dye | look | spin

The Beauty of English Leicester

July 17, 2018

Thank you dear readers for your enthusiastic support of the latest endeavours at Needle and Spindle, and now…a little more news.

Along with the Natural Gradient Alpaca Shawl Kits, I will have also been preparing English Leicester locks for sale at the Artisans Textile Festival next weekend in Bendigo.  For a long time, I have been fascinated with English Leicester fleece. I made it my focus in Waysides: Local Colour from our Home Grounds and used it in both the Waysides Shawl and the Waysides Yoke.

English Leicester has interested me for many reasons: its rare breed status, the legacy of Ethel Stephenson’s work to preserve the breed in Australia, her hand in the breeding program at Collingwood Children’s Farm and the waterways connecting my home ground to the English Leicester flock there. But over and above all these reasons, my fascination lies in the profound difference of English Leicester to the kind of wool that dominates Australian paddocks and yarn stores. It was once the most numerous of all sheep in England but there as here, it is now critically endangered. It is immensely lustrous. Its long staples are a preindustrial legacy not lending themselves to mill spinning and though strong, it can be so soft in the handle. It can be used for durable homewares and yet make a wonderful shawl. English Leicester is  both curious and precious.

I am always trying to find uses for English Leicester, and I have a particular soft spot for the English Leicester fleeces from Collingwood Children’s Farm. They come to me dirty and full of hay for they are not kept for their fleeces but for their genetic and educative qualities and the children do rather throw the hay at the sheep during feeding time. But these fleeces, with a little love and care, reveal their glorious beauty to all.

To compliment Janet Day’s wonderful art yarn batts on sale at the My Spin on Things stand, I have dyed batches of English Leicester lamb locks and adult locks with solar dyes. Whilst these are synthetic dyes, they use much less water and energy than conventional stove-top synthetic dyes and the English Leicester locks just shine.

The locks are available in 25 g packets and are perfect for tail spinning or core spinning as feature locks. Art yarns have capacity to help us see wool in a different way. Art yarns can get us to focus on the aesthetics of fleece and consider the beauty of individual locks for their own sake, separate to their utilitarian applications. I find myself lost in reverie sometimes gazing at English Leicester in an art yarn. The lamb locks are the last from Collingwood Children’s Farm as they have decided to focus their breeding program on the rare breed Shropshire sheep, no more English Leicester babies.

The English Leicester fleece is also particularly suited to Judith Mackenzie’s Wolf Yarn technique, which produces a light airy, single that is balanced, strong and durable enough to be the warp in weaving.

So if, you’ve got the time, come into the Artisans Textile Festival, to the My Spin on Things stall and be beguiled by these English Leicester dyed locks.

The Artisans Textile Festival runs over the Australian Sheep and Wool Show weekend 20th – 22nd July at the North Bendigo Bowls Club.