Carol is lovely. This fleece has that grey white quality I’m a huge fan of. Moderate to heavy VM this fleece cleans up beautifully. This flock retains the gene for the sheep to roo so the staple length is on the shorter side – better shorter than broken! It’s lofty and airy and wonderful.
Ave staple 1.5-2″
10% of the sales proceeds f this fleece goes toward the sheep program at Accokeek National Historic Farm.
Felix – oh Felix, how I love your bright creamy wool, its floofiness, its softness, its promise of warm snuggly socks… Yeah, this fleece is crimpy, Yeah, this fleece is lofty. Yeah, this fleece has dirty tips – but is so dense that’s where most of the dirt is!
Oh my wooly peoplez – Felix is heaven in a Hog Island.
Ave staple 2″
10% of the sales proceeds from this fleece go toward the sheep program at Accokeek National Historic Farm.
Lettie. Moderate dirt and VM, Lettie has one of the whitest and most disorganized Hog Island fleeces I’ve encountered. And that disorganization is AWESOME – it creates loft, and insulation and wonderfulness. And talk about staple length!
Ave staple 2.5″
10% of the sales proceeds from this fleece will go to support the sheep program at Accokeek National Historic Farm.
Breed categories: medium wool, rare, heritage,feral
Distribution: United States
About 200 years ago, a flock of sheep was established on Hog Island, one of Virginia’s barrier islands. The sheep were already native to the area and are reputed to have descended from Merino and the occasional subsequent introductions of down breeds to the population, the last being in 1953, when a Hampshire ram was taken to the island. The breed evolved on its own into a hardy, self sufficient sheep.
Hog Island sheep are one of the few populations of feral sheep in the United States. Feral sheep are rare worldwide, because sheep do not adapt easily to unmanaged habitats. Feral sheep like Hog Islands are usually found on islands which lack predators.
In 1974, the island was sold to The Nature Conservancy, which decided to remove all the sheep and cattle.
Gunston Hall Plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia, eventually became the owner of the greater number of these sheep and exhibited them as part of their replication of 18th century plantation life. Hog Island sheep evolved and survived for over 200 years in an extremely harsh environment on a limited diet and no medical attention. It is estimated that there are approximately 200 Hog Island breeding ewes, mostly in Virginia, with some in Maryland.
Because of the small population, only the most general descriptions of the breed should be made. Hog Island sheep vary in physical appearance. Most of the sheep are white with spotted faces and legs, though about ten percent are black. Newborn lambs are frequently spotted over the body, but the spots usually disappear as the lambs mature. Both ewes and rams may be horned or polled. Mature animals weigh 125-200 pounds.
Wool is of medium weight and variable in type and amount. Because the sheep are feral, they can roo, which will often result in a roo line on the fleece, but most flocks are shorn as the shepherds continue to improve nutrition. Staple length varies widely but displays a nice crimp due to its merino heritage while being a short, dense lock that reflects its down breed heritage. The average staple length on the sheep we have had the pleasure of meeting has been 2-2.5″ with a micron count of between 20-3o microns. The wool can be next to skin soft, but it may take some getting used to, and is fantastic for rugged outerwear. As feral sheep they do have a lot of grease – which protects the fleece from the harsh elements.
While we were there we met a number of the farm’s Hog Island sheep which are part ofthe Foundation’s Livestock Conservancy Program. The two fleeces we have in stock currently come from sheep in this very photo!
It was QUITE the soggy day – foggy, wet and squelchy but it was really rewarding to see these critically endangered sheep out in the fields, being lowed at by some cows and chased around by the geese, wandering about happily like the feral sheep they are.
We also learned about picking cotton which was rather fun and right up my honey’s alley with his anal retentive streak. I confess that I got a little excited about the natural green cotton myself, but fear not! My heart still belongs to wool. (Not that I don’t have a desperate need to have James weave us some naturally colored cotton kitchen towels now….)
We spent some quality time with the stitch group talking about different fiber qualities, and the work done by the farm to restore the breed. We carded some of their previously scoured Hog Island wool and did some spinning. And we talked about the future.
James, in his historical happy frenzy, has volunteered us to participate regularly in their Stitch n’ Time – and it’s only fair. We do love the Foundation’s mission, it is a living history farm (it’s possible that at some point in the future we’ll be dressed accordingly) and they have a small flock of a critically endangered sheep breed after all. This project screams out for our attention!
