Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Can You Guess?

Side Track!  I was spinning one of my Shetland lamb's fleeces this afternoon, and started thinking about how much the fiber reminded me of Angora bunny hair, for it was very fine.  Since I have some bunny hair from my rabbit, Zinnia, I decided to put the wool side by side with the bunny hair.  Sitting next to me on my table is a lock from Claire, my dairy sheep (East Friesian Cross).  Just for fun, I decided to put the three of them together and compare, cause you know, I have nothing better to do, right? :)

It turned out to be a very interesting case study!  Can you guess which one is the Angora Bunny fiber?  Which is the Shetland sheep fiber?  Which is Claire, the dairy ewe?  Dairy sheep, by the way, have medium grade wool.  If you work with fibers regularly, this should be easy.  What is remarkable, is that all three of them are so very fine!  Even Claire, who's wool should be coarser by the very fact of her breed.  I had lots of fun passing a few minutes this afternoon by taking a closer look and appreciating the fineness, similiarities and differences.  I put a few strands of the Angora bunny wool together with the Shetland fiber and could barely make out the difference of which one is which.  Here is the answer:

The locks on the upper left are Claire.  Her staples are blocky...meaning they have no tips. (I sheared her with handblades.)  The cut side is on the bottom, the outer ends are at the top.  She has regular crimp all the way up the staple, and it's very uniform.  The brownish at the top is not color variation on her wool, rather, it's dirt, for this is an unwashed lock.  The upper right is Angora bunny.  Zinnia, whom we lost last summer in the horrible heat (she was many years old but we still miss her!  She was a delightfully hoppy bunny, and loved chives...since we're in full chive season, I miss her even more.)  had this gorgeous mini-micron fiber that was bright white and a delight to work with.  She was a wonderful bunny who provided much wool for me to spin.  The bottom right lock is the Shetland, off one of Wooly Bear's lambs.  The cut side is on the right (hand sheared by me with blades).  The tip on the left MUST be present on a Shetland sheep.  This tip is a lifesaver to the animal in that it sheds off endless rain...downspouts and gutters for sheep...essentially.  The tip is a golden color, which is the color of the sheep when you looked at him before shearing, so the white part grew in as the lamb grew!  Fun!  This lock is washed.  Interestingly enough, when you pull on the tip to separate the fibers, the tips go all the way down to the cut part and gets finer and finer.  The fine stuff at the cut is the same as the tippy stuff at the top.  The tip wool is the same as the fine wool, all one strand.

So when analyzing my wool and bunny together, I tried to take a picture, but my camera just couldn't pick it up nicely.  Essentially, the sheep's wool has waves, where as the bunny fiber is really straight.  That was the only way I could make out a difference between the two, even after bugging out my eyes for awhile.  One thing is for sure, though.  All three animals produce a very different handle in their fiber, a very different knitting experience, AND a very different wearability! It was really fun looking at these three examples and I didn't regret burning a few minutes today in doing so.  Hope you enjoyed this little side track with me!
  Wheely Wooly Starlight, you sure are cute!

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