Dalapäls wool

The breed study is moving on and today I will dive in to the beautiful world of Dalapäls wool. This is the third post in my breed study series of Swedish sheep breeds. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool and Gute wool. Coming up is also my third live webinar in the breed study webinar series!

Next Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET I will host a live breed study webinar on Dalapäls wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place

Whether you are celebrating World wide spin in public day outdoors or indoors, I hope you take the time to warm up/wind down (depending on your location in the world) with a wooly breed study webinar! A worldwide live stream is definitely a spin in public event.

About Dalapäls sheep

Dalapäls sheep is a rare and endangered Swedish conservation breed. A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If you have a gene bank you are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that you are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. You also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed. In 2018 there were about 160 lambing ewes in 25 flocks of the Dalapäls sheep in Sweden according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association.

White sheep eating straw
Dalapäls sheep

The name Dalapäls reveals both origin and use. Dala in this case means from the County of Dalarna. Päls means fur and indicates that the skins have been used for fur. The traditional jacket Kasung was used in areas of Dalarna as a traditional jacket. It was made of leather and had edgings of white wool locks. The locks look very much like Dalapäls wool.

An old leather jacket with fur edgings in bottom and front hem and cuffs.
A traditional Kasung with wool edgings. Image provided by Creative commons

The wool is usually white. Grey spots can occur. Some lambs are born black but usually turn grey or white as they grow.

The Dalapäls sheep are quite small, around 30 kg for ewes and 50 kg for rams. They have a strong sense for the flock and are very suspicious of strangers. This may come from the fact that they have been grazing in the woods or in a chalet historically and have developed a strong consciousness of enemies like wolf and bear. Because they are so watchful they are not cuddly sheep.

Wool characteristics

Dalapäls wool is a double-coated wool with strong and shiny outer coat and fine, soft and warm under coat. The most common fiber type is the long and wavy staple. This wool type has little or no crimp.

Long, white and wavy wool locks.
Extra long and silky locks of different Dalapäls sheep.

Shorter, wavy and even crimpy staples do occur and the fleece is not even across the body of the sheep. This gives a spinner many choices in spinning the wool. A shepherd or shepherdess can have a small flock of sheep and still get lots of different wool types.

Wool locks of different lengths and character.
One single sheep can have very different wool types. These staples come from the ewe Saga.

Some shepherdesses sort the wool according to fiber type and/or staple length at the shearing stage.

The top three: Shine, fineness and versatility

If I were to pick out three main characteristics of the Dalapäls wool it would be shine, fineness and versatility. I asked my friend Lena who is a Dalapäls shepherdess and these were her choices too. Another Dalapäls shepherdess, Carina, added that Dalapäls wool is easy to spin and I agree to that too.

  • The most obvious characteristic of Dalapäls is the shine – the very special Dalapäls shine. This characteristic alone is enough for me to fall for this breed.
  • My second choice would be the fineness. Eventhough the outercoat is long and strong it is still very fine and can be spun into a next to skin yarn. The undercoat is of course even finer than the outer coat. The locks are very lofty at the base and the undercoat is soft and silky.
  • Because of the variation of the wool between individuals and over the body of one individual sheep, Dalapäls wool is very versatile. I have seen everything from 25 cm long silky and wavy locks to 5 cm curly or even crimpy staples. If you sort the fleece according to wool characteristics and also separate the fiber types you could get a wide variety of yarns.

Preparing and spinning

A Dalapäls shepherdess was going to send her wool to a mill and asked me what kind of yarn she should ask them to spin. I didn’t really know what to answer. You can get so many different kinds of yarn with Dalapäls wool. Especially if you are a handspinner.

Separating the fiber types comes to mind – combing the outer coat for a worsted yarn and carding the under coat for a woolen yarn are good choices. You can just as well card or comb the fiber types together.

Four white yarn samples on a piece of card board.
Dalapäls wool can be spun in many different ways. From the left: Carded undercoat, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Combed outercoat, worsted spun on a spinning wheel. Undercoat and outercoat teased and carded together, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Flick-carded locks, spun worsted on a supported spindle from the cut end.

Separating the fiber types

Picking out the longest locks and separating the undercoat from the outercoat can give you two beautiful yarns – a strong and shiny worsted yarn and a soft and warm woolen yarn. I would use double row combs to separate the fiber types and pull the outercoat off. Perhaps I would even comb a second time to separate more and spin worsted from the lovely tops. The leftovers in the combs is the soft and airy undercoat that I would card into rolags and and spin woolen (after having cuddled them).

