One of the ten Swedish conservation sheep breeds is Gestrike sheep. Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Gestrike wool. This is my tenth breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool, Klövsjö wool (blog post only) and Åsen wool.
This Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish Gestrike wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.
The webinar has already taken place
Like all the other Swedish conservation/heritage breeds, the Gestrike sheep is named after the region where it was (re-)found and established as a unique breed. So, Gestrike sheep were found in just a few flocks in villages in County Gästrikland in the 1990’s. The flocks had been grazing in the area for many generations.
According to the statistics from the Swedish sheep breeders’ association there were 173 breeding ewes in 25 flocks in 2020. The ewes way around 45 kg and the rams 60–70 kg. They can be white, grey, black, brown or spotted. Some lighten with age. The wool is predominantly of rya type – about 50/50 of outercoat and undercoat.
Gestrike sheep are very good at grazing in tight vegetation and therefore perfect for forest grazing. They can get very affectionate and cuddly.
Gestrike wool characteristics
As a heritage/conservation breed, the breeding standards don’t allow crossing with other breeds or breeding for specific characteristics, including the fleece. So, as with the rest of the conservation breeds the fleece from Gestrike sheep is quite heterogenous.
My experience of Gestrike wool is mainly from three individuals – Elin, Elsa and Gunvor from Claudia Dillmann’s flock. Claudia has been a member of the board of the Swedish sheep breeders’ association for some years, with a responsibility for wool and skin.
Gestrike wool can have very soft and airy undercoat and long, strong and shiny outercoat. Some have a little kemp. Some can have. rougher mane fibers. Lamb’s wool is finer than wool from older individuals. This together with the many colours and the possibility of wool lightening with age gives a spinner an enormous spectrum of spinning possibilities – soft knitting yarn, strong warp yarn, fine, bulky and a broad palette of colours.
The characteristics I choose to focus on when I spin Gestrike wool are:
- Rusticity. Gestrike wool is rustic. Still, not necessarily coarse. I would consider it a medium wool with no fuss. What you see is what you get with Gestrike wool. Triangular or conical shaped staples with outercoat and undercoat fibers. Rustic, straight and straightforward.
- Lightness. Despite staples of up to 25 centimeters the Gestrike fleeces I have encountered have never felt heavy. On the contrary, they have a lightness to them that is very appealing. The undercoat is very airily distributed around the outercoat fibers and keep the sheep warm and cozy.
- Versatility. With the different fiber types, a wide spectrum of colour possibilities and different wool qualities in sheep of different ages there are few things you can’t do with Gestrike wool.
The first time I met Gestrike wool was in the shape of Elin. My friend Claudia Dillmann who has a small flock of Gestrike sheep wanted me to get to know the breed she loved. So on a rainy day I hopped on my bike and collected Elin’s fleece.
Elin’s fleece is of mainly rya type wool (50/50 or 40/60 of outerocat to undercoat) but leaning towards vadmal wool (mostly undercoat and a little outercoat). Her undercoat is very fine and outercoat strong and with an overall light feeling. I can see some but not many kemp fibers in this fleece.
I have demonstrated Elin’s fleece in the free webinar The hand spinner’s advantage and also on the 2021 Kil sheep fest.
One night about six months ago a baby idea woke me up, pinching me to get my attention. The baby idea said to me, with great conviction: “Make a longitudinal study of the fleeces of one single sheep!”. What’s a spinner to do? I contacted Claudia and asked her if I could adopt the shearings of one of her sheep. Claudia thought it was a great idea and offered me Gunvor, a lamb born in May 2020. I happily accepted Gunvor and got her first (October 2020) and later second fleece (April 2021).
The undercoat of Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece is almost as soft as on Elin’s fleece. It has some white kemp that falls out quite easily. The wool is very easy to work with. Some of the black staples are very long, around 25 centimeters, and the black wool seems slightly finer than the white wool. The black wool also has less kemp.
The second shearing is a bit coarser than the lamb’s fleece and a bit lighter – it seems like Gunvor’s spots are fading with age, which will be interesting to observe.
