Monday, January 26, 2015

Icelandic Wool: Another Double Coated Fleece

Since we're on the subject of double coated fleeces, let's talk about Icelandic sheep. I began my wool education around the time I launched Expertly Dyed, and among those wools I was learning the characteristics of was Icelandic. I wanted to remove human error from the learning process, so I started using combed top rather than a raw fleece. Here it is in top form:

Here is a closeup of the hairy, outer coat fibers. They're the dark, black fibers (note: all white Icelandic fleeces exist, mine just happened to be gray, a mix of black outercoat fibers and white undercoat fibers)

The lighter fibers, which you can see in the picture below, are the softer, undercoat fibers.:

It made a lovely 2-ply fingering weight yarn, as you can see in the following pictures:

And here is a sneak peek at my sample book (I'll do a formal post on how to make such a book in the future):

Let's talk about some terminology. There are specific terms which refer to the two coats; the tog refers to the outercoat, and the þel (thel) refers to the undercoat. In most combed top, both coats are processed together. But there are many ways you can use this fiber, and a mixed coat top is just one of the ways you can prepare this fiber.

For a mixed coat preparation, you can use this fiber to make lacy shawls, sweaters, and outer wear, like coats and jackets. The tog will help keep moisture away from the softer, downy fibers, and the þel will trap warmth. In essence, a mixed coat yarn will provide many benefits to the wearer as they do for the sheep. It is important to note that, according to the current issue of Spin-Off (Winter 2015), you should spin this type of mixed coat yarn loosely. This will help keep the hairy fibers from poking out of the yarn and causing irritation, and it will allow for more space between the softer fibers for trapping more air. The result is a durable, lightweight, very warm yarn. Lopi yarns are made from this type of prepared Icelandic fleece, and either knitted without twist or a low amount of twist. the setting process for a lopi yarn will involve a hot bath and lots of enthusiastic thwacking to cause the yarn to fluff and full (fulling, in the felting sense). This information will give me the opportunity to learn something new from the leftover Icelandic top I have in my stash.

If you want to just use the þel, you'll need to separate it on your own. Some small mills might be able to separate the þel from the tog if you send them a whole fleece. If you do it by hand, you can identify the hairy fibers by their length, then pull the longer, tog, fibers from the shorter, þel, fibers. Keep both! The þel spins up beautifully, and can be used like most soft yarns. Unlike typical fine fleeces, Icelandic þel fibers won't be as dense nor as full of lanolin, to wit, the þel is more open and ready to spin.

Use the tog for outer wear, rugs, tapestries, grocery sacks, and the like. Combine this coat with the outercoat of other breeds so you can make a larger project more easily. Spin it worsted to make an ultra durable yarn.

Though my Gotland isn't full of the tog fibers, I'm still going to keep those fibers for a future project. It has an incredibly long shelf-life, like 50-100 years before it starts becoming brittle. I'm very excited to move forward with my Gotland project, even though I don't feel like separating and opening up the locks at the moment. I'm nearly done combing open my Polwarth locks, but I want to spin something before I continue with my Gotland. :)

Have you used Icelandic before? Do you have any tips/tricks to share? Post them here and/or on Facebook