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

Comments (1)

Im sorry the Churro wool you got was in such bad condition. With luck you didn’t pay much for it. Many wool producers coat their sheep, the average Churro breeder does not, however this does not excuse the poor quality and urine. Churro do not have lanolin and some simply clean and card it. The traditional way is not to wash it. However I do simply because I don’t like yard that smells like my barn yard. There also should be NO NONE crimp in a churro fleece. I hope you try this again with a better fleece as your experience was not the norm.

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