The second breed my husband chose was Herdwick. I’d never even heard of it, and it’s not in The Knitter’s Book of Wool. There is information available on the breed, but it’s not very popular, and we’ll be going over why.
Fiber: approximately 1 oz Herdwick from Woolgatherings
Prep: Combed top
Breed notes: I have a great book called In Sheep’s Clothing: A Handspinner’s Guide to Wool. I think it will be very handy for uncommon and preservation breeds.
Herdwick is a British breed with unclear origins, though it’s thought to be related to Scandinavian breeds. The micron count is usually 40+ with a staple length of 4-8″. The wool is primarily used in carpets. Beatrix Potter really liked Herdwick sheep. Also, welcome to the wonderful world of kemp. It’s a smally, wiry part of the fleece that helps pull moisture away from the animal, according to The Knitter’s Book of Wool. It’s also really good at making a huge mess in your house, according to me.
My prep: I split the fiber down the middle and pre-drafted.
Spinning deets: spun the singles worsted at a 5.5/Z and plied at a 7.25/S. Made a 2-ply from a center-pull ball to maximize yardage. The yarn is 74 yards/38 grams and is approximately 10-12 WPI.
Finishing: A warm-to-hot soak with some Eucalan and a few drops of tea tree and lavender oil. No thwacking, no towel squeeze. I want to note that the first wash water turned brown, yuck! I rinsed it a few more times with lukewarm water, and it’s not perfectly clean, but it’s much better.
My notes: My first note was how messy this fiber was. It came with kemp, and if I had really felt like it, I probably could have removed some of it, but I felt like I was being more authentic to the breed to keep it in. Also, I’m lazy. A lot of the kemp stayed in the yarn, but a lot also fell out while drafting, spinning, and plying. I’d suggest spinning this fiber outside if at all possible! I had to take my wheel outside after I was done, wipe her down, and oil her up. I’m sure I’ll be finding kemp for the next ten years. Kemp is the glitter of spinning.
The singles were very hairy, and the kemp meant they were very textured. The yarn kind of looked like wire, but it was very easy fiber to draft. The fibers didn’t seem to stick together at all, but they took twist well and I only had breakage when plying the singles once. In fact, the fiber was so easy to draft I feel like you need to pay attention to this spin or else you might end up with very thin or broken yarn. There was some dirt in the fiber, but nothing that would have led me to believe the wash water would turn brown!
I was surprised at the strength of the singles when winding it into a center-pull ball; it didn’t break at all. It did break several times when I was plying it, though. I’m not sure if I didn’t put enough twist in, if the kemp was somehow abrading the singles, or if it’s because it was in a center-pull ball (not sure what that would have to do with anything, but it always seemed to be the ply coming from the outside of the ball). The yarn was a lot more scratchy-feeling when I was plying it, and I think even more kemp fell out than when I was spinning the singles.
(Not the clearest picture, but you try telling your camera to focus on a yarn that has so much texture even you can’t focus on it.)
The verdict: I’m really torn on this one. I did some research before spinning, and I thought I wasn’t going to like it. (Words like “barbed wire”, “carpet yarn” and “scratchy” don’t inspire much confidence.) I was surprised when I really, really enjoyed spinning the singles. It was easy to draft with a lot of character, even though it was messy.
I got a lot more frustrated once I was plying. The yarn doesn’t seem as sturdy now. I didn’t enjoy finishing it, and almost wish I had kept it as singles.
I do think I’d like to give this breed another try. I can see why people use it as carpet yarn, but I think it would make a great hat or mittens for horrible weather. (I’d want to knit a liner.) I’m also curious to see if plying from two bobbins would alleviate my breakage issues. So ultimately I’m going to issue Herdwick 3/5 sheep. It was certainly worth the spin.