This way you will get two very different yarns with different superpowers. You can see the difference in the image above, the first from the left is the carded undercoat and the second is the combed outercoat.

Combing or carding together

Another way to create a beautiful Dalapäls yarn is to card or comb the locks as they are, without separating the fiber types. I would do this with the medium and shorter length staples. Carding and spinning woolen would give you a soft yarn that still has some strength and shine. If I were to comb the locks I would use single row combs that won’t separate the fiber types as much as the double row combs. Spinning the combed top worsted would result in a strong and shiny yarn that would still have some softness.

Spinning from the lock

In the Dalapäls yarn I’m currently spinning I have wanted to keep the fiber types together. The locks in this yarn are the very longest locks (see featured image) that the shepherdess has picked out from several fleeces. I have flick carded each lock individually and spun from the cut end. This way I will get both outer coat and under coat in the yarn. You can see my technique in my video Catch the light.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
I’m spinning counter-clockwise to get a Z-plied yarn for twined knitting. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I have spun the yarn on a supported spindle. When I spin from flick carded locks I prefer spinning on a supported spindle. The slowness of the technique allows me to watch the process and focus on quality. Spinning from the lock can be a challenge since the fibers don’t get as much of a separation compared to a hand-combed top.

A white skein of yarn.
Dalapäls yarn, spun from the cut end of flick carded locks on a supported spindle.

But the yarn I get from spinning from the cut end of flick carded locks is strong, shiny and still soft. When I spin it on a supported spindle I also get the quality and the evenness I want.

Blanka

My first acquaintance with Dalapäls wool was at the Swedish fleece championships a few years ago. I saw the fleece and knew I needed it. It turned out a silver medalist in the championships! The sheep’s name was Blanka, a lamb. I talked to the shepherdess and she suggested I spin from the cut end. I did, and used a supported spindle to do it. It became my bedside spinning. I spent many evenings spinning the Dalapäls locks just before bedtime. I had put away some shorter staples and spun a woolen singles yarn from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. When I was finished I wove myself a pillowcase!

Felting

Even if I don’t plan to felt or full I like to do a fulling test. This gives me information about the fibers in the yarn. In my current project I am planning to weave and full, so the information is truly valuable to me.

I make 10 x 10 cm woven samples on a pin loom and felt them.

Woolen yarn, outercoat and undercoat together

The first sample was from the yarn I had spun woolen from hand-carded rolags with both undercoat and outercoat. The swatch felted nicely, but there were some loops in the structure. This made me suspect that it is mainly the undercoat that felts.

A white felted swatch. Little loops of scattered over the swatch.
Woven felting sample from woolen yarn spun from carded rolags (undercoat and outercoat).

Worsted warp and woolen weft

To test my theory of the felting undercoat I made another swatch where I separated outercoat and undercoat. I used the worsted outercoat yarn as warp and the woolen undercoat yarn as weft. The result was a rectangular swatch from my square woven sample. I had proven my theory – mainly the undercoat felted. The structure of the material is the same, though – a nicely fulled swatch with little loops. They seem to go mainly in the warp direction and I guess I hadn’t separated the fibers properly in the combing process.

A rectangular felted swatch with some loops.
In this sample I have used the outercoat as warp and undercoat as weft. The undercoat has felted, leaving a rectangular shaped swatch.

Lockspun

Just for fun I made a third felting test, this time with my lockspun yarn. It resulted in a loopier swatch. My theory is that this is because the fibers are less separated than the carded sample. This yarn was also spun with longer locks.

A felted swatch with lots of loops in it.
The felted swatch with the lockspun yarn had more loops in it than the other swatches.

Use

Since the Dalapäls wool is so versatile I see a wide variety of uses for Dalapäls yarn. With different preparation, spinning and use of the different fiber types you can use Dalapäls yarn for basically anything except perhaps things that require rough handling like rugs and workwear. From a sheer lamb’s wool lace shawl, through both soft and everyday sweaters to sturdy mittens. As to techniques I don’t see any limits – knitting, weaving, nalbinding would all work well.

A knitting project on a rock by the sea.
My current Dalapäls knitting project – a pair of sleeves in twined knitting.

I’m twine knitting a pair of jacket sleeves. When they are finished I will spin a weaving yarn and full into a vadmal fabric from which I will sew a bodice. Perhaps I will even use locks as a hem decoration, flirting with the Kasung jackets.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Dalapäls wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Dalapäls wool. I will use Dalapäls during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Dalapäls wool this is an opportunity to learn more about a rare and endangered breed. The breed study will also give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I did were great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar.

The webinar has already taken place


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