unique qualities of each breed. Oh, this is going to be a wonderful little adventure we’re going to have. I’ll be starting this journey soon, so stay tuned! And don’t forget — feel free to join me and share your experiences, too!