As I discussed earlier, I am conducting my own little spinner's study of 16 different sheep breeds and discussing tidbits about what I learn here. First up, Polwarth!
Here's a Polwarth sheep in all its woolly splendor:
|Image from the New Zealand Sheepbreeder's Association website|
Now, the bits we really care about: the fiber! Before we dive into it, there are a few things non-spinners might need clarified about wool:
- Staple length is the length of one wool fiber from root to tip.
- Wool is different than hair: wool fibers are the fine, crimped, elastic, and smaller-diameter undercoat fibers in a fleece while hair fibers are straight, usually smoother, and inelastic. Some fleeces contain both type of fibers. Even the coarsest wool fiber is still about half the diameter of a human hair. The heaviest/coarsest hair fibers are called kemp, and you wouldn't want to wear them next-to-skin. Prickly!
- Not all wool is created equal. Some is super soft, some is not. Some fleeces have long staple lengths, some short. Some have lots of crimp/elasticity, some are smoother and sleeker. These traits all affect how the wool spins up and what the resulting yarn is like.
- There are many methods for measuring wool fineness/coarseness, but you most often see micron count (though the FFSB mentions that it can be misleading). The micron count is the average diameter of the wool fibers in a fleece. A micron count of <15 is 'superfine', around 16-21 is considered 'fine', 22-31 covers a range of 'medium' types, 32-38 is 'coarse', and 38-41+ is considered 'very coarse'. For reference, Merino wool (the stuff of Malabrigo and most luxury blend sock yarns) can have a micron count between 11.5 and 25ish, depending on the type of Merino -- so anything with a micron count in the low 20s is likely to be pretty darned soft.
|My attempt at demonstrating staple length.|