June 30, 2009

The New Girls!

You know how I've been looking for grey ouessants for my flock.
Well, look at what I brought home 2 days ago!
Introducing Mira and Mysti, my 2 new grey ouessant ewes :

Mira and Mysti
Grey Ouessant ewes
4.5 months old
Well, what can I say?
They are just lovely.
Mira (as in Mirage) is the darker of the two : fleece color very close to shaela, a dark steely-grey.
Mysti (as in Mystique) is much lighter : fleece color very close to
emsket, a dusky bluish-grey.

June 28, 2009

Sheep to Sweater Sunday n° 8 "Black Wool"

I'm trying to be rather systematic with my fiber preparation, working on one fleece at a time.

That said, I always get a bit bored with one and have to start another, etc...

I am almost finished with Praline's fleece. I'm down to the bits that aren't quite as nice and long. So I hope to be totally finished prepping her fleece shortly.

That said, I couldn't help but "try out" some of the other fleeces.

I'm working on 4 black fleeces this year : 'TitBijou, Margaret, Margot, & Nos.

Isn't it interesting to see how different the wool is from each of these sheep.

4 Black Ouessant fleece samples
Combed Wool

It's very hard to capture the differences in these fleeces with the camera's eye.
Each fleece has its own unique qualities that are determined by breeding, age and sex.

TitBijou : 2 year old black ouessant ewe

TitBijou has an unusually stunning fleece.
She was coated when she was sheared last year.
So the fleece is jet black with no sun-bleached tips.
She does have a double coat that is a bit coarser than the others.
Interestingly enough, this fleece has an abundance of guard hairs, but rather than being a horrible thing, the guard hairs are a glossy, high-luster black fiber that reminds me of mohair! It's hard to tell from the photo, but 'TitBijou's fleece almost sparkles as it reflects the light. So it's quite lovely. It's NOT "next-to-your-skin soft", but than again, neither is mohair.

Nos : 2 year old black ouessant ram

Nos, a 2 year old ram, has a very different fleece.
As a ram, he does have an abundance of guard hair, but it is not high-luster like 'TitBijou's fleece.
This line of ouessant sheep age-greys early. And you can see quite a large quantity of white hairs in the fleece.
He wasn't coated until December, so the brown sun-bleached tips are also present.
Oddly enough, even though the fleece might look coarse, it is actually quite nice.
Again, it is NOT "next-to-your-skin soft", but then again, it is a ram's fleece.
It has a "spring" and "bounce" to it that the others don't have. It's a very pretty fleece with great length.

Margaret : 4 year old black ouessant ewe

Margaret, a 4 year old ewe, has a surprisingly gorgeous fleece.
Who ever said that the first year's fleece was the best!!
The above photo doesn't show how much age-greying this fleece has.
The colors are really quite extraordinary! Age-greying black with a heavy dose of sun-bleached tips!
She was coated in December.
Overall staple length 15 cm.
Interestingly enough, despite the double coat, this is a lovely soft fleece. Virtually soft enough to wear next to the skin.
I'm particularly pleased with this fleece. Remember last year? Margaret's fleece was one solid felted "carpet". I think that this fleece is a perfect example of why I LOVE coating my ouessant sheep.

Margot : 1 year old black ouessant ewe

Margot's first fleece is everything that one would hope for in a lamb's fleece.
It is next to your skin soft.
The overall staple length is 15 cm.
She was coated in December, thus the sun-bleached tips.

I will be combing each of these fleeces.
I haven't decided yet, but I'm considering blending them together with hackle and combs.
Maybe blending Nos and Margaret together for colorful combed age-greying black ouessant wool.
Or, maybe blending 'TitBijou and Margot together.
Hummm ... don't know yet. I may have to experiment a little.

Even though all of these fleeces are different, they are all equally lovely.

I better get to work! I've got lot's of fleece to comb.

June 21, 2009

Sheep to Sweater Sunday n° 7 "The Frugal Spinner"

I HATE wasting fiber, particularly when it's beautiful fiber from my sheep! At the same time, I love combed fiber.

So what's a frugal spinner to do?

This is my current project :

Basket of combing waste from RhumRaisin, a white ouessant ewe,
and Ciska a brown ouessant ewe.

This combing "waste" isn't horrible ... it's just what was left over after combing.

I decided to card these together, leaving me with 240 grams of lovely "cinnamon and sugar" fiber clouds to spin.

Yum!! Just lovely!

The resulting yarn is not as even or fine as I usually spin : it's a more rustic heathery tweed. And honestly, quite lovely.

Hand Spun combing "waste" : 8 WPI

I've got a special project in mind for this yarn ... but more about that later!

June 20, 2009

What a Week!

I haven't had much time to work with fiber prep or spinning ... too many other pressing things to do.

First off, the vet returned for the blue tongue booster shots on Thursday morning! So that's done for this year!