Elsa is my newest Gestrike fleece, shorn in early October this year. She is also a member of Claudia’s flock of Gestrike sheep. She also happens to be Elin’s daughter. Grey in different nuances and all the staple types represented, from mainly outercoat staples to mainly undercoat staples. The main wool type is rya type wool, though, with a 50/50 undercoat to outercoat ratio. The fleece has no kemp.
To learn about the four wool types in Swedish sheep breeds, read this blog post.
Gestrike wool for sale!
Claudia had her sheep shorn only last week (more about the shearing day in an upcoming post) and she has fleeces for sale! Eight Gestrike fleeces and two Värmland fleeces. They are remarkably clean and of high quality. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also poopy bits and visible vegetable matter.
The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.
Again, all the four Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia’s flock and I have seen all the shorn fleeces she is selling now. I would buy them all if I had the time and the space.
If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: claudia (at) saxensorter dot se
The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.
Preparing in general
With a wool in so many different colours, staple types and hands it is easy to see how Gestrike wool can have a very wide variety of preparation, and spinning techniques. Add to this the age spectrum where fleece from an older individual can be coarser (and stronger) and lighter in colour than a the one from a younger individual. Considering all these aspects there are numerous ways to dissect a Gestrike fleece:
- fiber type (undercoat or outercoat)
- staple type (ratio of undercoat to outercoat in the staples)
- staple length
- fiber fineness
- different colours and shades of the same colour.
This makes wool from a breed like Gestrike sheep very versatile. With a flock of Gestrike sheep the sheep farmer has material from coarse rugs to the finest lace shawls in all the natural colours.
The Gestrike wool I have experienced is quite light and open. Preparing it is a true joy. It melts like butter in both combs and cards. My heart sings through processing. The fleeces from Claudia’s sheep has very little vegetable matter.
Preparing in particular
I have plans for all of the Gestrike fleeces in my stash.
- I have started to card rolags from Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece (after teasing with combs). To take advantage of her spots I have sorted the colours in heaps of white, black and mixed.
- The second shearing from Gunvor’s fleece will probably also be carded and sorted by colour.
- I am planning to separate undercoat from outercoat on Elin’s fleece. I will then card the undercoat and comb the outercoat.
- My plan for Elsa’s fleece is to divide it by staple type. I think I can get enough of each staple type to get four very different qualities. If there is enough I may also sub-sort by fiber fineness and/or staple length. I will probably card the heaps with more undercoat and comb the ones with more outercoat.
So, between the four fleeces I have I have plans to sort them in up to five different ways.
As you can imagine, with fleece from a breed with so many options for dissecting and preparing, there are equally many ways to spin. Here are my plans for the fleeces I have.
- I’m spinning a super bulky 2-ply yarn from Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece in black and white. I have spun bulky woolen singles from hand carded rolags on a floor supported spindle and plied it on a spinning wheel. You can read more about the spinning process for this yarn here.
- Gunvor’s second shearing will be part of a rya rug project as pile yarn (you can read about a previous rya chair pad project here). A low twist, high ply and lightly fulled 2-ply yarn that will stand the abrasion in a rya rug.
- With Elin’s fleece I’m planning to spin a worsted spun singles warp yarn and a woolen spun singles weft yarn for weaving and fulling.
- Elsa’s fleece has so many options and I’m planning to spin lots of different yarns from the preparations of the heaps of different staple types.
With the wide variety of staple types available in Gestrike wool it is easy to understand that you can use the yarn for a wide variety of projects – warp and weft for woven fabric, rugs, socks, mittens, sweaters, shawls and more. The undercoat fibers from a soft lamb’s fleece would definitely be a candidate for next to skin garments.
I am slowly knitting up the legs of my Moroccan snow shoveling pants. I run out of yarn quite quickly since it’s so bulky and the 5.5 mm needles aren’t really silky smooth knitting, but the fabric is just wonderful in my hands. Bulky, warm and safe with a soft smell of lanolin.
This Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Gestrike wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Gestrike wool. I will use Gestrike wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.
The webinar has already taken place.
Even if you think you will never come across Gestrike wool in particular this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will 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 have done have been 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 will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.
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