You’ll find two of Accokeek’s Hog Island fleeces in the shop right now! They’re quite lovely, and display breed standard: they have that crispness that fleece with down breed in their backgrounds have, with a short dense staple (2-2 1/2″) and good bounce. Hog Island doesn’t felt very easily – and when you can convince it to, it’s a loose felt – which bodes well for socks accidentally thrown into the washing machine! – and it spins up very nicely. This fiber will never create a smooth orderly worsted yarn though, and it’s not meant to; it’s lofty and airy and is great for woolen spinning. Hog Island shows stitch definition nicely with good round yarns, and it will wear well. It cards beautifully and if you wanted to try combing I’d suggest mini combs. But truthfully, this fiber sings when carded and woolen spinning really shows it off to the utmost.
The sheep were shorn by Polly herself and there will be more to come. James and I will be going to the shearing in March to choose fleeces from the 2014 clip. Even more exciting, The Spinning Loft is partnering with the Accokeek Foundation’s Farm to source quality Hog Island fleeces and 10% of all proceeds from our sales of Accokeek’s Hog Island fleeces will be donated back to the Foundation’s livestock program.
Hooray for saving sheep! This is a great example of our mission in action.
You’ll notice a theme throughout 2019 here at The Spinning Loft and elsewhere: Heritage Breeds.
In 2019 the Livestock Conservancy is challenging fiber artists to “Shave ’em to Save ‘Em” by encouraging them to spin and work with as many Heritage Breed fibers as possible. As you all know – The Spinning Loft has carried and featured these breeds for years and this year we will be among the providers supporting their challenge. Our stamps are on the way and the initiative launches very soon.
Heritage breeds are amazing. A few of their many benefits include: wide genetic diversity, improved hardiness, a wider variety of wool textures and applications, wider range of habitat, key niches in ecosystems, more vigorous health and resistance to disease, and improved lambing. Also, if you eat lamb, they also have more diverse flavor.
Most frequently we encounter Heritage breeds as part of a cross. For example, dozens of breeds, some of which are now heritage breeds, trace their origin to Leicester Longwool which began with the now extinct 18th century Dishley Leicester. The Leicester Longwool is a common sight in such places as Colonial Williamsburg where they are used in historical re-enactment, breed preservation, and textiles because they are the sheep brought to Williamsburg by the Colonial settlers.
So what is a Heritage Breed?
Well, it’s quite simple really. A Heritage Breed is a breed of one of the seven traditional US livestock species that has been raised since pre industrial times and breeds true to type; each generation retains the traits of its forebears. They were adapted over time to their local environments, and retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency – fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts, ability to mate naturally, and resistance to diseases and parasites. They are truly multipurpose animals.
The danger they face is mainly industrialization. They are often slower to grow so they take longer to get to market. Having a wider range of fleece textures, lengths, and colors means they are not suited for industrial mills. Many tend to be smaller so they are not as suited for industrial meat production.
They also face extinction due to cross breeding. Many of these breeds were and are used to impart their desirable genetic traits into other breeds. A shepherd who wants a disease resistant but very wooly sheep is likely to cross a very disease resistant Heritage Breed with something like a Merino to get more wool with greater disease resistance. The danger of industrial breeding, of only considering these breeds as part of a cross or only crossing them for spinners’ fleeces and flocks, is that they are dying out. Breeding back is not a solution because once other genetics have entered the mix, you no longer have the original characteristics and will never get back to what is truly the Heritage Breed. We must preserve them while we can.
How do they get on the list?
The Livestock Conservancy is the organization in the United States which monitors, raises awareness of, and promotes Heritage Breeds in an effort to save them from extinction. They work with breed organizations to monitor registrations, shepherds and state agricultural organization to spread the breeds around and foster them. They are truly amazing and they have a counterpart in the UK known as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Some of the breeds on the American list are also on the British list.
Annual breed registrations indicate overall active livestock breeding populations and a Heritage breed gets on the list when its annual registrations of new births falls below a certain level. If the breed is a landrace, which tend not to have a breed association, the Conservancy reaches out to shepherds directly. The idea is to track those populations of livestock which will result in future generations and retain breed integrity.
