Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life


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A rural day out

Having moved to rural New Zealand, I am determined to enjoy all that being ‘in the country’ (as we say here) has to offer.  The annual Wairarapa Agricultural & Pastoral Society Show is being held this weekend, so the young man and I trotted along to see what was to be found!  For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with this kind of show, it is a local festival celebrating the best of the rural activity of the area that we live in.  There were sheep and cattle shown for judging, shearing and wool handling competitions, a wood chopping competition, baking and art competitions, agricultural vehicle and other equipment displays, many food and goods stalls and of course, a fairground for the kids.  It was a very interesting day out.

Well, the first thing that we saw were the sheep!  So many pretty sheep!!

Sheep

This particular fellow is a champion crossbred ram.  His fleece was incredibly thick – about half of that sheep is wool!  He was very friendly.  As you can see, he was loving the head scratches.  Look at that adorable face!

Friendly ram

Here was a lovely mama ewe and her twin lambs.  So cute, one black and one white.

Ewe and lambs

Champion fleece on display.

Fleece

There were also cattle being shown.

Cattle show

So clean and shiny.  It’s a pity they don’t always look like this… (the ones in the fields usually have poo all down the backs of their legs.  It looks gross.)

Cattle show

These pretty jerseys were waiting their turn to be judged.

Chickens

I’m still thinking about those chickens.  I want some so much!!

Yarn

There was yarn to be seen, but not bought.  These skeins were handspun that had been entered for the competition.

Knitting

I spied socks!

There was a hilarious sheep racing competition, complete with jockeys!

IMG_1142 (1024x768)

Here they are at full gallop.

Sheep racing

There was motivation to race…

Sheep race

The first one to the end got to eat the most sheep nuts!

Equine show

There were riding events happening.  Such beautifully turned out horses and their riders!

Shearing competition

Of course, I had to watch the shearing and wool handling competition!  While these guys were being judged on their ability to shear,

Wool handling

these ladies were doing something equally fascinating, which was skirting and handling the fleece after shearing. They were being judged on their performance and speed.  It was also their job to take the fleece off the platform and keep the floor around the shearers clean of debris.  Fascinating to see the fleece able to be laid out on the table all in one piece after it came off the sheep.

Shearing

Lovely clean wool coming off the sheep.

All shorn!

And here they are, post haircut, waiting to go back to the farm.

There was a lot more to be seen of course, but I thought I’d just show you the interesting bits.  🙂

We went home and decorated the front yard for Halloween, but unfortunately, it seems that trick or treating is not a popular thing here in the Wairarapa, and we got no visitors!

Halloween

The young man was most disappointed. We thought this year that we would stay home and hand out treats instead of venturing out.  I’ll have to investigate options for next year!

Sunset

Still, it was a lovely day, and we had a beautiful ending as well.

If you celebrate Halloween, a Happy Halloween to you, and may your kids get lots of candy!


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The Wool from Maniototo

When Mary Furness Weir first wrote to me about a 100% New Zealand wool yarn she was developing, I was very excited.  100% New Zealand wool yarn in aran weight?  That sounded interesting!  We don’t have much aran weight yarn in New Zealand.

Then she told me the yarn was from Halfbred sheep (the sheep bred from Merino/Romney cross), and that sounded even better!  I expected there would be heaps of bounce, it would be a light but strong yarn, and soft.

Here’s a picture of the sheep that produce the wool for this yarn on the station where they live (photo courtesy of Maniototo Wool and the owners of these sheep, the Duncan family):

Halfbreed ewes on hill - Maniototo

I just love how the sheep are looking curiously at the photographer, and their generally calm demeanour (sheep can be quite scatty, so I am impressed).

These sheep live in an area of Otago in the South Island called Maniototo (hence the name chosen to brand this yarn, “Maniototo Wool”).  Have a look at the Maniototo and  Central Otago website to learn more about this special part of New Zealand.  It features the perfect wool growing temperature and climate.  The Duncans have further enhanced the climatic conditions by a strict focus on breeding Halfbreds that produce good quality wool of between 22 – 24 microns.  This makes the wool a ‘mid-micron’ range, but still soft enough not to have prickle factor.

You’ll read on the Maniototo Wool’s website how Mary bought just one fleece to hand spin, and was so enchanted by the results that she decided to start a yarn line!  A first batch of fleece was acquired, and Mary set about having it scoured and then spun at a boutique mill in the South Island.  She waited patiently for the yarn to arrive… then spent a long time developing colours inspired by the local landscape that were ‘just right’, and could be repeatable hand dye lots…. and this is what it has become:

Maniototo Wool

More shades have been developed since this picture was taken by Mary.  See all the colours, and read more about this beautiful example of good New Zealand wool here.

The Halfbred fleece used to spin yarn for Maniototo Wool has been carefully classed by the wool handler at shearing time into ‘lines’ based on the characteristics of the fleece. 

Mary chose 24 micron fleece for this batch because spinners can manage it more easily than the finer wool – 100g bags of sliver are also being made available for sale.   Quality has been further assured by the wool being lab tested for evenness of fibre thickness throughout the fleece (it is called CV testing).

