Adventures with Babydoll Southdown wool in our fibreshed

Just a couple of days after my last blog post, I headed out to the Woodstock Fleece Festival.  It was a day of bustling spinners’ mayhem, and this post is brought to you by a happy co-incidence.

Antique flax saxony with flyer out for repair
We were bound to run into each other again at Wheelwright’s booth.  My reason:  an antique flyer in need of repair.  Hers:  wheels!

The spark for this adventure is a local credit to adolescents everywhere, E.  Her grade 8 school project led us to connect with shepherd Robert I’Anson & his wonderful pure-bred Olde English Babydoll Southdown flock.  Other handspinners have now found Bob’s fleeces thanks to E’s project.

We first met in September 2014 when E came to a guild meeting with her Mom.  She presented so impressively about her aims to prep, spin & dye local wool for her project with knits.  E was a novice spinner, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  I soon agreed to stand as mentor if they were comfortable to go ahead.  We did!

This experience was a real privilege, and ever since we met-up again at Wheelwright’s festival booth in October, I have wanted to really share it with you at long last.

Sourcing the Wool

With generous help from my friend, Sasha of Sheepspot, we quickly got in touch with Robert I’Anson who still had fleeces from his 2014 clip.

Since to quote Sasha the only thing that she loves more than wool is the ocean, I was certain that we were in good hands.

Olde English Babydoll Southdown ewes Louth Ontario Robert l'Anson
Bob’s Babydoll Southdown ewes, and Jacqueline the brown lamb

The ewes were in their front paddock.  We gushed at the cute.

Shepherd from Louth Ontario, Robert I'Anson and Belgian Shepherd Jack
Bob I’Anson and Jack

Bob not only welcomed our teaching visit to his farm in Louth, Ontario but also donated a ram’s white fleece for E’s project.

Olde English Babydoll Southdown skirted raw wool fleece Laurie's Little Lambs
Raw Babydoll Southdown ram’s fleece for E

We chose this fleece after looking at a few.  All were sound, and it was a fun decision.  We also got to learn more about the sheep, farm, and Bob’s approach to breeding.

Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep Louth Ontario Laurie's Little Lambs
Keeping their distance, adorably.

On that high note we turned to cleaning E’s wool

Guess who approved of our plan to clean the wool in his presence?

Melvin and drying Babydoll Southdown Ontario wool fleece
How to build a better pet crate: add wet wool roof

The scouring stage was intense on instruction as we worked on spinning through the soaking sessions.  It was a good, long day. E really picked-up on everything & then did her homework.

It was also my first high-lanolin fleece.  Even though the water ran clear after 2 baths with original Dawn detergent, the dry wool felt tacky.  That was solved by simply re-washing but I will now use power scour in the first place!

Cleaned bag of Ontario Babydoll Southdown wool
Have you any wool?

E continued to work on other fibres for her display, and then did an amazing job on fibre preparation & spinning of the Babydoll Southdown over her winter break.

Thanks also to Deb Robson who gave her quick permission to share her Fiber Exploration Record Card with E in the project. It sets out key characteristics, and after taking a breed study workshop with Deb 3 years ago, I use the card for my own learning/ fibre preparation.

Natural dyed Polwarth handspun wool with avocado by irieknit
Avocado dye experiment

As soon as E saw my 2012 avocado dye experiment on Polwarth she determined this was her favorite.  We worked from there, and she chose a water-only soak extraction method for her yarn.

Grade 8 presentation in Ontario on fleece preparation, spinning, dyeing and knitting
E’s spinning project display

There are no words.  I was just blown away by E’s display & presentation – she received full marks and deserved applause!

My personal favourite part was her answer to the FAQ an attendee had to ask.  In complete dignity & more tact than I will ever muster she asserted,

Well, I think that my spinning is a much better quality than what you can get at Walmart because they use factories, and I made mine by hand.

Babydoll Southdown lamb Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario farm
Webster, the youngest Babydoll Southdown lamb this year

The Babydoll Southdowns are still growing wool, and Bob’s flock is doing well.  I visited with N at the end of July, and have cleaned an ewe’s fleece.  It is astonishing, and you will hear about it!

Yes, I gained friendships beyond E’s school presentation this March, a new wool discovery, and confidence in teaching.  That’s all been fabulous but the best part is being there to see a young spinner’s imagination carry her into our local fibreshed, and onward.

edit to correct Webster’s name.

Posted by

Lara is a spinner, knitter, natural dyer, parent abandoning a certain fear of weaving. Jamaican-Canadian; she/her in the Greater Toronto Area; we have a Jellicle cat, Melvin & a Double Doodle, Spark. A spindle is usually close to hand!

7 thoughts on “Adventures with Babydoll Southdown wool in our fibreshed

  1. Okay – bonus points for cute sheep, Babydoll Southdowns are cute overload! And, BRAVO to your daughter for her stunning display! Wow, I am wildly impressed!!! Congrats to her also for your stellar witty answer too – I am with her, hand made beats Walmart. Every. Single. Time!

    1. Such a wonderful breed, thank you Kat! E gets all her credit, and I can’t claim to have brought her up – we are friends. Her Mom, J. gets every ounce of pride for having her as a fabulous young daughter!

  2. Hello, I just bought some babydoll fleece and was wondering if you have any suggestions for processing it. I’ve read in some places that because it’s basically a superwash wool you don’t have to card it. Does that mean that after washing it you can just spin it? This is my first project fleece to yarn and I know that babydoll is different because of the shorter fibers.
    Thanks for any help or suggestions you can give.

    1. Hello there! In the post that followed this one, I shared about the processing steps: This is not a wool that I would spin from the lock for a few reasons. Once clean & dry the locks can hold quite a bit of grit, VM through the locks’ length. They are very blocky (I showed a close picture of the Olivia locks), and the crimp structure can hold a surprising amount. I would sample spinning from the lock first but have a hunch that I would be working harder thanks to the crimp to produce a consistent yarn this way.

      I recommend using a flickr, and liked the results using paddle combs by Meck that are in the Russian peasant style. The staple length was long enough for comfortable combing – the student used Viking-style, and I tried both the paddle, and a 2-pitch Valkyrie comb. The spiral crimp structure of this Down breed wool gives a lot of spring even when combed. In her Winter 2015 article for Spin-Off Magazine, Deb Robson recommends carding after combing to remove the debris, and shows how that worked with a very short fleece (mine is not very short). It’s a very rewarding wool to process but take care to wash well – it has a surprising amount of lanolin! The traditional spinning method would be for a woolen yarn, i.e. long-draw from a carded prep for the Down wools.

      I would also follow Deb Robson’s description of the Down wools being “reluctant to felt” and haven’t seen very thorough experiments for the “superwash” claims but it could be so. My Olivia fleece is cleaned and still in my stash, so I can’t weigh in on that from my own experience. Now, I will be thinking about it. Happy fibre prep with your first fleece! It’s a wonderful way to work with wool. I am knitting a CVM sweater now that was from raw wool, and it is so rewarding.

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