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The Year of Stash Appreciation–WOOL

fleece

The theme of FGF blog this year is a celebration of your stash. I want you to get to know what is in your stash. I want you to be able to make good decisions about which yarn should be used for which project. So I will be writing about the types of fibers and what kinds of patterns and projects will match the yarn you have. You will find information about animal fibers, plant fibers, and fiber blends of all kinds. I also want you to know how to most effectively use your hand dyes and semi-solids.

So this month WOOL is the topic. It is a fascinating, diverse fiber that can be used for so many different kinds of projects.

So let’s start at the beginning. Even if you know a lot about wool, I hope you will learn something new! I learn new things about wool all the time.

Wool is the fiber from a sheep. Duh, right? Well, there are people who call any animal fiber wool. But that isn’t accurate.  There are over a thousand breeds of sheep and each breed has wool that is characteristic for that breed.  Then there are crosses of those purebreds and their wool is a combination of the breeds that they come from.

Wool characteristics are classified by the variables of crimp, staple length, fiber diameter and the mix of fibers within the wool.  Crimp is the zig-zaggy nature of the wool. Fleeces with a lot of crimp tend to be softer next to the skin. This is because when the fiber touches a barrier, like your skin, the fiber will bend and not feel prickly on your skin. Crimpy yarns are also more elastic yarns, so they are great to use for items where elasticity is important like hats or socks. Crimpy yarns also tend to be from fine wool sheep.

Staple length is the typical length of each fiber. It usually represents one year’s growth for sheep.  Shorter staple lengths can give a yarn that will pill, since it may not be twisted well enough in the yarn.  However, longer staple lengths can at times yield a coarser  yarn.  Fleeces that are in the range of 4-6 inches are usually the easiest to make into a nice soft yarn.

Fiber diameter is measured in microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter. Some producers measure micron counts for their fleeces. Micron counts are done on a 2 inch sample of the best fiber (shoulder area) of the animal. The report shows a graph of all the different fibers in that sample and what most people talk about it the AVERAGE micron count.  What you need to know is that 2 fleeces could have the same average micron count and yet FEEL different.  One could still feel softer than the other even though the average fiber diameter is the same. This is because the blend of fibers within those samples is different.

The last variable for wool is the mix of fibers within that fleece. Every fleece is made up of diverse fibers. However there are many breeds that are called double coated, where there are 2 very distinct fibers within that fleece. One maybe more hair like and the other a soft downy undercoat. Some breeds also have kemp fibers in their wool. These are hollow fibers that are shorter, coarser and more brittle. They take dye differently so can give the wool a heathery, tweedy look.

When buying a fleece, roving or yarn, you can use these variables to make your purchasing decisions. You can pull out a small sample or just look at the ends of the roving or yarn. You can “eyeball” the fiber. Does it look fine? Can you see any crimp in the individual fibers? Can you see some fibers that are significantly different? And finally, how does it feel? Put it next to your neck. Is it soft enough to wear next to your skin? If not, is it the kind of yarn that you would want to make a sweater or other outerwear item?  Or is it something that you would want to spin and weave into a rug, pillow or other home decor item.

What do you have in your stash? Is there yarn there that you bought because you loved the color but now you think is just too coarse? I have a few skeins in this category that I purchased over the years. If so pull these out, look at them and put them into a separate boxes marked wool–outerwear or wool-home decor.

Tell me what you found in your stash. What have you been collecting?