American Breeds Study with Beth Smith

Last weekend I went down to the town of Ringwood in Hampshire to participate in a spinning class, led by Beth Smith of The Spinning Loft. She's US-based, so for her trip across the pond, one of the workshops she offered was an American breeds study.

You might say, "Joy, you're American, shouldn't you already be familiar with American breeds?" Well, actually no - because before I moved to the UK two years ago, I wasn't particularly interested in sheep breeds. I mean, I knew there was a difference between BFL and Merino and all the other "scratchy stuff". I had a vague idea that some wools were bouncy, some wools were shiny, some rough - but no real understanding.

Since undertaking my fiber sampler project, I have learned so incredibly much about the diversity of sheep - and I still have more to learn! It has taken me places I never expected - from preparing raw fleece, to exploring rare sheep both fine and coarse - and many of the sheep I expected to be coarse were actually surprisingly soft, too!

American Sheep Rare Breeds Sampler spinning from fleece
Up until now I've focused on fibers that were easy to source in the UK, so trying a whole bunch of American breeds was a real treat. I got to sample a number of breeds I've really wanted to try, and I came home with a bag full of wool! Not to mention all the wonderful spinners I got to meet - everyone was lovely and we had a grand time (though I could have happily gone the rest of my life without hearing the phrase 'wool pubes' ;).

Some breeds were a real surprise - like this Navajo Churro. Can you believe that these two yarns came from the very same fleece? The lighter yarn is the coarse outer coat, which pulls away easily from the downy gray undercoat.
Navajo Churro handspun wool from fleece outer and inner coats separated

We explored a wide variety of breeds, common and rare, ones unique to the Americas and ones derived from British breeds. (For instance: American Jacob seems much softer than its British counterpart!)
Spinning samples Romney Santa Cruz Wensleydale Tunis Jacob CVM California Red sheep
In addition to all the breeds, we also explored different prep methods - and I got to use combs for the first time (thankfully I didn't injure anyone - though I worried I might!).
All in all, I came away with a better knowledge of breeds, a better handle on fiber prep, and a whole bunch of wool to continue my study. Definitely worth the trip! There were a few breeds that particularly stood out to me - but that's another post. :)


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