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Deb Robson and Tussah

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September 21, 2009


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Susan J. Tweit

Fascinating! Thanks for the education in the difference in fiber preparation methods, along with the the magic that Santa Cruz wool is capable of. I can see what you were talking about back in May when you were on your residency. On the way to make these fibers higher-value, what about selling them as varietal yarns, the way fine wines are sold? So fiber folk would have to learn what the properties of the best wools were, but that's what you're doing with this book. Of course, maybe there's another book there after this one that gives more space to the history of the breeds so you could write that long story you hinted at above, and include some of the personalities involved in breed conservation. But that's for later....


"growers of the rarest breeds to set up subscription-based CSA-type groups to give them extra income to help fund their genetic conservation work"

You just know there are knitters out there who would like the "brag" factor behind owning/knitting rare special wool.

Do you know how the conservation effort for this breed is going? You've got me curious.

Deb Robson

Susan, the varietal yarns approach is coming along nicely, especially with the internet as a way to connect producers with artists and artisans. It's just starting to happen. One of the purposes behind this major book project is to give that work a big nudge . . . awareness among potential users of the fiber and a spotlight on the growers.

The problem with the most vulnerable breeds, like the Santa Cruz, is that there are so few animals that even small-batch processing is barely feasible. There are ways to work it out, but the pieces need to be put into place.

I can only think about one huge book at a time. . . .

Deb Robson

Yes! There are knitters who would like that "brag" factor!

I'm especially concerned about the Santa Cruz right now. The micro-flocks I knew about ten years ago don't appear to be located where they were. The sheep have been moved around. Obviously, we found some, but it looks like they need more champions with enough passion to give them long-term homes and sustained attention.


Fascinating, Deb. I once had a polypay fleece that produced a similar yarn. I'm not sure that it was representative of the breed and it was a less than an ideal fleece, but it seemed like you could make "rubber balls" out of that yarn!

Just wondering, did you consider spinning the Santa Cruz right off the comb? There might have been less waste....but then again, the yarn might not have been so perfect.


I'd sponsor a whole flock! For only half the fleece!
This is a breed I haven't tried and believe me, I've looked for fleece.


Thank you for taking us on that journey. Quite enjoyable.

Janice in GA

I do spinning demos at a local park. They raise Southdown Babydoll sheep, and the fleece they get is short, crimpy, and very dirty and neppy.

Like you, I've had the best luck getting a decent yarn using mini-combs (though mine are only one-row Louet mini-combs.) That yarn is very sproingy too, but that's more due to the down breed characteristics.

Deb Robson

Your comment on the Polypay experience is interesting; because the breed was developed for commercial processing and productivity, the wool qualities vary, so it's hard to say exactly what is representative of the breed! Except within very broad descriptors.

I very briefly considered spinning right off the comb, but because of the irregularities and the very short fibers and the general quality of the wool, it wasn't going to draft smoothly at all. I had to tug to get it to "let go" and give me my sausages--! The waste was a given. Tiny bits and neps. Everything you see on the comb in the photograph was spinnable, and was spun.

Deb Robson

Greg, I'm glad you enjoyed the excursion.

Thank *you* for taking care of your Gulf Coast sheep. You're one of the folks keeping that breed viable, and I, for one, am very grateful.

Sometimes I wish I could have a flock. It's just not in the cards. What I can do is study and write and share information and thoughts.

Deb Robson

I'll bet you have looked for fleece, Beth. You would definitely love it, and you're right, there are a bunch of us who would have fun sponsoring flocks.

Deb Robson

Janice, Babydoll Southdowns are a sweet-spinning breed, too. And yes, the Down breed characteristics give them a lot of character and elasticity. My notes on spinning that breed say "quite a bouncy mass" and "springy." More so than the other Down breeds, I think at this point, but with a different quality of body to the yarn than this Santa Cruz. I don't envision the Santa Cruz in socks or mittens, which is where I'd immediately want to try out the Southdown--still next-to-skin quality, but with a bit more potential resistance to heavy wear than the Santa Cruz.

Susan J. Tweit

Of course you can only think about one huge book project at a time. I just don't want you to forget that you've got more to say after this one's done. (And what an amazing book this will be!)


I've been trying for years to get some Santa Cruz for my breed sample collection, and it seems that the powers that be decided that the flora were more significant than the fauna that were eating it up, so the sheep had to go. I'm a pretty good googler, but I get the feeling that there's a deliberate effort to stifle interest in this breed!

Where can we get some of this stuff?

Deb Robson

I wish I could help you! If what I could get was what I got, well, you know how good my source connections are.

It's very complicated, and somewhat painful for me to think about how the sheep's situation was handled. There was a black-and-white bit of decision-making about the sheep and the environment. There were lots of gray-area options that could have balanced the needs of the different biological resources. Unfortunately, only a last-ditch effort by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and some interested folks saved any of the sheep.

Deb Robson

{grinning} Assuming it gets done!

No, I'm not done talking about this stuff. I have SO MUCH more info . . . um, and rampant curiosity on the topic.

Susan J. Tweit

Passion. You've got passion for the topic--it's not just rampant curiosity. And passion can make for great writing, if you use it carefully.

As for this book, it will get done. When it's time.

Deb Robson

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Susan. When I'm making good progress on the book, I feel great. Then, as you know, I need to shift horses for a while and meet other commitments, including those that pay the mortgage (and for the great books I'm finding on breed histories!).

L.M. Cunningham

Great post. I was thinking, as I read it, that combing it would do a better job to make a sproingy yarn than carding as well.

While working on my Masters, I read an article about acoustical dampening, and the use of various finishing materials (for both flooring and walls) to either enhance or reduce noise sensitivity.

Someone had actually done experiments with a range of fibres and preparation techniques, and came to the conclusion that long, parallel fibre preparations did a better job of reflecting sound than wall coverings or carpeting made from shorter fibres.

And that was due to having the long fibres being able to form a more coherent reflective surface, while the shorter fibres tended to reflect less, due to the haphazard arrangement and more protruding ends.

The kicker was that the author noted that if such long-fibre materials were used on vertical surfaces, that care had to be taken to ensure that the material was thoroughly supported on the surface, because such preparations also made the fibres have greater stretch tendencies than the shorter preps.

As you discovered with the Santa Cruz. (grin)

Yes, I'd also sign up to sponsor a sheep in a flock too: what you need to do is find someone who would sell shares and let people buy as many as they want, receiving a suitable proportion of skirted fleece each year.

(Sort of like what Jim and Pam Child do @ Hatchtown.)

Deb Robson

Fascinating about the acoustical experiments, and that bit about stretching tendencies when the materials were hung with the fibers running vertically!

One of the tricks with the "shares" process is that I don't think it would work as well as a secondary (middle-person) business. I think the direct connection between producer and shareholder is critical--I think it's not only about financial support but also about relationships. Which means that the best model would be direct, between shepherds and fiberists.

This is being done at Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm in Massachusetts, and Susan Gibbs, who innovated this approach, does consult to other farms. I've just put up an introductory post to what she's doing and have a second, more detailed post about three-quarters written.


oh my! just came to this blog via Abby's...My head is spinning. thank you so much for all the good info on fleece. I am waiting for my package of Southdown Babydoll that I ordered totally on a whim, knowing nothing about the breed but learning as I go.

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