Be Friends with Wool

If there was just one thing Ellen Sakornbut wanted us to remember about her January program it was this: RELAX! It’s just wool. It’s not rocket science or brain surgery. Don’t be intimidated by wool.

However, getting to know wool takes practice–lots of it. Ellen passed around samples of yarn and asked us to quiet our brains and use our senses to examine each one. Look at its staple length, crimp, and luster. Feel it for softness. Listen as you snap it for its strength. Is the wool’s lock structure dense, triangular, wavy, spiral, or double coated? How would you describe its hand–elastic, bouncy, drapey?

According to Ellen the fiber’s breed is not that important. More important is what can be done with the wool. She urged us to be realists and not fiber snobs. Different types of wool give us a variety of opportunities: different spinning techniques, dyeing or natural, blending, weaving, knitting, or felting. We limit what we can do if we demand a particular micron count or breed. Learn to use a fleece to its best advantage.

When choosing a fleece it is helpful to know that sheep breeds fall into four categories according to their wool’s characteristics: primitive, longwool, down, and fine. That being said, there can be huge variations in wool coming from the same breed and even in wool coming from the same sheep from year to year.

The primitive breeds are generally Northern European fat-tailed sheep. They often have a long outer coat and a short inner coat. Their long triangular locks are prone to picking up vegetable matter. Learn more about some primitive breeds in the following slideshow.

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The long wool breeds are often named after the geographical areas of their origin. Their long locks are soft, silky, lustrous, and strong. Long wools usually felt well, and the locks can be tail-spun for art yarns. Some of the well-known long wool breeds are pictured below.

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The down breeds get their name not because they are downy but because they originated in the Downs or southeast England. Down breeds are often thought of as meat sheep; however, their wool is springy, resilient, and resists felting. The crimp is often spiral. Here are some examples of down breed sheep.

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Fine wool sheep have a very small fiber diameter of twenty-five microns or less. The dense fleece is used for very soft clothing. Most fine wool breeds are either Merino or have descended from Merino. This silky soft fiber can be fragile.

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Some last words of advice about wool from Ellen:

  • Learn to be an opportunist.
  • Be open-minded.
  • Learn how to work with the wool, not against it.

Thanks, Ellen, for another educational and entertaining presentation.

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Crochet Classes

For a quick link to register online, click HERE.


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Shetland Wool Week with Sarah Jane: Part Three of Three


After stops in Iceland, England, and the Orkneys, Sarah boarded the ferry that would take her to the Shetland Islands and Shetland Wool Week.

Shetland Wool Week is a festival celebrating Britain’s most northerly native sheep. Shetland sheep were likely brought to the islands a thousand years ago by Viking settlers.  Not only is the breed hardy, but these small sheep produce an amazing variety of wool from which everything from delicate lace to rugged outerwear can be made. Their soft fine wool comes in eleven different colors and is the basis of the Shetland Islands’ renowned textile heritage.


Shetland sheep come in a wide variety of colors. Their soft durable wool is prized for spinning and knitting.

In only its seventh year, Shetland Wool Week draws participants from around the world to attend exhibitions, classes and lectures about weaving, spinning, dyeing, Fair Isle and lace knitting, and more.

All the shops had special displays for Wool Week including bits of yarn bombing.


This telephone box is yarn bombed with delicate Shetland lace.

Sarah had a difficult time choosing from the 160+ events offered, but attending the opening reception was a must. Highlights included canapés made with only local produce, music, talks, and a group of authentic Vikings. A fashion show featured items ranging from handspun lace, Fair Isle jumpers, and Shetland tweed.


Members of the Lerwick Jarl Squad (Viking reinactors) made an appearance at the opening reception.

Here are highlights of some of the other sessions Sara attended:

Island Inspiration Tour–This was a boat trip over bumpy seas where the most important instruction Sarah received was, “DON’T FALL OFF THE BOAT!” They sailed to the abandoned island of Havera observing wildlife, walking around the island to see ruins of the settlement, and viewing knitted items made by former inhabitants.


Havera was inhabited between the 1770s and 1923.


Jamieson’s of Shetland Tour of Spinning Mill and Knitwear Factory–This is the Shetland’s only spinning mill where you can see the process from fleece to finished garment. The wool is all grown locally.

Burra Bears Open Studio–Held on Burra Isle, this tour of Wendy Inkster’s studio told the story of how nineteen years ago Wendy gave new life to used Fair Isle jumpers by turning them into Shetland’s first teddy bear.


Sarah’s own Burra Bear wearing lace Sarah made in a Shetland lace knitting class.

Other sessions Sarah enjoyed were Woolbrokers Jamieson and Smith demonstrating sorting and grading wool, Lace, Tweed, and Haps, a tour of textile displays at the Shetland Museum, The Makers’ Market, Shetland Flock Book, Shetland Lace Knitting, and Knitting a Hap.

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Our many thanks go to Sarah for sharing her adventure with us. She may have inspired us to add Shetland Wool Week to our fiber bucket list.


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Shetland Wool Week with Sarah Jane: Part Two of Three

For the next part of her trip, Sarah boarded a huge ferry in Aberdeen, Scotland, which took her to the Orkney Islands.


Where in the world are the Orkney Islands? You can see on the map above, the Orkneys, along with the Shetland Islands, are quite close to Norway which explains their Viking heritage. It doesn’t, however, explain why Sarah chose to visit Orkney. Although the islands are known for their abundant wildlife, folklore, and designation as a World Heritage Site for well preserved Neolithic ruin, Sarah was there learn more about two extremely rare sheep breeds and spend time with friends.

