What is breed study?

The Spinning Loft prides itself on having as many breeds of sheep in stock as we can in the form of wool and fleece for our clients and we generally have more than 50 unique breeds in a combination of prepared fiber and raw fleece (at time of writing we have 56).  We also carry samplers consisting of 2 oz of a variety of breeds themed according to the sampler.  

BUT WHY?!

Aside from catering to the need to Spin all the Woolz, well we do it for breed study of course!  Breed study is really all about knowing what works for any type of project.  This happens through experience an experience comes from sampling: sampling different wool types, sampling the wool of different breeds of sheep, sampling different preparations.  Breed study allows a spinner to experience a wide variety of wools, it teaches us about how they act, what they might be used for and the effects that can be created with different wool types.

Does a wool like lace?  Cables?  Textured effects?  Does it work better worsted?  Woolen?  Perhaps it likes a preparation somewhere along the continuum of semi worsted or semi woolen?  Would it like to be knitted?  Crocheted or woven?  Does it drape?  Is it durable?  Is it springy?

Sample, sample, sample!

All of these factors – and more – affect your spinning and your finished object and sampling helps you to decide what wool to use for a particular project.  It also helps inform decisions about what types of wool a spinner might prefer to spin.  It is well known, for example, that I do not enjoy merino as much as I enjoy Bond or Polwarth.  Initially, I thought this was odd – both Bond and Polwarth are very similar to merino in many ways.  But I learned through breedy study that I prefer the hand of the other two over merino, without sacrificing the softness, loft, spring and drape of merino.  

We stock every breed we can find so that you can find exactly the wool you want to spin – and you don’t have to buy a whole fleece to do it.  

Ok, but what do you do with it?  

Sure, you are thinking, 2 oz samples (or even 4 oz samples) of 10 different breeds is great – but what do I do with all those tiny skeins?  

I will be having a whole blog post coming up about what to do with 2 and 4 oz bits, and those projects are not limited to breedy study, but in the meantime I want to share what my “breed study” project is.  Because when I set out I decided I wanted to dedicate a project to my sampling, something that showcased sheep breeds in all their glory and natural colors.  Because, well, I wanted to *do* something with all those samples!  

It’s obviously ongoing, and thus will take forever to finish – if I ever can call it finished!  But it’s still such fun.  

See, samples can be useful

It’s a simple stole in a simple pattern.  After I sample my swatches – whatever yarn is left is added to my stole.  I suppose when I get to my desired length I will probably cast on new stitches alongside to add another panel and turn it into a lap blanket or a ruana!

You said the “s” word!  I don’t like the “s” word!

I did.  I did say the “s” word.  But don’t turn away in horror!  Sampling is actually pretty darn awesome.  

When I began my breed study, I only created two samples of each breed.  I prepared them in the ‘traditional’ way for each fiber type, combed for longwools, carded for down, flicked for fine wools (mostly) and I did a singles yarn, a 2 ply yarn and a 3 ply yarn.  I used the 2 ply to make a lace swatch and the 3 ply to make a stockinette swatch.  I used the same pattern and the same size needles – and the same wheel and whorl settings.  I do this just to make everything uniform and compare only the wools themselves.   

I have since gone back and made other swatches from the earlier samples because as I went on, I found that those weren’t enough.  What about lace on a 3 ply?  Why not card that longwool?  Why shouldn’t I comb the down breed?  After all, breed study is about learning about how wools behave and what I like about them.  I need to try all the woolz in all the wayz!  I still use the same needles and lace pattern though.

Ok so, I got carried away there.  But that’s just it – that’s the excitement of breed study!  Four breeds led to eight, then twelve, and somewhere along the way I found myself with 104 (and counting) and a whole lot of tiny skeins.  All my sampling led me to so many revelations – so much fun and adventure.  I just wanted to do more and more and more of it.

Oh sure – how can fiber be an adventure? It’s an exploration of geography – where in heck is Borerary?  It’s an exploration of history – wait, the vikings used Gammelnorsk Sau for their sails?!  Gotta get me some (and I did).  Woodrow Wilson put shetlands with an attitude on the White House lawn?!  Why yes!  It even suggested culinary exploration (they do taste different!).

But wait, there’s more!   

Sometimes I don’t want to do what the fiber tells me to do – I just want to spin for the joy of it.  And sampling helped me do that too.  Trying to spin a fiber that is prepped in a way that it fights me while spinning used to lead me to hate that breed.  But then I realized – what if I change it?  Now I can enjoy spinning ALL the breeds because of what I learned sampling.  Picking up a coarse fiber still makes me happy because I learned what it liked.  Picking up merino can also make my day now – yes, even merino.  

And just spending time spinning a few ounces makes my day too.  Sometimes I don’t have time to spin a whole 4 or 8 ounces, and who am I kidding, I love to finish a whole bump of wool all in one go.  But knocking out 2…. Well, that’s a sanity check in a tiny wooly bag!  

I’m sold – where do I start?  

Buy all the woolz!  

Ok, seriously.  You can start with samplers.  Or you can choose 4 fibers of different fiber types.  Or you can start at the beginning (or end) of the alphabet.  Or you can pick up a few ounces of every breed in stock somewhere.  Or …. oh heck, the possibilities are endless.  But I do recommend keeping a list.  Otherwise, how will you know if you spun Zwartbles or Hebridean?  Gulf Coast or Gammelnorsk Spelsau?   What if you see a breed and you think you spun it but aren’t sure?  Well, you could do what I do and pick up 4-8 ounces anyway.

All this in a tiny bit of woolen fluff.   After all, wool is wonderful!
Well, I do still keep a list.