Monday was a play day. I spent it sorting and examining my Shetland fleece samples. With seven samples of fleece, I have excellent variety in terms of fleece type and color. They came from Nussbaums River Bend Farm in Farmington, NJ.
I had washed them over the weekend, in separate batches so as not to lose track of which was which. I used mesh bags and hot, hot, hot water in my kitchen sink. Each batch had two 20 minute soaks with Dawn dish liquid and then three long hot rinses. The 2nd rinse had a good glug of white vinegar. Wool and silk favor slightly acidic conditions. Soap and detergents are basic, and can damage protein fibers. The vinegar returns the fiber to a happier pH. I used the spin cycle on my washer to remove as much water as possible and allowed them to air dry on a towel in a cat proof room.
Shetland is an ancient Northern European short tailed breed, thought to have been brought to the Shetland Islands by the Vikings. Considered a primitive breed, Shetlands were originally dual coated. "Improvements" over the years developed a single coated variety. Both types can still be found, and each has it's own characteristics. I was fortunate that Cathy sent me some of each type!
In the US, Shetland is considered a "recovering" breed according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which is good news. The breed is evidently a very popular choice for a spinners flock, as they are a small, hardy, sweet tempered sheep. I know they would be my choice if sheep were allowed to live in apartment buildings!
Shetlands come in eleven main colors and have 30 types of pattern markings. In trying to evaluate the fleece samples, I discovered that much depended upon the type of fleece it was. The North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association (NASSA) recognizes three types of Shetland fleece.
Left - the beaver or double coated fleece. These have the longest staples, with a length of 5 to 7 inches. The staples are distinctly shaped and it is easy to separate the two coats by grasping the tip firmly in one hand and gently combing out the undercoat at the butt of the staple. The undercoats are softest, but I didn't find the outer coats to be especially harsh, like the Navajo-Churro and Icelandic fleeces I've worked with. Crimp in these samples was the least well defined at about 6 per inch on average. The outer coats also showed the highest amount of luster.
Middle - is the long and wavy type. Mine measured 4 to 5 inches in length and are triangular in shape. These could not be separated into two coats. I'm not exactly sure where crimp becomes wave or vice versa, but in these samples it was about 6 to 7 per inch with wavy to curly tips. Staples are very open.
Right - Kindly, single coated fleece. The shortest at 3 to 4 inches. The crimpiest; I measured 12 per inch on the sample I had. The softest and densest.
My plan at the moment is to drum card each of them. There is an interesting color variety withing some of the samples, but I think I will ultimately want them well blended. I plan to spin them the same size as the yarn for my Rare Breed Sweater, from which I have quite a bit of leftover Shetland yarn and roving! I would like to use all the colors together in a Fair Isle vest or cardigan eventually. I'll report more on the individual processing as I go along.
In the meantime, comments, corrections, and suggestions are most welcome, especially from you Shetland folk!