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Purebreds, Crosses and Breed Specific Wool Yarn

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Our Cormo and Blue Faced Leicester ewes

 

What’s the fuss? Should you care about whether your roving or yarn comes from a specific breed or specific individual sheep? What about cross-bred sheep? Is knitting with a breed specific yarn any different than knitting with commercial yarn made from mixed wools?

I raise 2 breeds of sheep: Blue Faced Leicesters and Cormos. They and their fleeces are like night and day. BFL’s are a longwool breed. They grow fleeces that are fine, lustrous and long. The staple length of this wool is usually 5-6 inches. Their fleeces grows in lovely ringlet locks.  They are leggy and regal looking with a roman nose.  They are also the loudest sheep in the pasture. They are the ones who signal the others when they spot us coming to the barn.  Cormos, on the other hand, as shorter and more compact. They grow heavy, fine, crimpy wool that is kind of like a thick blanket all over their bodies.  Staple length of my sheep is 3 1/2 to 4 inches.

I chose these 2 breed because I wanted to make some yarn that was lustrous and other yarns that were more squishy and soft.  Both of these wools would also be great complements for my mohair for nice yarn blends.

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BFL mohair yarn from our sheep and goats. This could be yours today!
sauternehills heritage3
100% BFL yarn from my Maryland flocks, including mine. This could be yours today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year was my first sheep breeding year.  I borrowed Finegal from Grindstone Ridge Farm. I made the decision to breed my BFL ewes and 2 of my cormo ewes to see what a cross would be like.  About half way through breeding, the open ewes decided that they wanted to be with Finegal too….including a small Icelandic ewe. In fact, she was the instigator.  We were able to separate them out after about 2 hours. But 2 hours was enough to get more sheep bred than I wanted.

Last year’s lambs were Purebred 4 BFL’s, 4 BFL X Cormo, and 1 BFL X Icelandic.  The cross bred fleeces are fantastic. The BFLXCormo fleeces are longer than their cormo mom’s fleece, but it is denser and crimpier than their BFL dad’s fleece.  They don’t have the lock structure of the BFL breed standard. The Ice-Leicester lamb fleece grew as quickly has her mother’s fleece. It was not double coated, but rather a consistent fine fleece. It also didn’t have the BFL lock structure.  Her current fleece has grown in differently than the first. It has lock structure. It is extremely dense and soft. It is still a single coat.  It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop.  I am excited for shearing day in March. I am looking forward to have those cross bred fleeces made into beautiful lustrous, next to the skin yarn.

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Cross breed fleece

 

So back to the original questions. What’s the fuss? Should you care?  It depends on your goals.  Breed specific yarns and roving can be fun to work with and very educational. You can see and feel the differences between the breeds and pick projects that complement the characteristics of the breeds. Will your knitting be different with these yarns? You may find yourself beginning to be more mindful of your yarn and project combinations as you begin to learn about the different breeds.  You will also feel great about supporting individual fiber farms and maybe even your local fiber farm.

 

Do you have a favorite breed fleece or yarn to work with? Leave us a comment to share your opinion.

 

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10 Great Gifts for the Shepherd in Your Life

Here are some great gifts that I would love to have.

1. Muck or Bogs boots–These are not only necessary when it is rainy, muddy and snowy, but you will be in STYLE while farming!!

2. Hand knit hat– If you don’t knit, then ask a friend to make one for you. This one is made from my Puck’s Choice yarn which is naturally charcoal yarn made from Puck’s fleece (border leicester), Stripes (Angora Goat) and a black alpaca fleece from VA. Each skein has 200 yards, enough for a hat. We sell it for $22 per skein.

 

handknit hat

3. Carthart overalls and jacket– This is absolutely necessary in the winter. These are so thick that you stay warm and dry in the worst weather.


4. Handwarmer packs– Cold hands make working outside really hard. And there is always outside work to do in the winter.

5. Premier feeder–I really need a bunch of these so that I stop getting “in the way” when feeding really hungry sheep and goats. Premier1 sells plans for these.

