Navajo-Churro Fiber, Part 1

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 17-01-2012

On to the second fiber from The Spinning Loft’s fiber sampler.  This fiber is very different from the last.  VERY.  Here’s what the experts have to say about Navajo-Churro sheep and fiber:

Pic from Navajo-Churro Sheep Association

  • N-C sheep are descendents of Churra sheep brought to Mexico from Spain between 1494 and 1540.
  • The sheep were raised by the Navajo people, and in the late 1800s the US Army slaughtered thousands of these sheep in an effort to control the Navajo tribe.
  • N-C sheep are hardy, adaptable sheep that deal well with periodic doubts and meager vegetation.  They are also parasite and foot-rot resistant.
  • Because of the unusual characteristics of the wool, the N-C breed helped develop the textile traditions of the Southwestern native peoples.
  • N-C sheep are double-coated and have a lot of variation within the breed.  They range in color from white to tan, black, brown, gray and even spotted.
  • N-C sheep can have up to two sets of horns; a curly pair that hang below their ears and a longer, larger pair that curl less above the head.

Pic from Slow Food USA

Navajo-churro fleece is considered to be suitable for “mid-range garments, outerwear, and rugged outerwear, depending on the grade.”  That means everything from mittens to rugs.  Quite a range!  This is due to the relationship of the two types of fibers in the fleece.  The downy undercoat, the softer of the fibers, makes up about 80% of the fleece weight (which can be up to 8 pounds!) and has a micron count between 10 and 35.  10 microns is finer than merino!  High 20 micron counts begin to become prickly.  The remaining 20% of the fleece is “guard hairs” or outercoat. The micron count of the outercoat begins around 35 microns and goes up.  Once resource did say that up to 5% of any N-C fleece may be very prickly kemp that comes in at 65 microns and up.  This is, clearly, not ideal.

Fiber in the Bag

The fiber that I received from The Spinning Loft was less than ideal, for sure.  Not the quality of the fiber; that seems to be consistent with what I’ve read about the breed.  But the SMELL of the fiber was absolutely repugnant.  It reeked of urine.  Now I understand that I am dealing with raw wool – I have no problems with “sheepy” smells or even poo smells… it comes with the sheep.  but the smell of this fiber nearly knocked me over.  As soon as I got it out of the bag and photographed it, in it went into the hot water/Dawn dishliquid combo. When it was clean and dry, here’s what I had:

60 Grams of Raw Fiber

This fiber is long, hairy, and had very little lanolin in it.  It almost felt dry to the touch.  It feels smooth and hair-like.  There are a number of different fiber length and types in this little bit:

6"

??

The little dark and light bits in the near above photo were weird.  Totally unlike the rest of the feece; these bits had no outercoat, were a different color and had different crimp and feel.  I wonder if they are from another breed that accidentally got in the bag or if they were near an area of the sheep’s body that had a different need (the belly or elb, for instance).  I took the weird bits out and tossed them.  I wanted to deal with the traditional N-C fleece only.  The majority of the locks has a small amount of curly crimp and changed color from medium gray at the base to a bleached tan at the tips.  The tips were narrower than the base.

 

It smelled much better once it was clean and dry.  Thank heavens!

 

The fiber mass

In Part 2, I will process the fiber for spinning.  Stay Tuned!

 

 

Resources:

  • The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius
  • The Knitter’s Book of Wool, by Clara Parkes
  • In Sheep’s Clothing, by Nola Fournier & Jane Fournier

Southdown, part 3

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-01-2012

When the fiber was all combed and wound into nests, it sat in a bag for a few days and cried out to be spun.  I’ve heard that short stapled fibers lead to thick yarn, because otherwise the yarn singles drift apart.  I decided to put my wheel ratio to the highest setting (17:1, I think) and see what happened.

What happened was that this Southdown spun finely and evenly like a dream.  Like an absolute dream.  I was helped by the small amount of lanolin left in the fiber, which enabled the very fine fibers to slide past each other smoothly.  I did put a lot of twist into the singles so that when plied, the fiber wouldn’t drift apart.  After spinning all the singles, I let it rest a day then wound it up into a center pull ball to two-ply it.

 

Southdown Singles

At every step of spinning, winding and plying, more veggie matter fell out.  I did still have to soak the finished yarn in very hot water to remove the rest of the lanolin and some more of the VM.  What I ended up with was this:

It's so FLUFFAY!

98 yards of an incredibly fluffy, smooshy, squishy goodness.  I love this sproingy yarn!  I did notice that because of the crazy directions of the individual fibers, the yarn plies are not very clearly defined … the overall yarn doesn’t have a lot of definition.  It’s not really *fuzzy* as far as halo, but it can be hard to identify the two separate plies the entire way through.  I haven’t knit it up yet, though, so I’m not sure how that will look when it becomes fabric.

 

Can you pick out the plies?

So final thoughts: This fiber was so much more lovely to work with than I’d anticipated.  I’d heard it could be troublesome, but it was lovely.  The next Southdown fiber I get will have to have less VM in  it, though, because the fibers grab and keep hold of the VM too well.

 

Next up: Navajo Churro