Linda Scurr on Processing Wool…
Continuing on from Deb Robson’s post earlier today, this evening we shall be hearing from Linda Scurr, who processed raw fleece from 100 different British breeds of sheep in order to produce a fantastic “library” of 100% WOOL yarns. You may remember Linda’s wonderful sheep from earlier in WOVEMBER, and what we said about how having contact with livestock can change our perception of WOOL? Linda’s 100 Skeins of Yarn project is a prime example of how getting to know sheep can inspire wonderful textile projects. Linda very kindly agreed to do a Q&A with us, and we hope you will enjoy reading her answers as much as we did…
1. I saw your amazing yarn library at the Newbury Show… could you explain how you first envisioned the project, when and why you began this project, and how many different sheep breeds’ wool you have spun since you started?
I have kept sheep for over 20 years and they have become very addictive. When you start out as a smallholder you have to choose a breed and the harder you look the more breeds you discover. I have been taking photos of sheep and collecting breed society information for more years than I can remember. The idea to spin 100 skeins of wool from 100 different breeds gathered pace when I set myself a deadline to complete the collection in time for the Centenary year of the Royal County of Berkshire show. I spent about 3 years collecting the raw fibre and probably more than 500 hours spinning.
2. Did you decide on a sort of skein-standard for all your skeins of yarn? I mean did you decide they would all be a certain thickness/number of plies etc.?
There was no scientific approach and I regret this now, I just spun the wool until I had enough to fill a bobbin of two ply. Also in hind sight smaller skeins would have been easier to transport and easier to store. On the positive side a display measuring 8ft wide by 4ft tall certainly has impact and stops people in their tracks!
Linda Scurr’s AMAZING yarn library!
3. What was the process of collecting and spinning all the wool? How did you get hold of it all, and who provided the wool?
Collecting the fibre to spin was a learning curve. I knew quite a few people who kept different sheep breeds, I telephoned breed societies and approached people showing their sheep at shows. I asked for 200g of raw fibre, that allowed for wastage and washing out dirt and grease. Some people gave me fantastic fibre from their prize winning sheep, some gave me whole fleeces, quite a few people made me promises they didn’t keep despite going away with pre-paid envelopes and some people sent me horror stories, dirt, spray paint, rat droppings and worse.
WOVEMBER was very sad to read this; it is a prime example of one of the gaps between consumers and producers of WOOL which we were specifically aiming to address when we asked Lydia Hill her practical piece on presenting fleece to handspinners!
4. What have been the biggest surprise discoveries in developing this library of yarns?
I explained to people exactly what I was doing, making a display that would go on tour to highlight the qualities of British wool. I was surprised just how bad the fibre was that some breed societies sent me.
I regret not making better notes as I spun but I found where I had made notes I really like spinning the hill breeds. This was not what I expected and I have no idea why.
5. After spinning all of these different types of wool, do you have any views on, for example, the predominance of merino amongst woollen textiles?
Please do not get me started on the Merino debate*. I think that merino is very overrated. People know about it because of the good publicity campaign behind it. They believe quite wrongly that it is superior to all other sheep. In Britain we have over 100 sheep breeds capable of competing with and outperforming Merino. British sheep with finer fleeces make wonderful clothing and the coarser breeds are perfect for hard wearing carpets. A Merino carpet would not last 5 minutes and unless it is chemically treated Merino clothing would felt far too readily. Choosing the right British breed for the right purpose has to be superior. British wool is local, environmentally friendly, sustainable and buying British wool supports the sheep that do a valuable job in maintaining our countryside the way we like to see it.
6. Have you discovered any breeds in the course of making this library whose wool you really feel is especially under-appreciated, that we should know more about?
I think all British wool is under-appreciated. Spinning wool is a matter of preference. I like Jacob fleece as it can be blended into so many different colours from just one fleece. I like Wensleydale because it absorbs dye better than most breeds, it has a beautiful lustre and the long staples lend themselves to some really random and exciting art yarns. The British Wool Marketing Board have updated their book about British sheep and Wool (ISBN 978-0-904969-10-8) it has pictures of more than 60 breeds with a description of fleece weight, staple length, Micron count and what the fleece is suitable/used for. I would encourage anyone belonging to a group of spinners to buy and share different fleeces to experiment with.
7. Do you have a favourite skein or a top-ten in the library? if so, could you say why it/they are your favourites?
Some skeins in the collection are better spun than others and it is easier to identify the ones I don’t like. They are the ones that were spun in a hurry because the fibre was so dirty. Someone sent me some beautiful Hill Radnor and it was a joy to spin. I like the Rough Fell because it was mainly neck wool and lived up to its name, very rough. I like the skeins I spun from my own sheep. Wensleydale, Manx, Grey Faced Dartmoor, Jacob. It would be very difficult to single out just a few!
Except where stated all words and images on this post © Linda Scurr and used with her kind permission
*WOVEMBER is interested in “the Merino debate”; some interesting discussions regarding Merino wool can be found here, here and here on the Devon Fine Fibres blog, and Lesley Prior is an excellent source of information on the commercial production of Bowmont Merino here in the UK. For WOVEMBER the main issues re: Merino are that other breeds of wool are better for certain types of garments and deserve to be famous too, that “Merino” has come to be representative of “quality” at the expense of many other different and extremely high quality wool types, and that the current state of affairs makes it very difficult for breeders of high quality Merino to distinguish their specific product amidst a world awash with Merino of varying quality and produced under a variety of different welfare standards… It’s true that certain members of TEAM WOVEMBER are big fans of Icebreaker’s Merino pants, but where would be without the wonderful qualities of some of the other yarns we use and wear such as Shetland? Swaledale? Wensleydale?! Variety is the spice of life and Linda’s amazing library is a fantastic showcase for all the different types of WOOL that are available to us to work with here in the UK!