One of my favourite breeds to spin is Värmland wool – a versatile and lightweight wool in many colours. This is the fourth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool and Dalapäls wool.
Next Saturday, December 14th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Värmland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.
About Värmland sheep
Värmland sheep is a Swedish conservation breed. Many of the Swedish domestic breeds were extinguished in the 18th and 19th centuries due to import of foreign breeds that were more meaty and had other wool qualities. When the domestic breeds were rediscovered around 30 years ago, Värmland sheep (or forest sheep) was the first breed to be rediscovered. They all came from the same flock in the county of Värmland, close to the Norwegian border. Due to an extensive conservation effort the 100 rediscovered sheep are now around 4000. In 2018 there were 1544 breeding Värmland ewes in 170 flocks in Sweden, making Värmland sheep our largest conservation breed regarding both individuals and flocks.
A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If the sheep farmer has a gene bank they are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that they are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. They also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed.
Värmland sheep are quite small – a ewe weighs around 40–60 kg. They are good at keeping the landscape open and eat both shrubberies, flowers and herbs.
Värmland wool is very versatile. A lot of different wool types can occur in one individual, from long dual coated staples to both predominantly outercoat or predominantly undercoat. The fiber is quite fine and sometimes even silky. The staples can be crimpy, wavy or straight. Colours vary between white, grey, brown, beige and black. The staples are usually open and very easy to spin.
There are two main lines of Värmland sheep – the traditional line and the modern line.
The traditional line of Värmland sheep has a lot of undercoat and a few strands of outercoat. The staples are triangular in their shape and the staples are open and airy. These are lovely to spin and make a soft, silky and strong yarn.
When the Värmland sheep was rediscovered some of them were crossed with Old Norwegian spæl rams and possibly also Swedish Rya sheep. This gave the breed more outercoat and in some cases also more kemp.
Versatile and lightweight wool of many colours
If I were to pick out three main characteristics of Värmland wool it would be versatility, lightweight and the large spectrum of colours:
- Since the staples come in many different forms the Värmland wool is very versatile. I can use different preparation methods and spin a wide variety of yarns from silky soft lace yarn to robust sock yarn and even rug yarn.
- In my experience Värmland wool is very lightweight. When you look at the staples you see a broad base with lots of air. This also makes Värmland wool very easy to spin.
- The array of colours make me want to spin them all. The shades of grey are just beautiful and the browns, beige, whites and blacks make the colour possibilities endless.
Preparing and spinning
With a big variety of staple and fiber types I can process and spin Värmland wool in many different ways – fiber types separated, together and with different tools and spinning techniques.
Longer staples of Värmland wool are lovely to comb, either with both fiber types together or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I would spin a combed top with short draw into a strong and shiny yarn.
A Värmland wool with lots of undercoat is lovely to card and spin with long draw. The skein above is spun with the long outercoat only. I carded the separated undercoat and spun with a long draw on a Navajo spindle into a lightweight and airy singles yarn (see image below).
In another fleece I had different staple types. I separated the fleece into two piles – one for long and wavy staples and another for the shorter and crimpier staples. I carded the latter – outercoat and undercoat together – and spun with a medieval spindle and distaff into a very airy and light yarn.
The other pile of the grey fleece was in a lovely colour of light silvery grey in the cut end and honey-dipped tips. To save as much of the colour variation as possible I flick carded the staples and spun them individually from the cut end.
Since the variation in fiber and staple type Värmland wool can be spun and used in a wide variety of textiles. My first Värmland fleece has become two pairs of twined/two-end knitted mittens – one whole and one half-mitt.
The yarn used in the whole mitts was spun on a supported spindle from the cut-end of flicked locks. You can read more about these mittens here.
The half-mitts are available as a pattern from the Spin-off Fall 2019 issue. The mitts will also be part of a mitt-along! I spun the yarn for these on a spinning wheel, from flick-carded staples. You can also read about how I rescued this yarn from disaster here.
At the moment I am using a sturdier dark brown Värmland yarn as weft in a weaving project.
Värmland is also very well suited for fulling. I can also see lace knitting, socks and outerwear in Värmland yarn.
This Saturday, December 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Värmland 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 Värmland wool. I will use Värmland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.
Even if you think you will never come across Värmland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool in general. The breed study 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 dome 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’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.
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