Mary very generously sent me a sample to try, and this is what I found:

The yarn is beautifully soft (not butter soft like merino, but still very able to be worn next to the skin).  It has a lovely loft in both the yarn and the knitted fabric.  It is indeed light and airy for its weight, and boy, is it strong!  The batch that I received is beautifully dyed – a nice semi-solid.

Here’s my swatch, which I tested for pilling by continuously carrying it around at the bottom of my bag (purse) for the past three months… (this treatment usually produces lots of pills in wool garments knitted in yarn prone to it).

Maniototo Wool

I have done no picking off of pills, or otherwise to this swatch, other than to brush off a bit of debris collected from the bottom of my bag…  Can you guess which one got the ‘bag’ treatment?  It’s the one on the left in the photo.  Apart from a very slight fuzz, it looks virtually identical to the “un-tumbled” swatch.

I’m convinced it’s indestructible.  Mary will tell you that there is a bit of odd ball pilling that occurs from frequent wear, but I figure it’s the type of garment that will continue to look great for a long, long time.

I talked about this yarn briefly when I first got it, and as you can see, it does very well with cables.  I’m working on a design at the moment, but progress is slow because of my current affliction with “sockitis”…

You may remember my posts about the Shepherd Hoodie by Kate Davies.  Well, I think this yarn would make an excellent Shepherd Hoodie for one thing!  The Maniototo Wool website also features a few lovely free patterns available with yarn purchase that give you an idea of how it knits up.

This yarn is very special for several reasons:

1. It is both from a single source of New Zealand wool and and it is from a single breed of sheep.  Many of you will know that individual sheep breeds can have quite different qualities to their wool.  By using a wool (in this case, the Halfbred) with specific performance qualities, you can assured of the way the yarn will turn out and wear as a garment.  I also think it’s pretty cool that the yarn producer can actually point to the sheep that the wool came from.

2.  It is 100% pure New Zealand – grown, shorn, scoured, spun and dyed in the South Island of New Zealand.  No ‘other country’ services included.  (Some NZ fleeces are disappointingly sent overseas to be scoured before being shipped back to New Zealand for spinning.  I am not sure I like that lack of sustainability in the full yarn cycle).  

3.  It’s aran (worsted) weight.  As I said, we don’t have a lot of choice of good quality aran weight in this country.

4.  It has been hand-dyed with care, and tested for quality.

I’m very happy to see another excellent addition to pure New Zealand, single-source wool yarns.  It’s a bit like a fine wine – you need to try it to understand the difference that makes!


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Horrietta

This is Horrietta.

Horietta

Image credit to Bev Tilson

If you’ve ever imagined that there could be real “cloud-shaped white fluffy sheep on a hilltop” (like you see in kids’ drawings), I reckon it would be her.

Do you remember how I told you a little about Horrietta, when I met her ‘publicist’ Bev at Creative Fibre?  I promised I’d tell you more, so here we go:

Horrietta, a Suffolk/Merino cross, lived on the Big Ben Station in the foothills of the Southern Alps.  Stations in New Zealand are very large farms, where the animals are free to roam large distances for long periods of the year, only being mustered for essential work such as shearing.

Every year, the sheep would be mustered for their annual shear, and every year for seven years, Horrietta decided she didn’t want to go.  She simply turned and went the other way, and hid where the musterers and dogs couldn’t find her.  Sheep are traditionally herd animals.  The hermits (as lone sheep who evade mustering are called) are usually males.  Horrietta was unusual in being a female hermit (although they didn’t know that at first and initially called her “Horace” until the mistake was discovered).

Eventually though, her wool got so heavy (13kgs/28lbs) that she began to have foot problems.  So a concerted effort was made to capture her, and bring her in to be shorn by hand using blade shears.

This is Horrietta after she’d been shorn, and her lambs Henry and Camilla, from a handsome merino ram named “Johnny Depp”.  They were born on the first day of Spring in 2012.

After shearing, with twins

Image credit to Bev Tilson

The difference is quite remarkable.  Her staple at shearing was 12″ long!!

Now she lives with two of the casual musterers who work on the station she lived on.  They thought that her wool could be appreciated by hand spinners around the world, and Bev has happily taken on the task of making sure that can happen.  The original fleece has now all been sold, and the proceeds donated to the mountain search & rescue dogs charity – NZ Land SAR Search Dogs.  Her owners hope that Horrietta and her lambs can continue to contribute to this worthwhile cause through the ongoing sale of their fleeces.

Horrietta’s latest fleece has been graded an even finer micron that her first (it’s somewhere around 22 – 24 microns, but I cannot remember exactly).  It is very fine quality.  The fleece is extremely white, with no ‘black material’ and has loads of crimp and spring.  There are some beautiful examples of the fleece spun into yarn in the Ravelry group noted below.

If you’d like to purchase some fleece from future shearings, or simply want to follow Horrietta’s adventures, have a look here:

Horace Hermit (Facebook) where you’ll see some cool pictures of where she lived and you’ll get an idea of how it was that she managed to evade capture for so long.

