Reprinted from Spin-Off Magazine - Fall 1993 Back to Wool Page
Bouncy & Lightweight Clun Forest Yarn
by Jane Fournier
The Clun Forest is an upland grazing region in the Southwest corner of Shropshire, England. The mountains and high valleys of this area are the original home of the Clun Forest sheep. The early origins of the breed are not known for certain, but references are made Clun sheep as long ago as 1837, and it may be that they were raised by the inhabitants of the Clun Forest as much as a thousand years ago. Cluns first took up residence in North America in 1970, when forty ewes and two rams were shipped from Britain to Nova Scotia. After a lengthy quarantine in Canada, Clun Forests became available to growers in the United States, and the North American Clun Forest Association was formed in 1974.
Clun Forest sheep have dark brown faces and legs. They have woolly forelocks, and a little wool on their legs. Their high-set ears and distinctive profile give them an upright, alert look. Both sexes are hornless. Ewes weigh an average of 120 to 160 pounds and are known for their excellent fertility, longevity, and mothering ability. Having developed on the varying countryside of Shropshire, Cluns are extremely adaptable foragers, equally at home on highland or lowland pastures.
Clun Forest sheep produce a fine, down-type wool that falls between 56s and 58s (approximately 28-25 microns). Their wool has the usual characteristics of down fleeces - short staple, low luster, a slightly crisp hand, and a very well-developed, elastic crimp.
Clun Forest fleece is particularly attractive when compared to wool of similar breeds because it is also dense, fine, generally uniform throughout the fleece, and relatively free from colored fibers and kemps. Although the tight, irregular crimp is not readily noticeable in the staple, it is very apparent when you inspect individual fibers. This feature gives Clun Forest wool its character; it produces handspun yarns that are extremely elastic and lofty, with plenty of personality.
Fleeces generally weigh 4 1/2 - 6 1/2 pounds and have a staple length of between 2 1/2 and 4 inches. The staples are blocky in shape and have very short, blunt tips. Commercially, the wool is used for a wide range of goods, including hosiery, flannels, knitting yarns, tweeds, and industrial felts.
Working with Clun Forest fleece
Although Clun Forest is considered a dual-purpose breed, economic realities place primary emphasis on the production of sheep with good conformation and breeding characteristics rather than exceptional wool. When selecting a Clun Forest fleece, try to obtain one from a grower whose husbandry practices support the raising of a high-quality fleece. Watch for excessive hay and feed in the wool. This is a sign that the sheep has had access to the raw materials necessary for growing a good sound fleece, but the bits are almost impossible to remove completely during processing. Cluns usually have very few, if any, colored fibers in the fleece, but be alert for their possible presence if it would detract from your project.
Clun Forest wool generally has a short staple length, so hand carding and drum carding are usually the most efficient preparation methods. Flick carding and combing are also both possible, but may be time consuming as well as hazardous to the knuckles. I found that using a fine drum on my drum carder (320 points per inch) made for smooth preparation with few neps.
Clun wool lends itself very well to traditional woolen-spun yarns, such as the yarn used in sample 1. The hand-carded rolags and long draw result in a very bouncy, lofty, and slightly irregular yarn that can be used as singles in woven fabrics, or can be plied and knitted.
A firm twist ensured that this singles behaved well in the warp without any sizing. Unfortunately, the subtle twill pattern I chose for this swatch is a bit too elusive for the woolen-spun yarn, and doesn't show well in the fabric. However, it does have an indistinct, overall texture that lends depth and interest to the swatch. After fulling, the fabric is still elastic and quite substantial for the weight of the yarn used. It would be suitable for making a blazer or lightweight jacket.
Sample 2 uses a plain, two-ply yarn that epitomizes Clun Forest's characteristics. Even though this yarn is spun from a parallel preparation using a short draw, the lively and emphatic crimp results in a slightly fluffy, irregular yarn with a flat, chalky surface. The swatch is lightweight and has great life and body, in contradiction to its dense appearance. The bulk and resilience of this knitted fabric would make it ideal for hard-wearing, cushiony socks or gloves.
Because of its extraordinary elasticity, Clun Forest wool can be combined with less-elastic fibers to produce yarns with body and bounce. In sample 3, I blended approximately equal parts of kid mohair and Clun Forest for a yarn which has mohair's soft, silky feel, but is also light and elastic even in a bulky weight. The mohair is accentuated by brushing the skein lightly before knitting, although brushing after knitting would do as well. The longer mohair fibers come to the surface, while the shorter Clun Forest fibers stay at the core of the yarn to provide the loft. The same blending trick could be used with alpaca, llama, or tussah silk to make immensely practical sweater yarns.