To catch a glimpse of the North Ronaldsay sheep, Sarah boarded a tiny eight seater plane for a hair-raising trip to North Ronaldsay Island, the northernmost island of the Orkney group. The five mile long island has one main road, and Sarah found her way around North Ronaldsay using a souvenir tea towel given to her by her hostess that was map showing points of interest.


This was Sarah’s view from the eight seater plane.

The island is mostly agricultural, and long ago a stone wall was built around the perimeter of the island keeping the good grass for the cattle. The North Ronaldsay sheep were forced to adapt and ate whatever they could find. They became one of the few land species which can survive by eating mainly seaweed.

The descendants of those hardy sheep are now owed by the island’s crofters who allow them to roam freely. The sheep are rounded up periodically to be shorn. It’s bad news for any sheep who escapes the sheering as the wool absorbs sea water during grazing, and the weight can cause the sheep to drown.

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So if you were wondering, Sarah’s tea towel map successfully guided her to the island’s woolen mill where she purchased her very own skeins of North Ronaldsay wool. She says it is similar to the wool of Shetland sheep.


Sarah’s North Ronaldsay yarn

The second rare breed of sheep Sarah saw on Orkney was the Boreray. This breed has been given the status of Category 2: Endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. With fewer than 300-500 found in the United Kingdom, the Boreray is the UK’s rarest breed.

Boreray sheep are small and short-tailed. Their coarse fleece is moulted making shearing mostly unnecessary. Boreray were feral on the island of St. Kilda until the 1970s. Since then some conservation breeding has begun to increase their numbers. Sarah’s friends on the main island of Orkney maintain one of those herds, affording her the opportunity to see these extremely rare sheep in person.


Sarah meets some of the rare breed Boreray sheep.

Sarah travels next to the Shetland Islands for Wool Week. Part Three of Three of her adventure will be published soon.

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Shetland Wool Week with Sarah Jane: Part One of Three

Our very own Sarah Jane Humke is a skilled spinner and knitter with a love of all things lace. She is also a sheep aficionado, an interest that was strengthened during the several years she lived in England. While there, Sarah became friends with Deb Robson and accompanied her as she gathered some of the information for her Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. So when Sarah had the opportunity to join some long-time friends and attend Shetland Wool Week this fall, she jumped at the chance to return. We were pleased that Sarah was willing to share her adventure with us for our November program.


Sarah knits with some of the wool she brought back from her trip.

Sarah’s first stop was Iceland, home of the Icelandic sheep whose light airy inner layer and strong outer layer of wool are carded together to make lopi. She made the most of her twenty-four hour layover by visiting the island’s mill store where yarns, Icelandic sweaters, mittens, and pencil rovings were sold. Rather than buying a completed sweater, Sarah picked out three sweaters worth of yarn. That earned her an “atta girl” from the locals.


Icelandic sheep have a long outer coat and a fine inner coat. When spun together, lopi is produced.

Sarah’s next stop was Devon, England, for a tour of John Arbon Textiles. The mill uses large vintage equipment to make breed specific yarns and rovings. It is a small family run mill which uses locally grown raw fiber and is one of the few small worsted miles still operating in the U.K. Sarah was pleased to learn the mill’s shop offered good deals to those who had taken the tour. To view a video of the mill in action, click here.


Then it was all aboard the sleeper train to Aberdeen, Scotland, the Granite City. Sarah didn’t visit any yarn shops in Aberdeen but highly recommends the sleeper train! A huge ferry passed by an Aberdeen golf course build around ancient ruins on its way to Sarah’s next destination: the Orkney Islands.

Read more about Sarah’s adventure in “Shetland Wool Week with Sarah Jane: Part Two.”



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New Looms for Weaving in the Schools 

It’s been an exciting time for the Guild’s Weaving in the Schools program. With the addition of eight new four harness table looms, the old two harness looms can be retired. Read more about about it here.

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October 2016–I Didn’t Know We Had That!

Weavers are so lucky. With the same set of basic skills we can weave anything from durable rugs to delicate lace and everything in between. But how many of us have the space or budget to own all the looms necessary for the patterns and projects we would love to try?

That’s not a problem for Guild members. For our October program Carol Dahms, loom and equipment coordinator, familiarized us with the wide variety of tools available for our use.


Carol describes how to use a warping paddle

The tour started in the loom room. The two and four harness rug looms are currently dressed with colorful warps. Members may weave rugs at a cost of 15 cents per inch.

We have four and eight harness floor looms which are sometimes warped for a study group project. The Iowa tartan and an overshot project were recently completed. When the looms are not being used for a guild project, members can reserve them for their own use.

The next part of the tour took us to the storage rooms where Carol and other volunteers have sorted, organized, and labeled all the Guild’s equipment so items can be easily found and used. I’m sure I was not the only one who had no idea the Guild has such a bounty of tools available, which is exactly why this program was planned in the first place. Why have all these wonderful things if they’re not being used?

Here are some of the things we saw:

•round counter for sectional beaming    •warping boards    •umbrella swifts                                          •lease sticks    •pick up sticks    •every type of shuttle imaginable    •ball winders    •bobbin winders    •warping paddles    •yarn balance    •felting board    •clothesline           •table looms    •inkle looms    •tension devices    •equipment for silk scarf and shibori dying    •drum carders    •blending board    •knitty knotty    •lazy kate and more

Carol asks members to complete a Loom Room Orientation before using the looms and equipment. Those who participted in the October program tour do not need additional orientation.

As is true for anything that is used by many, it is necessary to have some rules for use. They will be be posted on the bulletin board for a quick reminder before using the looms. The rules are also listed below:


Happy weaving!



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