And the great news is that my winter hay ... (put up in small bales!) was delivered and stacked in the barn on Friday!

The Winter Statch! And it smells so good!

Nice quality of hay, great price ... and all ready for this winter. This is wonderful. Although there is quite a bit of hay in the area, it's very difficult to find small bales. So I'm one happy camper!

And they stacked it for me : I didn't have to move one bale!

June 14, 2009

Sheep to Sweater Sunday n° 6 "Making Choices"

Every fleece is different. And for the spinner, it is always a challenge to know how to best proceed.

Even if you have a rather large box of tools and a certain amount of expertise in using them, you have to weigh out your options ... always keeping in mind that every method of fiber preparation has certain advantages and disadvantages.

So here is my challenge :

Praline's fleece, after cold water soak

I love this fleece. The color is just breathtaking!
But there is one big problem. This is a very small fleece.
After being carefully skirted, the fleece only weighed 622 grams (just under 22 oz.).
After the week long cold water soak, the dried fleece weighed 480 grams (17 oz.) : that's a 23% loss from "sheep grime"!
From experience I know that combing would create lots of waste! Waste that I don't want to create. I want to use and save as much of this fleece as I possibly can!
So, after a bit of thought I decided to try a "hybird" technique!

This is what I'm doing.

First, I'm carefully pulling out individual locks of fiber from the fleece. I do this by grabbing the tips and gently pulling them out of the fleece. I then arrange these locks in a box with butt ends together.

Washed fleece on the left ; arranged locks on the right

Then using the flicker brush, I am carefully taking each lock and teasing (brushing) the butt end and the tip end. Then I put all of these brushed locks in a large flat box, keeping the butt ends together.

Looking good! Box full of flicker brushed locks!

Using the flicker brush has one huge advantage : there is virtually no waste. I'm hoping that by using this technique, I won't lose too much more fiber in the preparation process.

Once brushed, I'm loading the locks (butt end) on a static wool comb. I am NOT combing the fiber. Rather, with the help of a diz, I am drawing off the fiber into a sliver.

Brushed locks loaded on comb and diz threaded

After being drawn off, I end up with a beautiful little "cloud" of noisette (brown) wool, ready to spin!

Praline's fleece, noisette (brown-fawn) ouessant

But here's the best news yet!!

Static wool comb after drawing off fiber!

Hardly any waste at all!
I am so excited! I'm still in the middle of this. But so far, so good!
It will be very interesting to see how much fiber I have to spin when I'm finished.
I'll keep you up-dated!

June 12, 2009

.... just because ....

Mac, noisette (brown) ram lamb, at 7 weeks old

June 7, 2009

Sheep to Sweater Sunday n° 5 "Combing"

I have to admit it! I LOVE spinning combed fiber.
In fact I honestly enjoy this method of fiber preparation.
I find it to be very relaxing and somehow quite satisfying.
And, in my opinion, this method of preparation does produce the finest and most beautiful yarns.
Of course there are some pros and cons.
But first let’s start with the advantages.

  • Combing allows you to separate the beautiful prime fiber from the not-so-nice stuff! You get rid of the second cuts, short fibers, most vegetable matter, noils, small matts, etc...
  • Combing produces an easy to spin “top”. The whole processes of combing and using a diz to draw off your fiber is the ultimate in fiber prep! It’s like an elaborate pre-drafting operation. It makes spinning a dream. Once you’ve spun combed fiber .. nothing else will quite measure up! (Of course that’s my opinion! LOL!)
  • Combing allows you to produce “hand spun” yarn that doesn’t “look” hand spun. None of the lumps and bumps that a carded preparation can often leave you with. Of course some people like hand spun yarn that looks, well ... "hand spun". But some of us prefer a yarn that is even and finely spun.
If you are interested in combing wool you will need to purchase a set of wool combs. Please be warned that these are very specialized and somewhat expensive tools : a quality set of 2 pitch mini combs will cost anywhere from 100 - 150 € There are a number of different styles of wool combs : minis, small, large, Dutch combs, English 4 pitch combs, etc. So it is best to do a bit of research before you decide where to start.

After a lot of research, I decided to get 2 pairs of wool combs : minis and mediums, both from Wool Combs by Emmy in Canada. Here’s a picture of my mini wool combs.

Mini Wool Combs in Apple with Bird's Eye Maple inlay!
Matching diz and threader in apple
Combed black and white ouessant top

Aren’t they just beautiful! Such fantastic little tools.
I purchased these from Pauline at Wool Combs by Emmy.
She also has a etsy shop for easy purchase.
These combs are reasonably priced and she will ship to France!
But even more importantly, these are beautiful, functional combs.
I’m ever so glad to have these as part of my fiber prep arsenal!

Empty wool comb with lock of washed (in cold water) ouessant fleece

Here's the same lock after it was combed!

And a bit of the combed top, spun to gage : 14 wpi!

