Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ryeland: From Great Britain with Love

When you think Ryeland, think warm woolen mittens, cozy house slippers, perfect for layering during cold winter chills. 

Ryeland sheep have a long and interesting history on the British Isles where most of today's flocks still reside. According to the Ryeland Flock Book Society website there is recorded evidence of these sheep being kept as far back as the 1300's. Queen Elizabeth I reportedly received a pair of Ryeland wool stockings and afterwards declared she would not wear stockings from any other wool. Today the Ryeland fleeces are apparently a bit less fine than their ancestors. Breeding for meat became more profitable and the Ryelands were cross bred to increase carcass size. The population of Ryelands declined after WWII and today these sheep are considered a conservation breed.

The wool I obtained is from Wildcraft in the UK, specifically from a ewe named Truffle. While Ryeland is typically white, there is a coloured gene and you can now find flocks that are breeding for natural coloured Ryeland. My fleece had a staple length of 1-3", with most of the wool falling right around 2".The entire fleece weighed a bit over 3lbs washed.

The wool arrived having already taken a fermented suint bath. I didn't care to spin it with the lanolin that still remained, so I gave it one more hot wash and two rinses before pressing on.

The staple length was short, crimpy, blocky, and a bit disorganized. This is reportedly normal for Ryeland, though I think my washing again after the suint bath caused greater disorganization. Not a problem, just worth noting. It actually looked and felt much like a traditional down wool.

At this point I decided I wanted to card the wool. The short and somewhat varied staple length could make carding  a little tricky but I wanted to make use of as much of the fiber as possible (I would have lost lots if I combed) and I wanted to take advantage of the springy down type quality of the wool by spinning a semi-woolen yarn. So I set off happily making rolags, picking bits of the lighter and darker greys at random as I went along. I wanted a heathered looking semi-woolen, the idea itself made me smile.

While I sat there carding I determined that I really wanted to create a three ply to knit slippers with. Ryeland is not an easy felting wool so this seemed like a great use for a wool that is not exactly next-to-skin soft. I weighed out my rolags into three relatively even piles and started spinning. I used my Kromski Sonata with a 12.5:1 ratio and produced three bobbins of slightly fuzzy Ryeland singles.

When it came time to ply I used the jumbo flyer and switched to a 7.5:1 ratio. It was a joy to watch the colors change and blend gently as the singles came together. The end result was a nice even 3-ply with a heathered appearance and a small amount of halo -just perfect for my slipper project.

Ryeland was a lovely adventure and I am thankful to Karen of Wildcraft for working with me to get this fleece to the US. If you enjoy preparing your own fiber, specifically down types, consider giving Ryeland a try. If you can find it already prepared I think it would be a nice project for even a more novice spinner.

I'd like to apology for the delay in posting this project. Life has been incredibly busy! I promise I'll be back soon though with some Babydoll Southdown and Tunis!