Working with one multi-color fleece
There are several sheep breeds that have fleeces in a range of colors. This can be either one main color on a sheep, or multiple shades of color on one sheep. There are also other fleece animals that have multi-color fibers, such as llamas or alpacas. This page addresses working with one fleece that has subtle, or more pronounced, variations in color in the same fleece.
One of my favorite wools for this subject is Navajo-Churro wool, but I also love to work with Shetland, Alpaca, and Merino. Navajo-Churro sheep are a breed that the Native Americans have depended on for over four hundred years. They are now categorized as a "rare" breed, but flocks are being preserved, as they are just as important today as they were when they were most plentiful.
When working with one variegated fleece, before spinning, there are two avenues to choose from: spin the yarn from the lock, letting the colors naturally blend, or separate the colors and spin them separately. There is also the choice of using a drum carder to create a multi-color roving, but this page focuses on spinning from the lock or spinning after hand carding.
Below are some examples of multi-color fleeces. They are washed, but not picked and carded.
Grey/Black/Brown Navajo-Churro fleece. This one has a texture similar to a Shetland fleece. The brown on this fleece is considered "bleached tips", but it will spin as the brown that shows.
Black/Brown/Grey/White Shetland fleece. There is very little white, and it is randomly in the fleece.
Black/Grey/White Alpaca fleece. This fleece is a testament to the general cleanliness of most Alpaca fleeces. There are subtle variations of grey, very little black is present, and the white seems to highlight the other colors.
In the above three examples, I would probably choose to pick out any major areas of one color to spin alone, but not separate the subtle variations within a color.
Brown/Light Brown/Grey Merino. Merino wool is extremely soft, and excellent for items made to be next-to-the-skin. With this type of color in the fleece, I would probably spin it without separating the colors, for a blended grey-brown color.
Below are yarns spun from one Navajo-Churro fleece, with the exception of the black which was purchased separately. With the fleece that this yarn is from, I choose to separate the colors into shades of a color: Dark Grey-Brown, Dark Brown, Medium Brown, Light Brown, and the lightest shade, a beige color. The red shown is the "seconds" of the fleece, in the light beige, dyed with Cushing's dye "Turkey Red". A project made with colors separated in this way will naturally "flow" in it's design and appearance, even though the colors have been separated. This is due to the fact that even with separate colors, there are colors or wool fibers that are common to all the colors in the fleece.
If I had chosen to spin directly from the lock, randomly, I probably would have ended up with a blended brown-grey color with a "heathered" look.
When spinning from one fleece, for a specific project where color is the defining factor of the project, separating the colors of the fleece to spin separately allows you to know ahead of time just what colors in what amounts you have to work with. A key factor to remember is that one pound of raw fleece usually results in 1/2 pound of spun fiber, due to the lanolin and dirt or vegetable matter that is washed out in the processing of the wool. I have also found that yardage is the deciding key with the spun yarn, and not ounces as relied on with commercial yarn. Home-spun yarn is usually not spun to the same loftiness of commercial yarn, and thus, each yard will weigh more.
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