Wednesday, July 18, 2007

rare treat

Once in awhile, the blogosphere spills over into real life.

So it was, that I received a nice package in the post.... ..from the UK.

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It contained a sample of Balwen wool from Jessica's Balwen sheep. You can see a picture of them if you go here. I like the way they look like they are wearing white socks. Balwen Sheep have previously been listed by RBST as "at risk", but are now classified as "vulnerable".

According to the Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep Society: "Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep originate from one small area of Wales - the Tywi valley. Because of this, during the disastrous winter of 1947, the breed was nearly wiped out. The breed was at its lowest ebb, with only one ram surviving. During the 1950’s and 60’s a steady increase took place, and in the 1970’s people outside the valley began to take an interest in the breed. The Balwen Welsh Mountain Breed Society was formed in 1985."

It was a good learning experience for me to have the opportunity to work with the wool. Difficult to photograph, the color is a nice blend of browns and blacks. There was also some kemp, which added to the character of this interesting wool. The staple measured approximately 3 inches. The wool is graded as 'soft/medium' with a micron count of 32.3.

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After scouring the wool, I spun up a few different samples...some I will keep, and some I will send back to Jessica so she can see what her wool will look like when turned into yarn. I also saved a little bag to share with some of the spinners in my library group, so they could examine it as well.

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I found the Balwen fleece to be fairly coarse, and somewhat wiry. I spun it woolen, so it was a bit fuzzy, and it still shows a luster. The yarn produced is strong, and would certainly wear well. It would make a wonderful outer garment, but I would not make anything that would be worn next to the skin. I also think it would be great for felting. I have set some aside for that purpose.

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While I was working with this fleece, I was thinking about the sheep in the field over in the UK. I found little bits of moss in the fleece, and wondered about the pasture where they grazed. The Internet is a great tool. Without it, I probably wouldn't have "met" Jessica, or her sheep. Who knows if I ever would have had the chance to spin up a little Balwen? When I took the class about Spinning in the Old Way, we discussed how a spinner living (lets say the 18th century) in America, would have only spun the wool from just a few breeds of sheep, because of the availability. They were pretty much limited to what the farmer was raising. I am not limited. With the Internet, it is possible for me to experience spinning wool from a sheep that grazes in a pasture half a world away from me. I like it when the blogosphere spills over into real life.


judy said...

Pretty fantastic, isn't it. Interesting post.

Cathy said...

Very interesting and enlightening. I do love the internet!

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

It looks itchy!!! :) Can't wait to actually touch the finished yarn...

When you say you "spun it woolen", what does that mean?

Artis-Anne said...

Oh now this is interesting for me, another Welsh girl :) and although I haven't spun Balwen I have certainly spun a few Welsh breeds so if you fancy trying some more let me know. It is intersting to see how fleece vary and yes we do have some breeds which have coarse fleece (they need their heavy coarse coat for our wet climate !!)there are also ones like the Lleyn which can be very soft . The Welsh Black I spun was a shearling fleece and that was truly black(lack of sun this year)and again soft

Judy said...

I could live without a lot of the modern conveniences but I love the internet. The wool is beautiful, the luster is similar to BL.

cyndy said...

Spinning woollen or woolen is a technique used to produce a type of yarn. There are basically 2 types, woolen or worsted, and each type requires its own method of fiber preparation. In this case, I used hand cards to make rolags and then spun with a long draw...this traps some air in the wool, and also makes the fibers soft or fuzzy in their appearance.
I will be sending your package out this week!

Artis Anne- I'd love to try out some more Welsh breeds (hint hint...!) And you are right that they need the heavy coat! It is odd that some are soft (Finn Sheep are very soft, but can tolerate the cold too!) So many breeds~ so much to discover!

Anonymous said...

I had to trot over for a visit after seeing your teaser at WW.

The yarn looks so shiny, too bad it's not soft! Maybe mixed with a soft wool?

Artis Anne has tantalized me with one of her Welsh wools. Wouldn't it be fun if she sent interested W_Whirlers an ounce to spin & compare? Time to send her another email. :-)

Leigh said...

Oh, this is so interesting! I am fascinated by the rare breeds, and like you, my knowledge of them is growing thanks to the Internet. Balwen is a new one for me too. Thanks for the great information and photos.

Manise said...

I love the Black Welsh that I have in my stash- spun up a skein over the winter in hopes of making mittens- I'll use it for a little colorwork/ stripes and using the pewter gray Cotswold for the main color.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Lovely wool! Are you familiar with Jeanine McMullen and her "Small Counhtry Living" books? Simply delightful! I've always wanted to go to Wales, meet her and tell her how much joy she's given me over the years.

vanessa said...

what a lovely circle :-)
3 cheers for the internet!

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