NZ Hermit Sheep (Ravelry) where future fleeces will be made available for purchase.

Or, you can drop Bev a line on morecraft@xtra.co.nz to arrange to be notified when the next shearing takes place in November.

Hope you found that interesting!

Many thanks to Bev Tilson for supplying the information for this post.


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Why sheep need hair cuts

The farmer reckoned these sheep had been roaming wild for about seven years.  They finally caught them this year.  You can see the old girls were in urgent need of a hair cut…

I was interested to see how the wool literally grew off their backs and trailed along the ground behind them, a woolly train you could say.  I’m not sure their wool would make great yarn though. Anyone for a dreadlock or two??  😉

sheep in field


The wool connection

You may know that October 2010 hosted the “British Wool Week”.  Initiated by HRH Prince Charles, the week-long focus on wool was a major event in The Campaign for Wool.  The initiative has been convened to encourage people and businesses to use wool – to recognise and utilise the superior benefits of this natural fibre.   We’re not just talking knitting, or even fashion here – wool is a fantastic insulator, as well as a very hardy material for furnishings and interior decoration among many other things.  It’s pretty cool that the future King of England is so committed to the future of wool.

I’ve talked about my disappointment about the seeming lack of support for/cohesiveness in the wool industry in New Zealand in previous posts.  Recently, I discovered that the closure of the Lincoln mill (part of Agresearch’s facility) came about because farmers had voted to cease paying a levy which was used to fund research in and the promotion of New Zealand wool.  This is also why “Meat & Wool New Zealand” is now called “Beef + Lamb New Zealand“.

But that’s thankfully not the end of wool.  In July 2010 the responsibility for marketing wool was given to a newly formed cross-industry Wool Group.  There are 18 founding members from across the industry. 

It focuses primarily on the marketing of coarse (strong) wool, and is supported by one of New Zealand’s major wool exporters – Wool Partners International, the body formed a couple of years ago to try to give coarse wool the same international success that the New Zealand merino industry has been able to achieve. 

So far, I haven’t been able to find out much more about the Wool Group.  It looks like this organisation is still in its birthing stages.  It doesn’t even appear to have a website yet.

All this is great, but it does make me feel a little like the poor old fine to mid-micron market is missing out rather.  And that’s mostly where hand-knitting yarn falls.  (Merino stands alone in the fine micron market with its own industry marketing machine – New Zealand Merino). 

I read recently that the British knitting wool industry had mostly become a cottage industry.  And I’m guessing that this is pretty much where the New Zealand knitting yarn industry is.  Which is a shame, because our wool is pretty darned good. 

But I guess, it’s not surprising.  Although the dollar amounts involved continue to make it possible to viably grow wool for yarn, globalisation and access to cheap manufacturing means that we’ll never again see knitting as a necessary function in every household.  It will continue to be a craft, valued and cherished by those who see its merits. 

Wool does have a place in our future as a sustainable fibre and healthy choice – for both the planet and ourselves – in clothing, building materials, furnishings, interior decoration and many other ways.  Let’s hope that the Wool Group gets it right for New Zealand this time around in this latest incarnation.  Before farmers decide to stop breeding sheep that need shearing and we’re all reduced to wearing icky acrylic!

I found myself with a wry smile to see that New Zealand Wool was one of the funding partners for the British Wool Week.  Incidentally, New Zealand Wool is the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests, incorporated to represent most sectors of the New Zealand Wool Industry – yet another body devoted to marketing New Zealand wool!  How many marketing bodies does this small nation need..!?


The neighbours

I thought I’d introduce you to some of my neighbours today.

I think they’re Suffolk. Or maybe South Suffolk.  The South Suffolk I saw in my trusty “A Short History of Sheep in New Zealand” by Richard Wolfe, shows the cute mohawk that these sheep are sporting, and the body is most like them too.  Their very fine, dense coat positively identifies them as a down-type sheep.

I think I nearly expired from excitement as they were so friendly, and so pretty.  Not friendly enough to come right up to us say hi, but definitely very interested.  Look at their inquisitive faces!  I want some in my backyard! 

More importantly, I want some of their wool to knit with!  I must track down the farmer to find out if their wool is for sale… and then beg the spinner I know to make me some pretty yarn. 😉 

If these are indeed Suffolks, Clara Parkes tells us in her “Book of Wool” that this down-type sheep has a wool of micron count between 26 – 33, a high crimp, low luster and low felting qualities.  The wool is suitable for midrange garments and outerwear, depending on grade.  I was especially interested to see Richard Wolfe talking about tweed for this breed.  Hmm!  It does look like it might make a nice tweedy yarn.

I really loved the one with the silver coat.  She’s gorgeous!

These very cute little lambs, which I think are Romney, were also inquisitive enough to give us a few minutes of their time.   Someone’s done a very dodgy job of shearing them.  Probably the farmer’s kid on his “training wheels”. 

It’s so nice to live in the country. 🙂