Meet Rysa. She’s a lovely bellwether Shetland ewe at Trinity Farms.
Today I am separating out her fleece to make six different skeins of yarn- one from each of the following body areas: neck, sides, britch, belly, shoulders, back. My goal is to spin for a purpose suitable to the fiber characteristics. I’m going to spin to the crimp where possible and vary the yarn design for specific uses.
Rysa made it easy for me to sort out her fleece because she’s somewhat color coded. Her rear legs, britch, and most of her belly are white. Her front legs are less darker and less weathered.
Each region has distinct fiber lengths and feel, so it was a quick sort. In general, her back and shoulder fibers are quite soft and would make yarn quite suitable for next to the skin wear. I don’t see any evidence of a rise so far, but the shepherdess let me know she saw one area while shearing.
Shetlands have the ability to shed their fleece. Periodically, the fleece develops a weak spot in the staple where the fleece will naturally separate. Shepherds can roo the coat by gently pulling on the fiber and lifting the older fleece from the new fleece growing in. If a sheep is sheared after the rise has started, the shears cut below the natural break in the staple. If this happens, the fibers can be easily flicked from the cut end. If the rise is well into the staple, you can grab the butt and pull it with a sharp tug. The staple will separate at the rise, leaving the sound staple for spinning.
Shetlands are small. The typical fleece weight is 2-4 pounds. This whole fleece only weighs 1# 13 oz prior to washing. The photo has washed out the beautiful brown of this fleece. I’m looking forward to seeing the color in the spun yarn!
Here’s a photo to compare the raw locks across the different areas.
At first I thought his ewe had a single coat, but after washing, I found areas where she has a very soft, downy undercoat that is about 1.5″ long. Most of the fleece is soft with 2-3.5″ long staples with 7-8 deep,wavy crimps per inch. The locks are downy at the cut end, have a more clearly defined crimp in the center of the lock, and then taper to a slightly wispy point. The locks at the shoulder and the sides have a longer, more wispy tip.
Shetlands can have a variety of coat types that range from a soft, downy single coat through a medium-long wavy coat to a primitive, double coat. Personally, I have a soft spot for double coated shetlands. That said, working with Rysa’s fleece is so easy. I may need to shake things up more often!
I’d put Rysa’s coat between a kindly and a medium, and closer to the kindly side of things. In spots, she has a second coat but it is not dense and seems to be about 10% of the fiber weight. If you’d like to read more about the different types of coats, this is a nice page with pictures and descriptions:
Fleece Description by Area:
The raw fiber is 3.5″ long, with 8 well-defined, wavy crimps per inch. The fiber is soft and could be worn next to the skin. Lanolin level is low- moderate. I’ve opened the lock for the picture above, but the cut end is dense and webby with more definition along the center and finally tapering to a lightly wispy tip. Overall, the fiber is in good condition with light weathering at the tips. I expect this fiber to process easily because the tips are firm and the cut end is clean and defined. I’m hoping to spin this finely enough to make a ring shawl.
The brown has a grey undertone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the color after it is spun. Unfortunately, I think I will lose some of the color variation by spinning superfine yarn.
The locks vary throughout the side. The further the lock is from the back, the less crimp. The pulled lock was from the edge where the side met the belly. It has roughly 3 crimps per inch. The fibers have deep, loose waves that are disorganized and almost fuzzy. The lock is 3.5″ long with the last 1/2 inch being a wispy, weathered tip. Though the tips are strong, I plan to trim them during processing to remove the coarser fiber. The color is a beautiful rich brown. I’m planning to spin a three ply dk weight, but I will do some sampling first. I’d love to make a cabled hat, but I’m waiting to see how much loft I want in the finished yarn before making that call.
The lock is 2 3/4″ long with 7 crimps per inch. The fibers are next to the skin soft, lightly webby, and very fine. There’s more lanolin here and more weathering on the tips. Some tips may need flicking. A quick test spin by twisting in the grease showed that this spins easily into a soft, 2 ply laceweight yarn. I have enough fleece to do a lace scarf or shawl. If I wasn’t keeping the fleece separated for the 6 skein project, I would probably blend it with the shoulder fleece and do a full-size shetland shawl. I’m going to sample to see which yarn weight shows off the fleece best. The back has a fair amount of weathering so there is less luster. I’m already spinning a superfine yarn with the shoulder, so I’d like to do a fingering or sport for the back.
The belly fiber is a mix of short, soft fiber and wiry fiber. Most is short and fine- approx 1-2″ staple. There’s a good amount of vegetable matter and felting, so most of the belly isn’t usable. The non-felted fiber is very tender. Much of it breaks easily if tugged. I’m going to wash it enough to remove the dirt and some of the lanolin, but I want to leave more lanolin that I would usually to help the fibers slide during picking.
Considering the small amount of fiber and its condition, the belly is going to be spun into a fine yarn. After washing and picking, I had a nice little collection of 1/2″ bright white fibers. I’d like to put those into the yarn for a rustic , lightly textured fine yarn. The yarn would add some nice variation and interest to a needlepunch project.
The Legs: Shetlands don’t have much fleece on their lower legs, so I don’t have much of the short, super crimpy leg fleece that can be found in some other breeds. Nor was the fleece particularly dirty or cotted. Some of the fiber is tender; some has weak tips. I’m going to flick this before carding in to rolags.
Rysa’s rear legs are white. The fleece there has 2-3″ staple lengths with dense fiber that has disorganized crimp. This fiber is coarser and suitable for outerwear. Some areas have wispy, coarser tips that I will trim. It would make lovely mittens, a pair of socks, or a lightweight sweater. After washing, the color is a bright, clear white and has some shine. I’d love to dye this for colorwork.
The front legs are brown with a 2.5-3″ staple that has a shallower, tighter crimp. Some of the fiber shows an outer coat which can be easily pulled out. The fiber is a bit softer than the back leg fiber and would make a nice scarf or pair of gloves. If I had more of it, I’d use it for a sweater.
The britch fiber is coarser with some light cotting. Some areas show a hair-like, second coat which can be pulled to separate it. Some areas show a small amount of weak fiber at the cut end from the rise. It is only 1/4-3/8″ and can be easily removed. Apart from these sections, the locks are 3.5″ long and have a disorganized fiber structure with poorly defined crimp. The fiber is suitable for some wear, but it is still on the softer side- similar to a corriedale. Compared to other shetlands I have spun, the britch of this fleece is softer with a smoother hand.
I sorted the fleece by area and broke the fleece into 4-6 oz portions per mesh bag. I placed tyvek labels in the bags so that I could easily identify the different fleece.
Next step: washing
This fleece doesn’t have a lot of lanolin, but it did have a lot of dirt after our long, wet winter & spring. I did a 20 minute wash at 50C with Power Scour, intending that to be the only wash. I followed that up with a hot water rinse. The rinse water was still quite dirty, and the wool held more lanolin than I prefer.
I did a second wash with less solution. I also split the bags into two sinks. Each sink holds 15 gallons of water. I put roughly 1 pound of fiber in each.
After this wash, I did another two rinses until the water was clear. Then I spun out the bags in my spin dryer and laid everything out on the skirting table to dry for the night. The weather has been hot and humid here, so I turned on a dehumidifier and a fan to speed things up.
Fleece turned out to dry:
Next post: Spinning the belly wool