Gotland wool

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. Some of you have asked for a breed study in Scandinavian sheep breeds. I think it’s a great idea and I will start today! I will look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn. Today I will cover my thoughts on Gotland wool.

Next Saturday, April 13th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gotland wool.

The Gotland sheep

The Gotland sheep is not one of the older Swedish sheep breeds. However, it is the most common breeds in Sweden.

The origin of the Gotland sheep is the Gute sheep. Gute sheep is a very old breed with a rustic fleece. I will cover the Gute sheep in more detail in a later post. In the 1920’s a program started to develop a breed that was good for meat and skins. The new breed was originally called Pälsfår (Fur sheep) to emphasize the use of the skins but was later changed to Gotland sheep to accommodate to a more international audience.

Today the Gotland sheep is the most common breed in Sweden. In 2018 there were 520 registered flocks of Gotland sheep with around 18000 ewes.

The breeding standards Gotland sheep include standards for meat production and skin quality. The goals for wool characteristics are primarily set for skin quality.

Wool characteristics

Newly shorn wool from a Gotland lamb

The first characteristic that comes to mind when looking at a Gotland fleece is the shine. Gotland wool has a beautiful shine in different shades of grey from medium to dark grey and black. The staples are shaped in a 3-dimensional curl. The wool has a uniformity across the fleece with a solid colour, lock characteristic and staple length. The fleece consists of mostly outercoat and very little undercoat.

Freakishly long Gotland wool. The staples are very dense.

These characteristics are very well suited for a beautiful skin. However, Gotland wool is not my favorite wool to spin. It is easy to be fooled by the beautiful silvery locks, but they can be deceptive.

  • Since there is so little undercoat and wave rather than crimp, the staples are very dense. This facilitates felting, especially at the cut end. Anyone who has shorn a Gotland sheep knows that this breed is a challenge to shear because of the dense fleece.
  • The shine in the locks makes a beautiful sheen in the finished yarn, but the fibers are also very slippery. You need to pay close attention to the fibers when you spin or you are running the risk of the fibers pulling apart. Swedish spinning mills have difficulties spinning pure Gotland wool for this reason. They usually blend Gotland wool with around 25% Swedish finewool.
  • The high percentage of outercoat makes the spinning less… cozy I would say. The fibers feel sort of coarse. The average Gotland fiber is around 40 micron.

With that said, this is my experience of Gotland wool in Sweden. As I understand it, Gotland wool in the U.K. and U.S. are usually softer.

Sounnie, a Gotland lamb

At the great sheep walk last year I suddenly saw her: A Gotland lamb with the sweetest curls: Sounnie. You can see a glimpse of her at 2:20 in this video about Överjärva farm where she lives with her flock. There are also purebred Gotland sheep in the video, the grey ones with black faces and legs.

Sounnie, a 75% Gotland, 25% Finewool lamb. Her overall characteristics is Gotland, though. The other three sheep are Swedish fine wool sheep.

She is 75% Gotland and 25% Swedish finewool, but the characteristics of her fleece is very Gotlandy, with unusually long staples (which doesn’t make sense at all since Finewool staples are around 5 cm/2 inches). I knew I needed her fleece when I saw her, even tough I am a bit reluctant towards Gotland wool. In September it was shearing day and I was there to harvest Sounnie’s sweet silver curls.

At the time I was writing the article for Spin-off and I only had time to make samples and swatches. It was wonderful to work with the newly shorn and freakishly long locks.

Samples and swatches from Sounnie’s fleece.

Processing

Just after Christmas I picked up where I had left Sounnie and started processing the locks. And I was shocked. Gone were the sweet curls and instead I found a tangled and very much felted mess. Just by being in a paper bag in my wool storage (aka the sofa bed) a lot of it had felted. But I wouldn’t let that stop me.

Gotland wool post sofa bed storage: More felted than shiny.

The natural way to attack the locks was to comb them. I had envisioned a thin yarn spun worsted from hand-combed tops. But since so much of the fleece had felted, combing was a big challenge. Combing straight off resulted in an uneven top that I had to struggle with. Even after five passes in the combs the top was uneven.

I tried flicking the staples and spin them individually from the cut end but that also resulted in an uneven yarn. So, as a middle step I flicked each individual staple and then combed them. This gave me the result I wanted. Ironically, a lot of the precious undercoat ended up in the flick card.

Since the locks are so dense I loaded the combs with only a few flicked locks. I landed at eight locks for my mini-combs. Anything more than that would require more muscle power than I had.

Flick-carding the staples before combing makes a much nicer combing experience.

The method with pre-flicking and then combing a limited number of flicked staples resulted in beautiful and even bird’s nests.

Flicked and combed Gotland top.

Spinning

Since Gotland wool is so dense, it also has lots of drape. I want to use that. But too much drape can get heavy. Therefore I wanted to spin a thin yarn that would give me drape without weighing a garment down. I spun the top with short forward draw with a low twist on my spinning wheel and 2-plied it. It resulted in a beautiful, shiny light fingering yarn with lots of drape.

A newborn skein of Gotland yarn

With such a long staple length I needed to keep my hands far apart. Also I needed to pay close attention to the fiber to prevent the slippery fibers from pulling apart.

Spinning the Gotland wool was not a smooth feeling, eventhough this was a lamb’s fleece. It felt like the fibers had a triangular shape rather than round. That is the only way I can explain it.

The two-step preparation took a lot of time and resulted in quite a lot of waste (50–55%). But the spinning was lovely and resulted in a beautiful yarn that was remarkably consistent.

