You’ve tried wine tasting. Now host a wool tasting!

Handspinners have access to so many different types of wool that we can explore not only different breeds of sheep, but also variety within each breed. I adore wool—all of it. Fleeces across the spectrum from fine to coarse, crimpy to silky, all have their own personality and can be ideal for textiles. Gathering wool from several sources and in different preparations will help you to see and feel the subtle variations.

Gotland

Gotland! From left: combed top from Louet North America, dyed locks from Barber Black Sheep in Wales, and combed top from Ashland Bay.

Fleece Samples to Share

As I travel and teach throughout the year, I often pick up a few ounces of interesting fibers here and there. I love to try new fibers, but my suitcase is only so big! So, when I share these treasures with spinning friends, I host a wool tasting. I typically use three to five different examples of the same breed. That may not sound like many different samples to try, but there is so much to learn that I like to keep it simple.

Mary carded some over-dyed locks from Barber Black Sheep, a Welsh Gotland flock. Photo: Kate Larson.

Mary carded some over-dyed locks from Barber Black Sheep, a Welsh Gotland flock. Photo: Kate Larson.

We put each fiber through its paces, spinning small samples of fine 2-ply, bulky 4-ply, and many yarns in between. Washing these small samples helps you see what the final yarn would actually look like. I suggest keeping a spinning notebook as a reference, but you can keep it fun and simple!

Kate loves spinning silky, long-stapled wools into 4-ply yarns. Photo: Kate Larson.

Kate loves spinning silky, long-stapled wools into 4-ply yarns. Photo: Kate Larson.

On the Menu: Gotland Fleece

Last weekend, my local spinning group at the Trading Post in Indiana had a Gotland wool tasting. We worked with several different fibers and preparations that I collected. Fleeces from modern Gotland sheep tend to be silky and lustrous but can vary greatly in fineness, staple length, and hand. The two combed tops were distinctly different: the lighter-colored top was coarser but had a crimp pattern that created a lofty yarn, and the dark grey top was longer-stapled and very lustrous, creating a dense, smooth yarn. The locks we worked with from a flock of Gotland sheep in Wales had a wonderful, supple hand.

Learn more about the history of Gotland sheep and how they have moved around the world:

British Gotland Sheep Society
Gotland Sheep Breeders Association of North America
American Gotland Sheep Society
Gotland History

—Kate


Discover more about Gotland and other wool varieties with these resources:

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