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