While the Conservancy has a solid list of characteristics to determine what breeds get on the endangered list, we are mainly focused on sheer numbers. There are 5 classes on the Conservancy list:
Critically endangered – To be critically endangered, a breed must have less than 200 registrations each year. That means less than 200 breeding ewes in the United States. Breeds such as Gulf Coast,Santa Cruz, and Hog Island fall into this category. Having stood in the center of one of the largest remaining Hog Island flocks in the country, and counting only 40 head of these amazing sheep is a gut wrenching experience.
Threatened – Threatened breeds register less than 2000 each year. Breeds such as Jacob and Leicester Longwool are on the threatened list.
Watch – The Watch list is where you will find populations in flux, with fewer than 2500 registrations each year. They tend to be Heritage meat breeds, such as Oxford and Tunis, which find themselves with a slightly wider variety of applications, but for the handspinner, these breeds can be particularly challenging. They have wonderful wool, but because the shepherds do not think of them for textiles, they tend not to be particularly clean, long or even available; most often they are composted or dumped at the regional wool pool. I am always looking for shepherds who raise these wonderful sheep and are willing to work with me to improve their fleece condition.
Recovering – This is a category of hesitant joy. It’s a population with more than 2500 registrations but that still needs to be monitored. It might come as a surprise to you that Shetland and Southdown find themselves here. Southdown is here for the same reason that those breeds on the Watch category are there, but there are slightly more of them. Shetland is here because they are primarily used for wool and not for meat – you only get about 20 pounds of very small cuts from a Shetland; they are not terribly large sheep.
Finally, Study – These are breeds where the population is of genetic interest but either lacks definition or lacks genetic or historical documentation. There are no sheep on the Study list.
The Spinning Loft is proud to work with shepherds and stock all but five of the sheep on the Livestock Conservancy list. Two of those are hair sheep – which while technically spinnable, is not very friendly to the hand spinner. Three are breeds I struggle to find entirely. Locating both shepherds and fiber which is in spinnable condition for my clients is a huge challenge for these three breeds.
Heritage breeds are endangered breeds, many of them critically, and without additional outlets for the shepherds they will be abandoned in favor of wool and meat that meets standards of industrial production. In some cases, such as Santa Cruz and Gulf Coast, there are fewer than a few hundred of these sheep globally.
When you seek out these breeds to create your textiles, you take a tangible and concrete step in saving them for future generations and in promoting diversity in our environment.
So – somehow the first year of our shepherding has come and gone. Wherever did the time go? In this year we have seen some fun things around The Spinning Loft – new fibers from Norway, the development of our new Beth Smith and Down Breed samplers, working with Accokeek to foster Hog Island sheep. We worked with Spirit Trail to field a Tour de Fleece team and with Storey Publishing for Spinzilla. We have learned much and our adventures have brought us idea after floofy idea.
The fall brings us many tasks here at The Spinning Loft. We have leaves new fleeces to sort, orders to plan and dream tools to seek out to bring to you.
We still have just under 2 months to go in 2014 – and it’s the 2 BEST SHOPPING MONTHS!!! We have some excellent goodies in stock and we have even more arriving just for the holidays! Here are just a few suggestions to help you settle in the cozy winter season:
Want to try a pin loom for sampling? We have Schacht Zoom Looms in stock! These looms are fantastic for sampling or for making quick little projects – or even for making hand woven squares for larger projects like blankets, or sweaters, or totes!
And of course we have spindles! Including a small number of ne’er to be produced again Desko spindles.
So in the spirit of the holiday festivities we are offering a 10% site wide discount (* some exclusions apply) now through December 15th – just enter the code HOLIDAY2014 at checkout.
In order to get all the shipping out and have our packages arrive on time to their destinations, we must send out our packages no later than Saturday, December 20th for domestic Priority Mail (First class). International orders we suggest shipping no later than December 13th.
We will also be taking some time to visit family over the holidays and that means a short break in shipping. The site will keep taking orders while we are away – the internet never closes! – but we will have a shipping hiatus from December 21st to January 6th.
After all this, what on earth will we do in this next year? We have a few things in the works. So keep an eye out, listen for our tell-tale bleats and baas, and keep your spinning fingers primed!
