Choosing the breeds for Explore 4

For the survey classes on wools that I teach (on both general breed-specific wools and rare-breed wools), I aim to have a variety of types of sheep represented in the fibers I collect to share with people. The final line-up always involves an interesting balancing act, limited by what's available when the fiber-gathering takes place:

  • representing different parts of the available fiber world (geographically speaking)
  • long / short
  • crimpy / wavy / straight
  • supple / sturdy
  • matte / shiny
  • single-coated / diverse fiber mix
  • butter-soft / warmly lofty, and, for fun,
  • in different colors

Choosing and acquiring the four breeds for the Explore 4 workshop that I'll be teaching in March, where we will focus on a single breed each day, has required the same careful assessment of which will complement each other in ways both obvious and subtle. In this case, I need to cover the broad set of bases with a handful of choices.

It's been a fun challenge, and as of yesterday I've lined up the crew! I've got my breeds, and I've also got the specific fleeces, selected for qualities like individual character and color.

Now—because this is the way I work, with the fiber we'll have in our hands preceding everything else—I can start to prepare detailed background information on the breeds. For the survey courses I teach, I already have the materials roughed out and I refine and adjust them when I know which specific breeds will be included. Yet Explore 4 provides a welcome excuse to present even richer stories about these breeds' history and characteristics.

For Explore 4, we'll be getting to know:

  • Black Welsh Mountain (black, of course),
  • Leicester Longwool (shiny white and long),
  • Navajo Churro (this one will be gray), and
  • Romney (I'm getting a brown one: brown Romneys aren't common, and the breed produces gorgeous shades).

The first three are rare breeds, and the fourth is a classic.


That's a Black Welsh Mountain sheep; I took the photo at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival a few years ago during the Parade of Breeds. (Last year, my camera wasn't working right and I missed a lot of good pictures, although I have some. I'll be there again this year and will see if I can do better. Same camera, hopefully working more reliably.)

I've already been washing the Leicester Longwool, which I bought at a freeway stop in Oregon last August. (I just needed a few yards of yarn, but I couldn't resist the raw wool.) Isn't it beautiful when it's released from its covering of grease, suint, and garden-variety dirt? The top and bottom in the next photo are the same fleece. All I did was wash it! Yet the luster and potential are clearly evident in the just-shorn state. (Um, the bottom is the clean portion {grin}.)


Speaking of washing, I've been asked to write some background information on how wool gets cleaned for a couple of upcoming online posts on other websites. (I'll try to remember, when these go live, to mention them, either here or on Twitter, where I'm @effortlesszone.)

I do love the transformation that happens in the tub. It's magic. And it's the start of a whole bunch of other magic.


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Detail-y stuff, for those who want to know: LeicesterLongwool_6588 - Version 2

I'll be conducting survey workshops—expeditiously covering as many breeds as we can fit into the scheduled hours—at the Madrona Winter Retreat (in Tacoma, Washington) in February, and later in the year at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival (schedule not posted as of when I'm writing), Olds College Fibre Week (Canada; registrations open March 1), Convergence 2012 (California; registration open now), and the Weavers Guild of Minnesota (registration open now). I'll also be teaching at The Spinning Loft (Michigan) in the fall, although we haven't decided what topic(s) we'll feature.

In addition, Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook co-author Carol Ekarius and I may be doing a couple of informational programs (not hands-on workshops) together at one 2012 event. We have a good time working together, so we've agreed to see if we can get it onto our schedules. I'll provide details when they're firmed up.

Registration numbers for all my classes and workshops are limited, yet openings do occur—one workshop that sold out on its opening day ended up having a space freed up a couple of months later. It's worth checking back. For all of these workshops, only basic spinning skills and equipment (listed in the descriptions) are necessary. It's all about starting where we are and moving to the next level.

Speaking of moving skills to the next level, I THINK I've figured out how to make the basic information for Explore 4 available here: click to download a PDF about Explore-4_2012. We've got a fantastic group coming together and there are still some spaces available for folks to join in.

* * * * *

All of the photos of wool in this post, from raw to knitted swatch, are Leicester Longwool. I do need to get a good picture of the Leicester Longwool sheep at Maryland! The photo with the skeins shows a couple of handspuns. I knitted the swatch from commercially prepared yarn.


12 thoughts on “Choosing the breeds for Explore 4”

  1. It would be REALLY fun to have you there, Amanda! I understand the “away from home” bit, although isn’t somebody going fishing or something and there could be a trade of kid-watching time? {grin}

  2. Amanda: Two great minds. . . . Lakedale is such a wonderful place to be. You would really like the other folks who are coming, and vice versa. The wools are delightful. I wonder if this could happen?

  3. Oooh. Nice lineup. I would say that each of these breeds is something I’ve tried but been unsatisfied that I’m really getting its full potential. Sigh, I wish I could figure out a way to swing coming!

  4. Very interesting! Wish the world was smaller so I could walk over and come to your class. Funny thing: I started knitting a sweater in that same pattern as your swatch ten days ago 🙂

  5. You have inspired me so much re: working with different fleeces. I was compelled to comb and handspin (very badly! I am a total beginner!) some Rough Fell fleece on my recent trip to Cumbria.

    Also, I showed your book to many shepherds in the Lake District, some of whom ordered copies immediately, because they were so excited to see the wool from their own sheep validated and creatively used in its pages.

    I am enjoying playing with Cotswold, BFL, Shetland, Swaledale and Rough Fell fleeces with the open hands and heart approach that you take in your book and classes.

    It’s like cheese or wine-tasting, but better!

  6. Felicity, thanks so much for your message. I am really glad you are playing with Rough Fell! Bravo. It's *not* easy to spin. Don't worry about the total beginner part. Requires light hands, doesn't it?

    Thank you for spreading word about the book in the Lake District. We had trouble getting wool for the breeds from that area because when we would get in touch with our request, people would say, "Why would you want THAT?" Yet they are both interesting and useful for handcrafters. We just have to keep open minds and be creative in what we think to do with them. They ended up being some of my favorites.

    I am smiling at your stories, and grateful to you for letting me know.

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