Sunday, July 19, 2015

What do I know about Suffolk?

Well, not as much as I'd like. One way to get to know a wool is to work with it from raw lock to finished swatch. My only experience with Suffolk before now was in a combed top preparation, but as I have learned, that will only tell you so much about a wool. To really understand what a particular breed of wool can be, you need to start with an individual's raw fleece (or part of a fleece). I bought 100g of various wools from my friend in Japan, with the sole intent to undertake a fiber study and share my experiences on the blog and in future Fiber Talk videos. It is recommended that when you plan to do a fiber study, you should keep part of the fiber/yarn from each step so you can keep a record of every kind of processing it has gone through. Here is a lock of the raw Suffolk:

You can see how incredibly greasy this fleece is, as witnessed by the orange-ish/yellow of the lock. There are also bits of vegetable matter throughout the whole lock. Now, these two facts will deter people from working with the raw fleece because it seems like a lot of work. Well, after working with the raw locks twice now (I worked with a 50g sample a few months ago), I have had excellent success with processing it in a timely manner. Suffolk is a Down breed, so the fibers easily separate from their neighbors, making processing a breeze.

For this particular batch, I did a cold soak to loosen the dirt and vegetable matter, then I scoured them one time in hot soapy water, rinsed twice, and allowed them to dry. The locks were clean, but they still had a yellow-ish cast and would produce a yarn which wasn't very white. This should be kept in mind if you plan to dye the locks. Suffolk dyes very well, though not as brightly as a true white wool might, but it does produce a deep, saturated color. This was one of the samples I dyed during my dye testing last year.

To process, I combed one end of the lock over a bowl (to catch the loose vm), then flipped the lock around and combed the other end. The resulting lock was free of vm and ready for further preparation, if I so desired.

Since I don't have a comb suited for making a proper combed top, I hand blended the locks so that the shorn end and tip end were all mixed up. I placed the flicked locks on my hackle, thereby making a combed top. I made a short video of the process on my Instagram.

This is what I got after dizzing the wool off:

It was very smooth dizzing it from my hackle, though I should probably hand blend it a bit more before I put it on the hackle in the future (I got some clumpy bits, but you know, I learned something).

I kept a light hand while drafting and made sure to keep the twist on the light-to-medium side. After spinning my cormo, I really loved putting extra twist in the ply, rather than the singles, to make a durable yarn. Since there is a lot of spring in Suffolk, I decided to spin the worsted preparation into a med-low twist single and ply the singles on themselves to produce a 2-ply true worsted yarn with the light airiness of a yarn made from carded batts. Here is the resulting yarn:

It's roughly a sport to DK weight yarn (due to bloom after washing), 168 yards and 52g. It's incredibly soft and squishy, and I would liken it to the cormo I spun earlier. Suffolk can range in fineness from 25-33 microns (according to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook), so if you're looking for a soft Suffolk for close-to-skin items, it would probably be best to buy a fleece in person or buy from someone who sells handspinning fleeces (some shops will even estimate the micron or Bradford counts).

Based on everything I've read, Suffolk is a medium-to-hard wearing wool (depending on micron and spinning technique) and wonderful for heirloom sweaters and the only hat you'll ever need to make. Or so I hear. :) I still have a ways to go before I can be competent with the ways I can use Suffolk, but I wanted to bring light to this understated wool--meat sheep tend to get overlooked by the handspinning community because the emphasis isn't on fleece quality or consistency. I will be weaving this, along with some other undyed wools, into a lap blanket, as soon as I get my hands on a new rigid heddle (<--- guess where I left mine). Have you worked with Suffolk before? Share your experiences in the comments below!