Yak, Mongolian, Churro and Zwartbles Fibers
Our Guest Artist/Author today is Zara Tuulikki Rooke sharing her experience with some exotic fiber samples.
The Felting and Fiber Studio Forum is an excellent place to exchange ideas and experiences with other felters and fiber enthusiasts around the world. In addition, I have also done a couple of fiber swaps with other members on the forum. I have sent wool from our Swedish sheep breeds and have, in return, received a wonderful variety of fabrics and different types of wool and other fibers that can be used for felting. Now I have tried felting some of the exotic wool that I have received from Nada, Zed and Marilyn.
Nada, who lives in Slovenia, very kindly sent me Yak wool, which she got directly from nomads from Tibet. Apparently, Yaks have three different types of fibers; long and thick hairs forming the outer coat (79-90 microns), an intermediate type (20-50 microns), and a very fine and dense wooly undercoat (16-20 microns). The softness/fineness of the yak undercoat is comparable to the better known cashmere wool (which is a fine undercoat of goats). This particular carded batt also included some coarser fibers, but most of it was very fine wool. I laid out two thin layers of wool, on a 20 cm x 20 cm ( 7.87 x 7.87″) surface, put on a piece of cotton gauze, and attempted to felt it.
The Yak wool was surprisingly easy to felt. It quickly shrank down to a compact square of 10 cm x 10 cm (3.94 x 3.94″), and the fabric has felted in firmly. The coarser fibers give the felted piece a hairy appearance and reduce the softness, but I can imagine how luxurious pure, soft undercoat wool from Yak must be.
Zed, who lives in England, sent me some carded wool labeled “Mongolian.” A search on the Internet showed that there are quite a few local breeds of sheep in Mongolia, and crosses with imported breeds with finer wool. I found an article titled Sheep breeds of Mongolia describing 15 of their indigenous breeds of fat-tailed carpet-wool sheep. Our Swedish native breeds belong to the group Northern short-tailed sheep, while the sheep in the group fat-tailed sheep are adapted to harsh environmental conditions and are common in Africa and Asia.
Sheep breeds of Mongolia link: http://www.fao.org/docrep/U4900T/u4900T07.htm#TopOfPage
I didn’t get any closer than that in the identification of the wool, but the carded wool feels like a mixture of coarse and slightly finer fibers, mostly black or dark brown (perhaps sun-bleached) with occasional white fibers. To be able to compare this to other wool, I chose the same method as I have used to make previous samples, i.e. 10 g of wool laid out in four thin layers to cover an area of 20 cm x 20 cm, and on top of it a piece of gauze. The wool was very easy to felt and full, and shrank to 12.5 cm x 12.5 cm (4.92 x 4.92″). Compared to Swedish wool, the felted piece feels similar to those I felted with wool from our landrace breeds Klövsjö and Åsen, although slightly rougher to the touch.
Previous samples can be seen here: http://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2015/11/25/different-types-of-wool-from-a-swedish-felters-perspective/
Marilyn, who lives in the US, sent me wool from the American breed Navajo-Churro. The breed has its origin in the Spanish breed Churra, which the Spaniards brought with them when they colonized, what is now, the southwest of USA. Navajo Indians got hold of the sheep and saw a value in the wool, from which they made carpets and other weaved textiles. The breed’s origins, near disappearance and subsequent rescue, and its significance for Navajo culture and textile crafts, is a really interesting read. More on that can be found at The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association and The Navajo Sheep Project.
The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association link: http://www.navajo-churrosheep.com/sheep-origin.html
The Navajo Sheep Project link: http://navajosheepproject.com/churrohistory.html
The Navajo-Churro have a variety of colors, and three types of fibers. About 80% of the fleece consists of undercoat wool (10-35 microns), and the rest is coarser outer coat hairs (35+ microns) and less than 5% kemp (65+ microns). This wool was also easy to felt and full, although it didn’t shrink quite as much as the above. The final size was 15 cm x 15 cm (5.9 x 5.9″), and it has quite a hairy appearance. In the photos below you can see the pure white kemp fibers that do not felt. But I like the rustic look and the different tones in the brown wool.
Zed also sent me some wool from Zwartbles sheep, which is a breed from the Netherlands, primarily used as meat and dairy sheep. The wool is black to sun-bleached brown, and the sheep have a white blaze on the face (hence the name “black” + “blaze”) and white socks on 2-4 legs. Pictures and more information about the breed can, for example, be found on The Zwartbles Sheep Association link.
The wool is described as medium to fine (around 27 microns), thick and springy with a good crimp, and popular for spinning and felting. The latter surprised me, because to me this wool personifies all the descriptions I have read about wool from meat breeds, which are generally considered difficult to felt. It is really spongy and bulky, without any shine, and even makes a slightly crunchy sound when you handle it. I would describe this wool as something that should be excellent to use as pillow stuffing. But maybe it works well for needle-felting, and I actually found some examples on the internet where people vowed that it was good for wet-felting. So, I had to give it a try. It was not easy to press the wool down and start the felting process with soap and water, but after a while, the fibers began latching into each other. Then I tried fulling, with a little rougher handling, and then it started to disintegrate completely. The very loosely felted and spongy piece is the same size as it was from the beginning, and I am astonished that piece keeps together at all. Different types of wool definitely have their different uses, and this would not be my first choice for wet-felting.
Zara, thank you for your insightful and detailed analysis of these fibers!