Breed Study: Targhee

The materials in this post were put together by my friend Jenn for our spinning group’s fiber study.

Targhee is one of America’s youngest breeds, having been developed this century. The Western sheep industry around 1900 was based on Merino and Rambouillet sheep with the emphasis on raising wool. Shortly after the turn of the century a demand began for lamb and this led to a crossing of the fine-wooled sheep to develop a better lamb producing animal. The most popular method to achieve this goal was the crossing of an English longwool breed with the fine-wooled breeds that were the basis of the Western sheep industry.

To fill this need, the US government began a program of crossing Lincoln rams on Rambouillet ewes, which was the foundation that developed into the Columbia breed. While these crosses were quite popular, many sheepmen felt that the ideal sheep would be 3/4 fine wool and 1/4 long wool, or what was commonly known as a “comeback” sheep, a name that signifies coming back to the Rambouillet from the first coarse and fine cross. To meet this demand, the US Sheep Experiment Station was begun in the fall of 1926 to lay the foundation for such a breed.

The foundation was a group of cross-bred ewes, consisting of Rambouillet, Lincoln, and Corriedale blood that were bred to 9 of the station’s smoothest, thickest Rambouillet rams. After 3 years of the program, 201 first-generation ewes were carefully selected and bred intensely. After 3 generations (about 1938) it had become apparent that a desirable breed had been developed and a larger genetic base was needed. New breeding schemes were developed, using the same original breeds, and the number of Targhees was boosted to over 1,000 sheep. The breed was named Targhee after the national forest where the animals grazed during the summer.

Each ewe will average a 10-14 lb fleece that has a micron measurement of 21-25 and a staple length of 3-5″ with a yield of 50-55%.

Jenn provided us all with a handful of Targhee fiber, and it was luscious! I spun a fine single on my drop spindle, wound it into a butterfly, and plied it back on itself for 15 yards of a fingering weight 2-ply yarn. I will definitely try this one again!

handspun Targhee

 

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!

Breed Study

I am part of a spinning group at my LYS. We meet twice a month, and this year we have decided to do a breed and fiber study. So once a month our meetings will focus on a specific wool breed or fiber, and we will all take turns teaching each other about them.

January’s focus was on Blue Faced Leicester. What a luscious fiber! I have only spun BFL once before (as part of my Skywool), and I had forgotten how easy it is to spin! The fiber we were provided with has a staple length of about 6 inches. The wool is wavy, rather than crimpy, and it is a commercial top preparation.

From about 1 1/4 oz I spun 92 yds of singles at my default spinning size of a light fingering/lace weight (Spun S). I like the yarn to be tight and plump when plied, so I spun with quite a bit of twist. In addition to trying a new type of wool. I decided to try a new plying method by cable plying my yarn. So after I spun my singles I plied both ends together, adding more twist than I would for a balanced yarn (Plied Z). I then plied both ends together again to create the cable ply (plied S). This resulted in 23 yards of a thick, almost ropy, Aran weight yarn, and I love it to bits!

 

Do you have a favourite kind of wool to work with? What about a new technique that you’ve recently learned?