Alison, James, and Maximus
Your Spinning Loft Shepherds (and Wooly Overlord)
P.S. If you don’t see something – send us an email with your request. We can usually order it – and if we can’t, we will add it to our wish list and keep you posted.
* Discount coupon does not apply to looms or spinning wheels.
It’s that time of year again and the fiber festivals are coming fast and furious. While most of you prefer to handle only a few ounces of raw wool at a time, or prefer not to be led astray by the heady fumes, a few brave souls after my own heart might attempt to choose a whole one. Or two. Or three. Or…….
Let me first say that you can, in fact, buy whole fleeces from The Spinning Loft at a discount off our retail offerings. Please contact us if this is something of interest to you – as we want to make sure you get a fleece undivided by previous orders! If we do not currently have such a fleece in stock, we can often place a special order, usually around shearing season. Outside of shearing season, that becomes more challenging.
For those willing to brave the fleece sale at a local festival, particularly for the first time, there are questions, conundrums and qualms. What fleece? How much? How big? How do I choose? What makes it worth it?
This my fiendish fibery friends is what I hope to assist you with today. As you may be aware, it is shearing time and that means we have been busily sourcing fleeces. We have spent the better part of the last 2 months visiting shepherds, choosing sheep and fleeces, assisting in the skirting – even, in some cases, the actual shearing. Through all this we have been carefully evaluating each fleece.
The major questions I ask when I buy a fleece are the following:
Do I really need it?
I know, what an absurd question! The answer is always “yes, of course!” But occasionally the saner wombat among us says “Alison, do we really need a billionth Shetland fleece?” (This of course is a ridiculous question because as all the people know every Shetland is different! unique! scrumptious!) The real question here is not “do we need” but….
Do I like the color?
Is it a naturally colored fleece? Is it a creamy white? Do I have 23 moorit (brown) fleeces of identical color? Would I prefer that glorious silver one over there? OOH SHINY!
What is the purpose of the fleece?
Do I want to make a million pairs of socks? Mittens? a Cable sweater? A lacy shell? A lap blanket? These factors influence what fleece I would buy for my project. Some wools like Romney can be found and used for pretty much anything, but some wools, like Cheviot, may not be suitable for that wool bikini you’ve been dreaming of.
What is the condition of the wool?
Really, this is the question everyone wants to know about. I could ignore all the others and just cover this one and you’d all be happy right?
To decide if a fleece is sound, I take a lock of wool and examine it. I look at the crimp – is it right for that breed? I look at the color. I’m not looking for the actual color of the wool mind you – since that can’t really be known until it’s scoured (grease hides all manner of lovely color) – but for possible staining. Some stains, like yolk, which often results in a buttery tint to the finished yarn, or mating tag, which actually does wash out, do no harm to the wool but may affect how you handle either the washing process or the finished yarn. Canary stain on the other hand, will likely weaken the fiber. I look for breaks. I sound the lock – gripping each end between the thumb and index finger of each hand, I tug on the lock near my ear and listen to the sound it makes. Does it sound like fabric tearing? Does it ring like a struck piano wire?
The results of these examinations are seen in all the photos I post on the site – the measurements, the description, the lock photos
How does the fleece look in the bag?
Fleeces are rolled with the cut (butt) ends out so you can see the goodness through the bag. Some festivals have space to allow you to open up a fleece, some don’t. If you can’t, don’t go tearing through the bag – you will disrupt the fleece (more on that later). What you can do though, is turn the bag about, take a look at all the parts you can see – is there any evidence of VM or dirtier locks? Fleeces at a show are skirted and VM is picked off, but sometimes things are missed, and some shepherds are more vigorous with their skirting than others. The nature of the VM is more important than its presence. Sometimes the roll opening is on the top of the bag and you can get a look at the tip end of the fleece in that area by ever so very gently opening it just an inch or so.
How expensive is the fleece?
Most fleeces are priced by the shepherds at a festival, not the festival itself. Shepherds compare prices with each other for their breeds, speak with their breed associations, talk to the state or county agricultural boards, and factor in the cost of feed, hay, vets, coating and shearing to assist them in setting their prices. Prices vary across breeds and I have rarely encountered a price on a fleece that I thought was outrageous. That said, the price should fall into a range you want to pay.
How large is the fleece?