A good preparation is the foundation of a consistent yarn.

Use

Because of the strength of the fiber, Gotland wool is a good choice for sturdy garments like socks. To keep the shine I would comb and spin worsted, but Gotland wool is definitely suited for carding and woolen spinning too.

Sounnie’s yarn is too pretty to be used for socks. I’m planning on a drapey top. I did spin a tailspun yarn from her short neck curls, but even if it turned out nicely, it is far too little to do anything with.

Gotland locks are the perfect choice for a tailspun yarn

Live webinar!

This Sunday, April 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gotland wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gotland wool. I will use Sounnie’s fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The last live webinar I did was a great success and since then I have been longing to host another webinar. So register now!

The event has passed

Happy spinning!


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Swedish fleece championships 2018

I wrote earlier about the Swedish spinning championships 2018. This post is about the Swedish fleece championships 2018.

A new dawn for Swedish wool?

On the one hand, it is sad that so much of Swedish wool goes to waste. Over 80 % of Swedish wool is wasted (here is a post about what I do with my wool waste). Partly because of the lack of profit for the sheep farmers and because of lack of an infrastructure for a fleece market.

But the knowledge, skills and love put in every single fleece at this event is truly astonishing and I see a strong will to cherish Swedish wool.

The competing fleeces

A table full of fleeces
The fleece table of the Swedish fleece championships 2018. Just look at that black rya at the bottom left!

Around 20 fleeces had entered the championships and with a wide variety of breeds, colours and mixed breeds. A silky rya fleece, black as the night, a fawn Swedish finull with unbelievably long staple, ridiculously soft Jämtland fleeces and so much more.

I spent a long time walking lap after lap around the fleece table just soaking it all in with all my senses (well not really all senses) – smelling the lovely sheep smell, looking at the different colours and structures, listening to the sound of my imaginary spindle spinning all the fleeces into their best yarns. And, above all, feeling the soft, springy, sturdy, silky, squishy, bouncy, creamy and beautiful fleeces with my happy hands.

A table full of fleeces
Jämtland fleeces at the end of the table.

An old friend

The light grey Jämtland in the picture above was ar real favorite for both visitors and jury – it received a silver medal and was sold for 140 € at the auction to two happy spinners who sisterly shared their loot. I have made its acquaintance before, though. The fleece is from the same sheep that provided me with the sweater I knit in my Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater video. The shepherdess Birgitta Ericsson got four awards for her fleeces – two medals, the people’s choice award and the best of all prize.

Finewool frenzies

I have a soft spot for Swedish finewool. The first fleece I ever bought and spun was a finewool fleece. Of course there were quite a few finewool fleeces at the championships.

A white finewool fleece
A beautiful and crimpy Swedish finewool fleece

I really loved the white Finewool fleece above. Long and crispy staples with a silky touch. This fleece got a gold medal. I can get high quality finewool fleeces at home, though, so I concentrated on other breeds at this event. But I can look and drool, can’t I?

A fawn finewool fleece
Finewool with an exceptional staple length

Another finewool fleece and silver medalist I just couldn’t take my eyes (and hands) off was this dreamy fawn one above. Look at that staple length! It must be nearly 15 cm, which is very unusual for this breed.

My precious

I did end up buying two fleeces at the auction. I had my eyes set on a few, but I could only get two home on the train (and into my fleece storage in the sofa bed).  My initial plan was to buy two white fleeces. I find it much easier to see white wool when I spin and I realize that this also goes for my videos and when I am teaching. White wool shows better on screen and will also be easier for my students to see.

The first fleece I bought was a white finull/rya mix breed with long and soft staples. Last year I also bought a finull/rya mix breed at the auction, and it was from the same shepherdess. She knows what she’s doing!

Finally, it was the amazing Åsen/Härjedal mix breed (25%/75%) in colours from chocolatey brown through rose grey to creamy white. The staples were amazing with their matte and sturdy looking cut end and wavy golden tip ends. And look at those sweet lamb curls! Just dreamy. I do realize that this fleece is not white. But can you blame me for wanting this beauty?

Ok, it’s time for a Swedish lesson. “Vill ha” is the translation to want. “Behöver” is the translation to need. Some genius came up with the fusion “villhöver”, which would translate into something like “I want it so much that I think I really, really need it”. I villhöver this fleece. End of story.

I just spent a couple of hours sorting the chocolate creamy fleece and I was constantly amazed by the colours and variations within the fleece and within the staples. The shepherdess didn’t really want to sell it, but she did part with it for me anyway. I hope she thinks I am a worthy spinner for her baby. The sheep’s name is Chanel.

Wool staples of different natural colours arranged in a Sul pattern.
Colour variations in one single fleece

To summarize, I had a few favourites and they all got medals. I guess I have some sort of feeling for what’s in a good fleece.

Spinning class

I was also at the championships as a spinning teacher. For the third year running I taught a class in supported spindle spinning at the championships. I had four eager students, some of whom had taken the class before. Two of them brought their own spindles, which they had bought from me two years ago. It felt good to see some of my first spindles again! The students were very happy with the course and they have all made great progress.

I love teaching. All my classes are for intermediate to advanced spinners and it is such a treat to just geek down in a subject with fellow geeks and really talented spinners. I learn something new every time and collect new pedagogical tools for my tool box. We dive head first into technique and function and my heart explodes with spinning joy.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend and I can’t wait for the 2019 championships.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!