The newest sheep breed in Sweden is Jämtland sheep. The purpose of the breed is to have a meat sheep with wool that can be a Swedish alternative to the tons of merino wool we import from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. This is the fifth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool and Värmland wool.
This Sunday, March 22nd at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Jämtland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.
I am aware that this is very short notice. However, considering the situation in the world, I think we need a live webinar now more than ever.
About Jämtland sheep
Stop the waste
A lot of Swedish wool is being wasted. At the same time we import tons of merino wool from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The owner of a Swedish wool manufacturer in Jämtland in Sweden questioned this system and wondered if there was a way to use Swedish wool for his products. The problem, though, was that Swedish wool was coarser and would be scratchy in the next-to-skin garments that his company made. The idea of a Swedish alternative to wool import was born.
A new breed
As a result of this, a project started in 2004 where merino ewes were imported and crossed with fine fibered Svea ewes. Svea sheep is a Swedish meat breed which is a cross between the meat breed Texel and the Swedish landrace finewool sheep. Swedish finewool does have some merino in them from crossing with the merino sheep that we had in Sweden in the 18th century. In 2010 the Jämtland sheep was presented as a new breed at the world merino conference.
Jämtland sheep has increased in popularity as both a meat bread and a wool breed. Statistics say that there were 382 breeding ewes in 20 flocks in 2019. Rams weigh 90–120 kg and ewes 80–110 kg. This is a lot heavier than the landraces and conservation breeds I have presented in earlier breed studies. The micron count lies between 17 and 23.
Jämtland wool has become very sought after in the fashion industry. Several companies have produced clothes made in Jämtland wool. One problem is that the demand is bigger than the supply. A clothes manufacturer may want larger quantities than the sheep farmers can provide. The garments that have been sold have been produced in small quantities with social, environmental and ethical aspects considered.
Knitters and spinners
Many of the Swedish spinning mills today produce yarn with Jämtland wool and the products are popular among knitters.
Jämtland fleece is also very popular among handspinners in Sweden. In the past few Fleece Championships Jämtland wool has been placed in its own category. The shepherdess I usually buy my Jämtland fleeces from probably has more championship medals than she can count.
Jämtland wool characteristics
Jämtland wool is very fine fibered and has high crimp. In contrast to most merino, Jämtland wool also has a beautiful shine. The staples are uniform over the length of the staple and over the body of the sheep.
Since Jämtland sheep has a lot of merino in them the fleece is generally very high in lanolin, at least compared to the Swedish landraces I’m used to.
I have bought all my Jämtland wool from Birgitta Ericsson, a shepherdess who covers her sheep and shears them once a year. The cover is probably necessary to be able to manage a whole year’s fleece, especially considering the high degree of lanolin.
When I see a fleece I want to get to know it and find its superpowers. I look at the different characteristics and choose three that I feel represent the fleece and that I want to let shine in a yarn and garment. The main characteristics I see in Jämtland wool are:
- The softness of the fibers. They are dying to be worn next to your skin.
- The crimp. It is hard to take your eyes off the crimp of these staples and I want to make the crimp justice in the yarn I spin.
- The shine. Jämtland wool generally has a lovely shine that in my experience is unusual in this fine type of wool.
Preparation and spinning Jämtland wool
Before I go into wool preparation I need to talk a bit about washing. I wash Jämtland wool a lot more brutally than any of the other breeds I spin (I wash other Swedish breeds in water only). Now that I have learned the terminology in English I can safely say that I scour Jämtland wool. I bundle up the long staples and tie them with yarn and put them in a pot. I use lots of detergent and hot water. When the wool is dry I can remove the yarn ties. This method takes away enough lanolin for me to be able to handle the fibers without too much fuss.
Combing and worsted spinning
The first fleeces of Jämtland wool I processed I combed. To avoid breakage I flick carded the ends of the staples first and hand-combed with my mini-combs. This resulted in beautiful, lofty bird’s nests with lots of bounce. I spun these fluffy balls worsted on my spinning wheel.
One issue with fine fibers like these in combination with the dry air in large parts of Sweden is static electricity. When I comb the long fibers they point in every direction possible and make the aligning of the fibers very difficult. I solve this by spraying a mixture of water, coconut oil and a drop of detergent on the staples. This calms them down a bit. The coconut oil is soluble in low temperatures and comes off easily when you wash the yarn.
If there is still a lot of lanolin in the fibers I place the bird’s nests near the fireplace to make it more fluid and cooperative.
From the fold magic
One day I decided to try to spin the long Jämtland staples from the fold. The length was perfect and I thought why not? The second the fibers merged into the drafting triangle from its folded position over my index finger it dawned on me: This is how this Jämtland wool wants to be spun.
When you spin from the fold you double the staple over your index finger and spin from the middle if the fibers. What happens when you spin from the fold is this:
- The fibers come into the drafting triangle from a wider angle. In this, more air coms into the yarn.
- The folded fibers strive to unfold, which also results in more air in the yarn.
Spinning from the fold is not a spinning technique, it is just a different way to hold the yarn. Thus, you can spin both woolen and worsted from the fold.
Carding and woolen spinning
I would not recommend carding fibers in this whole year’s length. The fine fibers would most probably break and result in nepps in the yarn. Shorter fibers would be excellent to hand-card with fine cards. The fine fibers and high crimp would be excellent for a soft woolen spun yarn.
I have used Jämtland wool for lots of different purposes – sweaters, half-mitts and shawls. It is perfect for next-to-skin garments and accessories. Due to the fine fibers Jämtland wool is not suitable for projects that will wear a lot.
The dark grey yarn in the sweater above is worsted spun from hand-combed tops of Jämtland wool. You can see the whole process in this video (available in Swedish too). I knit the sweater in 2015 and I recently had to mend the elbows.
In my experience Jämtland wool looks best in fine yarns – lace weight or fingering weight. The shawl above is spun as a lace weight. The shawl below is the leftover yarn from the shawl above.
This Sunday, March 22nd at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Jämtland 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 Jämtland wool. I will use Jämtland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process and spin the wool.
Even if you think you will never come across Jämtland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool 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.
Register for the webinar here!
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