 

6. Rocky coats–These coats are durable and colorful.  Rocky makes coats in a number of sizes that just fit sheep better.  Our Cormos are covered year round so that we have the whitest, cleanest fleeces.  See Demi in the back? She is sporting a wonder Rocky Sheep Cover.

breeding group

 

7. Field Guide to Fiber–This is a small field guide that you can use when you are dreaming about your future flock. There is great information about so many breeds, their history, fiber types and great pictures.

8. Heated water buckets–an absolute must have in the winter here in the East. This is about the limit of what I can carry.

9. Lambing Supply Bucket–This is a great starter kit for your first lambing or kidding season. It is available from Sheepmen Supply here in Frederick, MD but they do ship all over the country.

 

10. Animal Care Class at FGF–We do offer sheep and goat care classes here at the farm. Our next session is January 25th in the afternoon. If you take some time to learn, you will be prepared to have your own flock.

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Wishing you a fantastic holiday season from all of us at Flying Goat Farm!

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Swatching and Stash Appreciation

stitch samples

Do you swatch? I hear all the time that people do not like to swatch so they don’t swatch.  I suppose if you are making a shawl or scarf that doesn’t need to be a particular size you don’t need to. Or if you buy the yarn that the pattern says to use, you don’t need to. Or if you have a head, feet or hands that are “normal” size for most hats, socks or mittens, you wouldn’t need to.  But if you are making a fitted garment, like a sweater or using custom spun yarn from a farm or if you are “shopping” in your stash, you need to swatch.

But if you are like me, swatching can save you time and heartache in the end.  I do have a small stash, but more importantly, since my yarn is custom spun, I have yarns that aren’t the same as the yarns you can get at your LYS or craft store.  I want to use it and I want to share it. So I need to make sure that I know what it will do and how it will knit up.  Sorry crocheters, I really can’t figure out crocheting. I need to know what special mojo my yarns have so that I can share them with the world.  So I must swatch.

yarn swatch

For my famous Celtic Cardigan, I wanted to use my Fernham’s Choice yarn. It is a 80/20 blend of Blue Faced Leicester and kid mohair. It is a wonderful squishy worsted weight yarn, perfect for a warn cardigan.  The pattern called for 18 stitches/26 rows + 4 inches on size 8 needles in the stockinette stitch. and each cable had it’s own gauge as well.  I swatched and swatched until I got that gauge, but the needle size was different.  If I hadn’t figured that out, I would have ended up with a sweater that was totally the wrong size.  Even with this swatching, when I started knitting in earnest, my gauge loosened and I ended up  about 6 inches too wide. This would have been devastating if I wasn’t already having to take out the sweater for the million other things I didn’t like about my knitting.

The lesson for me is to swatch before I make any larger project.  I will also be swatching for my customers, in order to get a good idea of the gauge for my custom yarns.  What I like to do is to make a 5 inch square that is surrounded by about a half inch border of seed stitch with a 4 inch area of stockinette. To determine needle size, I use a spinner’s control card to get an idea of the WIP (wraps per inch) which I can then translate to the standard yarn language of lace, fingering, sport, dk, worsted, etc.  That gives me an appropriate needle size to use for my swatch.  If I start to knit and find that the needle size isn’t quite right, I simply take note of that for my swatch tag and change the needle up or down.spinner's control card

 

So when you see my gauge on the labels that is your jumping off place.  Each knitter has their own “gauge” as well.  Are you a tight or loose knitter? So you throw (English) or pick (Continental)?  After some time knitting, you will know your knitting “handicap”. At the trunk show recently, a group of knitters came into the shop. They began to talk about going up or down a needle size (or two) from the posted gauge of a yarn.  I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I do know I’m on the tighter end of knitting.

I hope you are inspired to do some swatching before starting that sweater or using that luxury yarn like our Zephyrette.  What have you learned about your knitting style through swatching? Do you have a swatching (or not swatching) story to share? I’d love to read your stories and learn for you too!!