WOVEMBER WORDS #5

Since we are considering “Growing Wool” at the moment, today we shall feature a couple of snippets from “Growing Better Wool” by A.E. Henderson, published in 1968. Please note that the views expressed in these quotes belong to A.E. Henderson and are not necessarily the views of WOVEMBER! iv. and vi. are particularly contentious amongst TEAM WOVEMBER, who collectively believes in the loveliness of all the different sheep colours, and who enjoy the wonderful variety of WOOL textures besides simply “soft”!

It is possible to give a description of “excellent” wool and to describe how this may be produced. But usually it is under only the most favourable farming conditions that this can be achieved at a cost which leaves some margin of profit. In a difficult environment, or where the issue is complicated by meat production, the cost of modifying the environment or any other limitation to wool production may be far greater than any advantage gained by being able to sell the highest grade wool. It is only the woolgrower with a thorough understanding of his own limitations and opportunities who can decide which forms of wool damage can be eliminated or controlled, and whether in fact this would be a profitable undertaking for him.

The requirements to be met before a fleece, or wool in general, is considered “good” can be summarised as follows:

i. The fleece should be even in all respects with individual characteristics well maintained over the back and to the edges of the fleece.

ii. Fibres should be long, but this will vary with fineness of fibre. Staples should be blunt rather than pointed.

iii. There should be no discolouration of a permanent nature and preferably none of suspected permanence.

iv. There should be no black or brown fibres.

v. Wool should be free from vegetable contamination.

vi. Wools should be soft to handle.

vii. Fibres should be structurally sound.

viii. Individual fibres should be crimped. Crimp should be regular and definitely expressed in the staple.

ix. Staples should be compact and clearly separated.

Good “architecture” of the fleece. Crimp is regular and definite, staples are well defined, free from each other and have a minimum of pointed tip.

– A.E. Henderson, “Growing Better Wool”, 1968

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This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

7 thoughts on “WOVEMBER WORDS #5

  1. I see what you mean with reference to the coloration of the wool fibres! How views change. Layter would not exist if not for the wonderful, natural diversity of hues.

  2. Yes there has historically been an obsession with producing pure white wool, which can be dyed with uniform results. But the natural shades are so wonderful, why would you want to breed them out?!

  3. Henderson’s comments are interesting insofar as he is describing a modern “improved” wool that has been “produced” for commercial mills. My little Ouessant sheep would most certainly not meet his criteria for a “good” fleece. Fortunately, more and more people are starting to appreciate the rare beauty of a primitive fleece. We are so lucky to have such a wonderful variety of sheep breeds and wool available to us.

    • Yes, I thought his comments were especially interesting because they reflect a certain attitude towards wool… a commercial, mill-focussed approach, indeed very different from what either I like to knit with or spin, and from what you like to grow! For me his comments reflect a different world of production and consumption to the one we live in today; one where there was a greater demand for wool on a commercial scale… but also one based on WOOL monoculture, a drive towards uniformity, and an ever growing quest for fineness.

      I think that in some ways this historic focus on producing wool of a certain grade, fineness and quality has come at the expense of all the other things WOOL can be – the amazing colours which can be achieved, for instance, through breeding, and the different hand and drape offered by the fleeces from different breeds. I am much happier today, where the huge variety of characters and textures possessed by all the different sheep breeds in existence is gaining recognition rather lacking in Henderson’s treatise!

      Henderson’s comments veer a little towards a monoculture of growing WOOL, but perhaps by understanding that this was the attitude in the 1960s, we can learn a bit about both fine wool production, and the roots of modern prejudices towards more characterful fleeces…

  4. I’d take exception to ii as well – blunt tips usually indicate that the sheep has been clipped before while pointy tips mean it is probably a first-shear fleece, usually softer and (if a ewe) less likely to show the effects of lambing, so generally this is a good point for handspinners to look for whan choosing a fleece. But the author was proably thinking about industral pprocessing which has different requirements.

  5. Yes, “Growing Better Wool” was definitely aimed at growing good wool on a commercial scale for industry. I think it’s superbly interesting, as it gives some insight as to what is involved in growing wool commercially.

    I also love what Henderson writes about how every farmer must decide for themselves how best to balance the economics of their operation… I didn’t know what about blunt tips, makes loads of sense, thanks for explaining!

  6. Pingback: WOVEMBER WORDS #7 « Wovember

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