Your New Favorite Natural Fiber: Longwools

This Wensleydale lamb, who belonged to Roy & Myrtle Dow, has a lot to say about her beautiful fleece.

This Wensleydale lamb, who belonged to Roy & Myrtle Dow, has a lot to say about her beautiful fleece. Photo by Christa Tippmann.

This week I had a chance to dip into the lovely Spinning Longwools Kit at a weekend spinning to weave class with Sara Lamb (who wrote the book on how to Spin to Weave!). A picture doesn’t do the yarns I made justice—they look like 6 samples of creamy white wool plus one lovely charcoal, but the differences among these seven wool fibers have to be felt to be believed.

As I enjoyed spinning the combed top or carded wool roving, I did a little reading on these sheep breeds and their traits. In the Lovely Longwools eBook, some of Spin Off’s most distinguished contributors shared their observations:

Coopworth
Carol Huebscher Rhoades says, “The majority of Coopworth sheep are white-wooled because that is desirable for commercial flocks. However, the Border Leicester and Romney background of the Coopworth insures an ample presence of color genetics. The white fleeces I’ve handled were similar to Border Leicester wool while the colored Coopworth fleeces seemed more Romney-like.” Her assessment of the breed overall, “Working with Coopworth wool should be easy,” is echoed by Linda Berry Walker: “A good Coopworth fleece practically spins itself!”

Bluefaced Leicester
It’s hard to believe it, but in 1999 Carol Huebscher Rhoades commented, “There are now a few Bluefaced Leicester flocks in North America, numbering about 100 sheep altogether. Because of the small size of North American flocks and the mostly commercial use of the wool in Britain, it may take time and effort to obtain a Bluefaced Leicester fleece for hand spinning.” Thank goodness, we’re now able to find more of this delightful wool fiber.

Border Leicester
Robin Russo describes her first encounter with Border Leicester this way: “I was drawn to the fleece from some distance by its incredible luster. I loved the distinct locks and the soft feel of the wool.”

From left, Grace and Elizabeth Corrette show Lincoln Longwools at the Estes Park Wool Market. The family owns Event Horizon Ranch in Brighton, Colorado. Photo by George Boe

From left, Grace and Elizabeth Corrette show Lincoln Longwools at the Estes Park Wool Market. The family owns Event Horizon Ranch in Brighton, Colorado. Photo by George Boe

Lincoln
“The key words for Lincoln Longwool fiber are lustrous, strong, and long,” says Deborah Robson. “Lincoln Longwool sheep, or Lincolns, are large sheep that grow copious amounts of strong wool.” (Who doesn’t love copious amounts of strong wool?)

Romney
Rita Buchanan writes about the breed, “Romney wool is often recommended as the ideal fiber for beginning spinners. It’s gratifying for old-timers, too. Whenever I return to Romney after spinning some other fiber, I fall in love with it again.” I’m with her—the gray charcoal Romney sample was my favorite in the kit.

Wensleydale
Sarah Wroot explores the differences between American and British Wensleydales in her 2013 article. Her observations hold true for Longwools in general: “The reduction in overlap of the scales that gives Wensleydale its luster and silky hand makes it slow to full, so Wensleydale fabrics are more resistant to some types of wear; if spun from full-length locks, there are fewer ends to project, so the yarn is even smoother.”

After the weekend, I made a plan for my longwool sampler: a tightly spun handwoven blanket. Not soft enough for next-to-skin, but durable and warm and full of character.

Anne Merrow

 

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