Breed Study: Southdown

My spinning group is doing a breed study this year and June is my turn to present. I decided to highlight Southdown wool because I think it’s pretty fabulous. “Down” breeds come from the “downs” in England and consist of Southdown, Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire. There are a host of other breeds that are considered “down-like,” but these 6 are the true downs. Southdown is the original down breed. The Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire breeds were all created by breeding Southdown with other kinds of sheep to maximize different qualities.

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Photo from BillingsFarm.org

What’s so great about Down wool? It’s springy with a diorganized crimp, the wool doesn’t have a lot of kemp (chalky, brittle fibers) or hair, and is resistant to felting (this is my favorite part). It’s also important to know that most Down breeds are raised for meat, so often their wool is inexpensive (I get mine here). Southdown wool has a micron count of 23-31 and a staple length between 1 1/2 – 4 inches. Because of the springy nature of the wool and the shorter fiber length, Southdown is best when carded and spun woolen. As with any wool, though, you can use it however you like.

I first spun commercially combed Southdown top as a new spinner over a year ago. I had a spindle and some wool and I wanted to learn everything, so away I went, spinning the wool Worsted (short forward draw). I loved how this yarn came out. The wool was so easy to spin with – just enough drag to draft nicely, but not enough to make me really work for it.

Spinning Southdown wool on a drop spindle

Later, I spun more of this same top when as a learning exercise (I wanted to be able to spin thick singles). The yarn ended up delightfully thick and thin.

thick and thin singles yarn - Southdown wool

I was curious about how resistant this wool is to felting, so I knit up a few swatches to do some very scientific research.

Southdown swatches

The first swatch was my control: I washed it with wool wash in hot water, squeezed out as much water as I could, and laid it flat to dry.

Southdown swatch 1

For the second swatch I let it soak in hot water for a few minutes, then shocked it with cold water. I continued shocking the swatch back and forth between hot and cold water several times and rubbed the swatch to maximize any felting that would take place. Other than a little fuzziness, this swatch looks almost exactly like the first swatch.

Southdown swatch 2

With my third swatch I decided to go all out. I washed and dried it with the rest of my laundry. After going through the wash, the swatch looked exactly like my second swatch: a little fuzzy, but still in great shape. It shrunk lengthwise and widened width-wise a little in the dryer. This was the most dramatic change of the 3 swatches, but I still wouldn’t say the wool felted.

Southdown swatch 3

I’m wearing a swatch under my shirt as I type this, and it is a tiny bit itchy. If you have sensitive skin I wouldn’t recommend Southdown as a base layer, but it would make an excellent and hard-wearing sweater or jacket. Conversely, because of the springiness of the wool, Southdown would make great socks!

Now that I’ve done a little more study on the breed, I’m taking commercially prepared top and carding it into rolags to see the difference it makes in the yarn.

Southdown RolagsSouthdown spun Woolen

Look at that loft! I can’t wait to knit this up!

Best Cheddar Biscuits

This blog post is brought to  you courtesy of my excellent husband who just made me the best cheddar biscuits I’ve ever had.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 c. Self-Rising flour
  • 1/3 c. + 2 Tbsp. cold butter
  • 5 oz. shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 c. whole milk buttermilk
  • dash salt

Directions:

Preheat oven 400 degrees or 375 degrees for a convection oven (convection is preferred).

In a mixing bowl, cut 1/3 c. butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in cheese, then stir in buttermilk just until combined (you may need a little extra buttermilk if the dough seems dry). Be careful not to overmix!

Scoop large spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. The biscuits will not be brown yet.

While the biscuits are baking, melt 2 Tbsp. butter and add a dash of salt.

After the initial 10 minutes of baking, take the biscuits out of the oven, and brush the melted butter over the tops. Return biscuits to the oven, and broil until the tops are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and immediately transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy your biscuits while they last. They’ll be gone soon!

homemade cheddar biscuits

 

Me Made May: Year 2

I participated in Me Made May again this year. My making has slowed down considerably in the last 6 months, so my goal was the same as last year: wear 1 handmade garment or accessory every day. It’s interesting to see how many garments were the same as last year, but also how many were different.

Garments:

Of course I wore my grey Alabama Chanin dress. This dress has become one of my go-tos: I feel good in it and I always get compliments. I also get a lot of wear out of my orange tunic-dress. It’s super comfortable and easy to wear for a lazy day at home.

I have 4 handmade sleeveless tops now: 2 self-drafted, and 2 Wiksten Tanks.

I don’t wear vests a lot, but when I do, they need huge awesome collars. Some handmade lace for a back cutout doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s debatable whether socks are garments or accessories, but I figure since they enclose a part of your body and have to fit, they should be included as garments. I wore my Slytherin socks and my Watermelon socks throughout the month.

Having handmade undergarments has been a real boon for those days when everything else was dirty or didn’t seem to go well together.

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Accessories:

My office is really cold. As in, ‘wear socks and shoes (not sandals) and a shawl and a sweater and fingerless gloves’ cold. So I wore shawls a fair amount this month. My Granny shawl drapes perfectly and stays on effortlessly, and I also wore my wedding shawl and my most recent pattern release, the Balai Shawl (free pattern here).

Some days I didn’t feel like going all out, so I accessorized with my Kumihimo necklace or a ribbon rose hair clip. Simple, but effective.

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New:

I’ve been working on several projects this month, but most of them aren’t finished yet (oh the life of a crafter). I did manage to finally finish my wool crepe vest, and I love how it turned out! It’s big and comfortable and the fabric is oh so lovely.