babydoll southdown – wool prep to yarn

Earlier this week a TKK reader, Rita P., asked:

Is there any more word on your Southdown adventures? I’m especially interested in whether the yarn turned into the lilac undertone that you had imagined. I’m anxious to try some of this yarn on my CSM (circular knitting machine).

Olivia’s babydoll southdown fleece, and her flock’s good news, see post here

Thank you for your excellent question, Rita! Yes, I can share more about the yarn I made with Olivia’s fleece & about a Southdown/Silk handspun sock.

As I replied via comment, there is post-2015 sharing about the flow in fibre prep. The posts on this are tagged “Babydoll Southdown wool.” Use the sidebar search for the tag, and the progress will show chronologically.

Rita would like to know how the yarn turned out, so let’s go!

A wire basket is covered with a handwoven blue and white twill tea towel and holds small skeins of handspun Olde English Babydoll Southdown yarn.  Behind the twisted skeins are two wound lengths of singles, and in between is a hand-wound ball of yarn.  The yarn is all medium brown with flecks of white and a red cast.  The basket is on a faux lattice cast aluminum black table.
Gather round: Babydoll Southdown babes

The goal has been for a classic cable yarn. The singles for plying are fine, spun from handcarded rolags. As a 2-ply this yarn is very springy. Off the niddy-noddy tension, a 2-ply sample skein shrank by 55%.

The 6 small skeins were plied with a Z-twist from a lazy kate with the hand-wound singles. The antique wheel gave a lot of twist happily. I then wound a centre-pull ball, and cable plied from the two ends with a S-twist. They are balanced cable yarn of around 263 yards.

A 7th skein stalled when I discovered teething-stage Spark chewing on the singles to the upper right here. I got my yarn back but am not what you would call over it even now a year later.

A detail shot of the handspun Olde English Babydoll Southdown yarn laying on a handwoven blue and white twill tea towel.  Behind the twisted skeins are two wound lengths of singles, and in between is a hand-wound ball of yarn.  The yarn is all medium brown with flecks of white and a red cast.

The singles for plying show flecks from the light lower band of the carded locks. This is not a usual colour pattern for locks (the 2015 diet perhaps) but it is interesting to work with.

As a finished cable yarn, I was surprised to see the influence not only of the light bands but also of the reddish lock tips. I flicked the locks before loading the handcards. The rolags have that lilac shade that I assumed would carry through. It does to a certain extent but the cable ply step underscores the deeper tones.

A basket holds rolags of handcarded Olde English Babydoll Southdown wool.  Clean locks of the same wool are shown to the left of the basket.  The locks have an unusual pattern of lighter wool at the butt end and coloured wool at the tip.  The rolags are a blend of the colours.
While preparing Babydoll Southdown for the spinning wheel

Colour management was a driver for this cable yarn structure but so was the nature of the fine, springy plied yarn. I thought about but did not try a conventional 4-ply yarn for this fleece. It was just too close to the epic CVM prep project that had been exactly that, a 4-ply from hand-carded rolags on spindles no less.

For what it is worth, my (untested) logic is that the disorganized crimp of the Olde English Babydoll Southdown would be nice as a multi-ply yarn but that the cable brings added structure to the party.

As you will see in the next heading this is a cable yarn with texture. That crimp is still busting through!

Swatching Babydoll Southdown handspun cable in the round

A handknit swatch of handspun Olde English Southdown cable yarn is a tube with ribbing at the cast-on edge and stockinette body. The yarn is on 2 double-point needles and is a medium brown with flecks of lighter coloured wool in a wooden bowl.

Rita’s question prompted me to show this yarn knit in the round. I used 2.75 double-point needles, and got 8 stitches per inch.

The colour story is here but so is texture. As you can see with it hanging off the bowl, the working yarn has a crimp to it – this yarn is not perfectly straight as other cables that I have spun typically are.

A handknit swatch of handspun Olde English Southdown cable yarn is open on 3 double-point needles showing the inside of a stockinette tube.  The knit swatch rests on a ball of the working yarn and both are a medium brown with flecks of lighter coloured wool in a wooden bowl.  The bowl sits on a blue and white mosaic table with a dog standing in the background.  Only the apricot chest of the dog is visible.
Peek inside!

The fabric is very soft & springy. It was a joy to knit. For socks, I would try going down a needle size. At this gauge, I was able to see through the stitches at the top of the swatch.

A handknit swatch of handspun Olde English Southdown cable yarn is on 2 double-point needles and has a 2x2 rib at the cast-on edge and a stockinette body forming a tube.  The knit swatch rests on a ball of the working yarn and both are a medium brown with flecks of lighter coloured wool in a wooden bowl.  The bowl sits on a blue and white mosaic table.

Its feel as both the 2×2 rib and stockinette fabric is amazing. I love the depth of this natural colour, and how the eye shifts depending on the yarn’s background. Here in the bowl you see the red hue, and against the blue & white tea towel it was closer to the lilac-grey.

This has been a highly rewarding spin.