I do LOVE this method of fiber prep .... but yes, there are a few drawbacks!

  • First, combs are more expensive than hand cards or a flicker brush.
  • The other major problem with combing is the fact that it creates a lot of waste. Even if starting from a clean, well-skirted fleece you will lose anywhere between 30 - 50 % when combing! And that IS a lot of waste, particularly if you're starting with a small fleece!
Here's a picture of some of the combing waste that was left over after combing RhumRaisin's fleece :

RhumRaisin : combing waste!

Note that this "waste fiber" isn't horrible, it's merely what was left over after the prime fiber was removed.

But never fear! This fiber will not be thrown away. I will be using it in a different project. But more about that later.

In the mean time, find out more about wool combing by viewing the following videos.

June 3, 2009

What's a shepherd to do?

In my opinion, the process of selection and culling is perhaps one of the most important, albeit difficult, tasks for a shepherd.

It would be rather easy if every case was black or white, unfortunately most are a murky mixture of the two.

This is particularly true when there are multiple objectives in the breeding program, which is my situation!

In a nutshell, my objectives can be summarized in three words :
confirmation, color, fleece.

  • Confirmation : First, I want to stay well within the official standard for ouessant sheep. Not only does this mean a strict control of height, but also general structure and type of each animal.
  • Color : Additionally, I want a “colorful” spinner’s flock of ouessant sheep. Of course I want black and white ouessants, but I also want moorit, fawn, grey, shaela, emsket, charcoal-pewter, etc...
  • Fleece Quality : Finally, I’m breeding for wool quality. Staple length, texture, condition, style.
Now all of that sounds good enough on paper .... but let’s face it, the “perfect” animal doesn’t exist ... or if they do they are VERY rare. Breeding is always a matter of selection. You have to carefully look at what each individual animal can eventually bring to the flock : both good and bad. Of course every breeder deals with this differently. For example, I know of a number of breeders who rigorously cull based solely on height. And fair enough. Their sheep are all within the standard for height ... BUT structurally the sheep are not always well put together : wobbly rear legs, fine-boned , poor top-line, etc ...

From my point of view, as important as height is (and YES, it is VERY important), this is just one of the criteria. The real problem is this : “where do you draw the line?”

Take Dagobert for example. I had more than a few reservations about him. But he is a grey ouessant, which is a relatively “rare” (recessive) color that I very much want to introduce to my flock.

So where do you draw the line? At what point do the risks (disadvantages) outweigh the advantages?

I did measure him before I bought him. And he was under 49 cm. But, looking at him in the field after having brought him home, he seemed too big ... I kept telling myself that it must be all that fleece.

Well, shearing day came ... and with it the “toise”. My fears were confirmed. 51 cm tall! And keep in mind that I personally like to see a ram at no more than 46 cm!

If he had been 49 or less I would have considered using him on 1 or 2 of my smallest ewes ... but 51! No! that's just too big, even if he is a grey ouessant!

How could have I been so far off when I measured him before? Maybe he was standing in a slight dip in the pasture? Arrrrgggghhhhh!

I’ve had to give this a lot of thought. It would be so tempting to use him on one or two ewes. I mean, after all, he is a grey ouessant! But after much consideration I came to the conclusion that I would not/could not use Dagobert for breeding. Despite his beautiful color, his height excludes him from being used. At the some time, I didn’t feel as though I could “honestly” sell him as a breeding ram either, as I don’t want to encourage the breeding of over-sized ouessant sheep (God only knows that there are already too many of “those” being bred and sold!).

So Dagobert had a rendez-vous chez le veto.
My husband protested : “...and you would do that to him just for a couple of centimeters ...”

Dago is now back at home minus a few of his dangly bits and recovering without any problems.

No, it’s not an easy decision to make ... but that’s what selection is all about.

June 1, 2009

Magical, Mystical Grey Ouessant Wool!

It's hard not to fall in love with grey ouessants!

They are simply

I love them.
Even my husband is smitten
by their beguiling beauty!

And the wool is just indescribable!

I'm not going to say anything about the genetics of these lovely sheep as more experienced breeders have covered that subject.

Check out Dominique's blog (in French) for more information on grey ouessant sheep (do a search for gris).

His particular interest in this rare (recessive) color has helped insure their survival! All breeders of ouessant sheep owe him their gratitude.

The theory of modified colors is a working model that seems to accurately describe this same phenomenon in Shetland sheep. It isn't surprising that this same phenotype/genotype is found in ouessant sheep as they both belong to the group of Northern European Short-Tailed Sheep.

Last week I soaked the small amount of wool I could salvaged from Dagobert's fleece.

Dagobert's fleece drying.
Aren't those colors just beautiful?
And this is a 3 year old ram!!

Black, Grey & White Ouessant Wool
Combed and ready to spin!

Thank you for visiting the Spinning Shepherd!