This is dictated by the type of sheep of course, as well as how often it is sheared. It should fall within the guidelines of the breed standard. But it also needs to be manageable by the person who will process it. I may have a burning desire for a 40 pound Lincoln fleece, or a desperate urge for a merino fleece the size of Shrek’s at 60 pounds, but can I handle a single fleece at that size? (And do I want to pay mill fees if I don’t?)
Is it a rare breed?
Some people don’t care about this, but I do and I will explain why.
A rare fleece, or a fleece that while not rare, is difficult to find, may be dirtier than a more common one. For these fleeces I will make exceptions to some of my fleece condition rules. Not soundness, or breaks, those have to stay, but in how filthy the fleece is – how greasy, or dirty it appears, how much VM is present. For some breeds, mere survival is the key and while the battle for mere survival is being fought, other factors must be set aside.
In the case of a fleece that is rare ‘here’ but ‘not endangered’ I will also make certain allowances. If I have trouble getting it, and the only flaws are dirt, there is no reason not to get it.
Dirt washes out, and VM can be addressed – even some of the more pulverized stuff. I may not recommend such a fleece for a first time fleece processor, or someone who isn’t patient, but those things are not a deal breaker. The condition of the fiber itself is the only deal breaker.
What if I just love it?
Assuming it met all the soundness and budget criteria, buy it silly!
Why the whole fleece?
Why indeed. And this answer addresses why you don’t want to go pawing through a fleece sale bag as well.
You see, a fleece has different characteristics sometimes. Some fleeces, like Merino (I do pick on merino don’t I?) have been bred to be perfectly uniform across a fleece. Others, like Jacob or shetland, not only vary from sheep to sheep, but from area to area within a fleece.
When you get your fleece home, you can open it up. With enough space, most of the time you can see the shape of the sheep in the fleece you have unrolled. The shoulders will have a different texture from the sheep’s back, the sides a different texture from the shoulders. If the wool comes from a not so next to the skin type of sheep, it may well be that some of that shoulder wool is soft enough for that woolen bikini we talked about. But on the same sheep, that back wool is perfect for some hard wearing mittens. It’s all so exciting!
Now that you know what to look for – I look forward to seeing you at a fleece sale! Don’t forget your copy of The Field Guide to Fleece.
And remember, if it’s still too many things to think about while your oohing and ahhing over those gorgeous colored braids, and spindles, and yarns, and curly fries, and dipped soft serve, and sheep, and llamas, and dog trials, and spinning bowls, and sheep and goats milk soap, and…. well, you just let us know here at The Spinning Loft, and we’ll see about shipping you that whole fleece we have just waiting to be loved in Cube 5C3.
So, I realized the other day that I haven’t written in a while. Things have been so busy around The Loft in the past few months that we haven’t had time to stop whirling around like Dervishes in ages!
As you all know we spent some time developing a rare breeds sampler to accompany Interweave’s Rare Breeds Kit and it’s a big hit. The Kit is made up of 6 very excellent rare breeds, Deb Robson’s Spinning Rare breeds DVD and her recently published Field Guide to Fleece – a must have book for any fleece shopper at a fiber festival’s fleece show and sale. Who needs a field guild to wildflowers – we want WOOL!
We here at The Spinning Loft are very excited to have put together a sampler that covers 6 very varied breeds, one of which is the “sheep that makes Deb cry” in the video, with a great range of wool types and we think you’ll just love it.
It has arrived just in time you see. Why you ask?
Well, it’s spring of course! Even though mother nature does seem to want to sleep in this year – and who could blame her- lambing time is upon us and with it comes shearing time.
I’m not entirely sure which one I like better, but I may have to lean slightly in favor of shearing for what I think are fairly obvious reasons:
Shearing time of course means spring fiber festivals! It means fleece shopping! And boy do we love fleece shopping here at The Spinning Loft. It’s better than coffee! Better than wine! Better than well… anything! (wow, can that be possible?)
And because it’s shearing time we have a few other things brewing around here, so keep an ear out for the sheep bells.
We’d also like to give a hearty shout out to A Certain Guild in Wisconsin for diving into a really fun breed study. We had a great time assembling it for you and we hope you enjoy it! If there are other Guilds interested in doing such a study, please feel free to contact us and we can develop a study package for you as well.