Karakul lamb: wool too pretty to spin?

Working along on The Project, I've spent some time (again) recently with Karakul, the breed from which I learned so much many years ago. Some time in the 1970s, I ordered three Karakul fleeces at once: one white, one gray, and one black. If I recall correctly, they were my first whole fleeces. In washing and spinning them, I discovered how much the wool within a breed may vary not only in color but in length and texture and amount of grease and ease of processing.

Those fleeces became a rug that I wove and bartered for some training. I still remember the rug vividly, as well as the pleasant lessons those fleeces taught me.

In addition, some of the most memorably wonderful pieces I had the honor of presenting in Spin-Off during the years when I edited the magazine were Ellen Champion's Karakul rugs (Winter 1989 issue).

So I always approach Karakul with an anticipation of delight . . . and the expectation that I will learn something. Probably a lot. And that it will surprise me.

That's happened this week, as I've explored four different-colored lamb fleeces from Durakai Sheep and Fibre Arts, grown by sheep bred and raised by Marie and Ron Schmidt. I find myself facing an odd question, however: whether this wool is really too pretty just as wool to be spun. That question is almost inconceivable for me. I adore the transformation from fiber to yarn.

Yet when I see this:


I can't help but think of how the texture and the colors will be blended and muted by spinning. They're quite perfect just as they are.

Here's a sample from another lamb, along with the tiny skein I spun—which is, indeed, lovely. But is it lovelier than the fiber?


Both samples display the enchanting lamb-tips on the fibers, although they're a bit more obvious in the second photo: subsequent shearings won't have those characteristic, sweet, delicate curls.

While I have dutifully spun my samples for The Project, and I do like the results as yarns, I have made the skeins no larger than necessary because I'm so tempted to see what I can do to highlight the locks in their original forms, perhaps by spinning some adult Karakul into an even yarn and then weaving something where I'd lay narrow sections of the lamb locks into some of the sheds in a way that would display both the colors and the textures while holding them securely in place and protecting them from degradation. It would require thought and a bit of technical experimentation to get the effect I envision. And what might it become? A small rug? Sturdy tote for knitting? Book bag? Pillow for the couch? Jacket?

One thing about The Project: I keep getting ideas for ways I'd like to take each snippet of work I'm doing into new, deeper directions. Right now, I have to keep moving: on to the next sample, then to the next breed.

But I'd certainly like to come back to these charmers and explore the possibilities of highlighting their just-off-the-lamb form, which is exquisite.


17 thoughts on “Karakul lamb: wool too pretty to spin?”

  1. Wow…I was thinking “Rya Knots” when I looked at the locks on the left in the first photo.

    Good to know that you’re not running out of ideas. We can look forward to future projects!!

  2. Not only not running out of ideas, Valerie: WAY behind not only on implementing them but even on posting the ones I've gotten around to completing!

    Yes, those locks on the left in the first photo would do rya knots, but what you can't tell in pictures is how actually delicate the structures of these locks are and how silky that lamb fiber is (the mix of undercoat and outercoat, which you can see best in the locks on the right in that same photo–which I teased out a bit). While adult Karakul locks will hold up to some wear in a rya knot and maintain their form, I think these would smudge into obscure softness over not-too-much time. I do have some thoughts, though, about how to use them and keep them safe. . . .

  3. Caroline, don't hold your breath: I've got a lot to do before I can get to this, but I certainly do want to try it. And I have all the necessary fiber right here already, including the adult Karakul. I have had *two* ideas I would like to try for ways to lay in the locks (I'd use something less precious in my tests).

  4. I think you’ve already got a sequel on your mind?! Think of something like “creative directions for wool breeds” or something? I’d love a book like that.

    I agree with you though, sometimes the locks of wool are perfect and precious on their own and I feel that no yarn I could make would make them as beautiful.

  5. I keep locks “too pretty to spin” for use as doll hair, even though I hardly ever reroot anymore.

    Glossy longwools in gray look fabulous on my fashion dolls, like Mrs. Wensleydale…

  6. Sgt Majorette, I’m imagining a Mrs. Wensleydale, and it’s a fine picture in my head, indeed. Yes, sleek longwools are fantastic for doll hair. Karakul would make a pretty interesting-looking hair substitute: possibly for slightly sci-fi characters?

    Thanks for the interesting idea, Joanne. In terms of book projects, I am not thinking a millimeter past this particular one. I *am* thinking of things I would like to explore, just for fun.

    And Linda, I’m definitely with you on the chocolate and the lamb fleeces. I was thinking of semisweet chocolate as I wrote this–how could you tell?

  7. Those are gorgeous fleeces, and I can see those lamb-locks as a whacko mad scientist (or crazed spinner and author?) dolls. What a gift your posts are–I’ve learned more than I imagined I needed to know about sheep and other fibers.

    BTW, are you doing silk in this volume? We have a sculptor friend in Boulder, Jill Powers, who is raising her own silkworms and they’re spinning cocoons now….

  8. Crazed spinner/author dolls. Yep. That's gotta be it. Although I may use the Cotswold instead. . . . I've got some great gray Cotswold here. . . .

    Silk: yes, scheduled for this volume, although I'm not sure how sane that is. I keep trying to trim the work back to the remotely possible, and others who are involved (but not washing wool, and so forth) keep having even grander visions. Time will tell.

    Raising silk worms is a LOT of work. I'm very impressed that Jill Powers is sponsoring such an effort. Yowee.

  9. Reading your blogs is making me drool with envy! Not only have I no time to spin of late, but haven’t even washed last spring’s clip of fine llama. Sigh.

    I’ll just have to continue to live vicariously through your wonderful blog!

  10. I actually don't have much spinning time myself–just the tidbits and teasers and idea-generators. I have a notebook of things I'd like to make that are bigger than my tiny skeins . . . at another point in the cycle of seasons. This is a season for samplng. . . . 

  11. Your karakul locks look much ike some of the Navajo churro I’ve spun. The resulting yarn is beautiful;but, not as memorable as the locks and the entire fleece.

  12. I've been spinning Navajo Churro today. Navajo Churro has a lot of options. These are, however, some of the prettiest fleeces I've ever seen. I'm not sure I can capture their beauty with a camera. Such texture and color! 

    One of the sample sections I have of Navajo Churro is SOOO SOFT! Truly remarkable. Sturdy is good. I also like being surprised. . . .

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