A Mill-Prep Southdown blend example

Very different but also enjoyable was this 80% Southdown/ 20% Bombyx Silk combed top dyed by Sheepspot. The fibre was sourced in the UK as a custom blend. 101 g of “Lagoon” spun on my Tabacheck Holly spindle gave around 302 yards of 3-ply yarn.

A medium CTTC pushka low-whorl drop spindle has a full cop of 3-ply Southdown/Silk yarn spun by irieknit that is a deep teal colour.  The spindle is shown on a handwoven twill tea towel with a white background and yellow and blue vertical stripes.
Southdown/Silk plied on medium Pushka

The “grand ancestor” of the other classic Downs breeds is Southdown in this blend. It was more of a medium-handling wool than Olivia’s finer Babydoll Southdown fleece. The lock characteristics of Southdown are:

blocky, rectangular staples that hold together

Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook” by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius, 2011, p. 70

I was spinning high-twist for socks but think that Olivia’s Babydoll Southdown fleece is next-to-skin soft no matter how I approach it. The knitting went quickly, and the conventional 3-ply yarn has a durable, crunchy feel.

I love the socks, and wore them this winter as soon as I cast-off.

They were in such good rotation that I wore them without taking any pictures on the foot!

Over to you for other thoughts

If anyone has more than my ‘watched a couple of CSM videos’ experience please lend Rita some of your thoughts in the comments. The fine lock character of this Babydoll Southdown fleece lends itself to yarns spun with high-twist.

The crunchier Southdown blend also handled my default high-twist sock spinning well and with silk is wearing well as socks. If this is of interest for a CSM knitter then I will add that my default on spindles spins for a Z-twist yarn. The singles for plying are spun counter-clockwise or widdershins. Both twist-directions work well for my own hand-knitting purposes.

After knitting this Olivia swatch, I am excited to think more about this yarn as a hat for later this year. Thank you for such a great question, and for helping me get back to a project that I enjoyed creating so much.

Posted by

Lara is a spinner, knitter, natural dyer, weaver who also loves reading. Jamaican-Canadian; she/her in the Greater Toronto Area; Mom to a young 'un, and Spark is our Double Doodle. A spindle is usually close to hand!

6 thoughts on “babydoll southdown – wool prep to yarn

  1. Wow! What an answer! I wish I was more knowledgeable about all of this. What I need for my CSM (circular sock knitting machine) is a fingering, as many ply as possible and very even. I don’t think any texture variations would make my ribber happy but I’m happy to try. My goal is to make an all Canadian sock that won’t shrink overly once machine washed. I make socks to sell but I can’t rely on people to hand wash their socks. And we know that the superwash process is not environmentally friendly. Much advice has led me to Southdown sheep. I was happy to find a herd of Babydolls in Ontario north of the Kawarthas. I’m sure there are more but nobody is selling the yarn specifically that I can find. I have no experience having fleeces milled. I love naturally coloured yarns too. That’s what caught my eye in your post. Thanks so much for the update. I know it’s a shot of energy when someone asks just the right question at just the right moment. I’m happy I did that for you.

    1. You are most welcome! I enjoyed putting this together, and it is one of the projects that I missed sharing about when the blog writing went on hiatus. The sample that I made on my 1-row combs had less texture because of how combs can keep the lock formation parallel, and let us spin the wool with less air, closer together. Your logic for Babydoll Southdown is very good, and your customers would appreciate the softness of this breed on their feet. Wellington Fibres is owned by a master spinner who I think might like the challenge for milling the wool. Another idea might be to speak with the folks at Gaynor Homestead. They get their Rambouillet wool (also fine, and lanolin rich) mill-spun, and I think it is popular yarn. I love their combed top – very clean & beautiful to spin! Best of luck for such a great venture. Made-in-Canada CSM socks would be on my must give list for loved ones, so I would love to hear how you make out!

      1. Well, thank you for the interest. I still need to learn more in order to talk to you. For example, “1-row combs had less texture because of how combs can keep the lock formation parallel” means nothing to me. I’m sorry to display my lack of knowledge so publicly. Wellington Fibres has been recommended by a couple of people and I will pursue this avenue. They are a pretty easy drive away which is wonderful for me. Everything that’s ‘happening’ in the world of sheep and yarn seems to be west of TO which is too far. I wonder why this is. Surely sheep wouldn’t mind eastern Ontario. I’m pretty old, so I hope I can bring something to life before I run out of energy.

      2. We can continue via email either now or down the road. It’s irieknit at gmail dot com to reach me. Why I mention combs is that you could ask for combing when speaking with a mill, and expect less of this airy texture in the yarn they would be able to produce for you. In the mill world the difference is between asking for combed top vs. roving. Sometimes you hear ‘roving’ for anything out of a mill, and that leads to more confusion, unfortunately. There is a long tradition of shepherding in Eastern Ontario, and Wellington will be a good place to find references.

  2. Hi Everyone! I am so excited to read this article about Baby Doll Sheep. I just found 10# for $10 from a local shepherd here in Michigan and am picking it up this week. I knew nothing about it. Thank you!

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