February 21, 2011

Ouessant Wool 101 n° 5 : "Of Locks, Style, and Character"

Un Petit Guide de la laine ouessant, n̊ 5 : “Des mèches, du style, et du caractère"

Sheep’s wool naturally grows in the form of locks. A lock of wool has a very distinctive look and to a certain extent it is the lock formation that makes for a beautiful fleece.

In general, when wool is growing on the sheep, the individual fibers tend to organize themselves into small clusters of wool. These clusters or locks of wool can be seen when you spread open the fleece of a sheep. They can also be seen after shearing, when the fleece seems to naturally break apart into small clumps or clusters of fibers.

La toison du mouton se présente en forme de mèches. Une mèche de laine a une forme bien distinctive et en quelque sorte elle fait la beauté de la toison.

Généralement, lors de sa croissance, la laine s’organise en petits paquets de fibres. Ces petits “paquets” ou mèches de laine se voient quand on écarte la toison. D’autre part, on les voit après la tonte, quand la toison, sans manipulation, semble se diviser en petits paquets de fibres.

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In particular, Merino wool is noted for its very distinctive, beautiful locks. But all of the so-called modern and improved breeds of sheep also have their own characteristic lock structure.

La laine mérinos est particulièrement reconnue pour ses belles mèches très distinctives. Mais l’ensemble des moutons dits modernes et “améliorés” ont de mèches de laine bien caractéristiques.

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Unlike the improved breeds of modern sheep, the Ouessant sheep and his primitive cousins don’t have a distinctive lock structure.

À l’encontre de races ovines dites améliorées, le mouton d’ouessant et ses cousins primitifs n’ont pas de mèches remarquables.

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Primitive sheep lack distinctive, well formed-locks, which makes the fleece look like a solid mass of wool. The Ouessant fleece is no exception to this rule. Jasper’s fleece is an excellent example of this lack of lock structure :

Dépourvu de mèches distinctes et bien structurées, la toison de moutons primitifs se présente plutôt comme un amas de laine “en bloc”. La toison ouessant n’échappe pas à cette règle générale. À titre d’exemple, la toison juvénile de Jasper, bélier gris, montre bien ce phénomène :

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In order to separate a “lock” of ouessant wool from the fleece, you need to pull the lock out of the fleece by its long tapered tips. Even then, although the lock of wool is separated from the fleece, we can see that a lock of Ouessant wool lacks structure.

Pour séparer une “mèche” ouessant de la toison, il faut la retirer par ses longs points effilés. Pourtant, même séparée de la toison, une mèche de laine ouessant fait preuve d’un manque de structure.


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So what exactly is this structure? And why does the merino have so much of it and our little Ouessant sheep so little and so rarely?

Lock structure is dependant on one thing : uniformity! For a beautiful, well structured lock, all of the fibers must line up perfectly. And in order to do this all of the fibers must be very uniform. When there are several different types of fibers of varying lengths and diameters the fibers cannot line up with each other. Additionally, the presence of these different types of fiber makes it almost impossible to see the wool’s crimp.

Alors, qu’est-ce que c’est cette structure ? Et pour quoi le mérinos en a autant tandis que notre petit mouton d’ouessant n’en a que très peu et très rarement ?

La structure de la mèche dépend d’une seule chose : l’uniformité. Pour une belle mèche, bien formée, il faut que l’ensemble des fibres soit très uniforme pour faire en sorte qu’elles s’alignent parfaitement. Quand il y a plusieurs types de fibres à diamètre et à longueur variables les fibres ne peuvent pas s’aligner. Grâce à toutes ces fibres différenciées, il est quasiment impossible de voir le “crimp” (les ondulations naturelles de la laine).

As we have already seen, uniformity is not one of the qualities of an Ouessant fleece. So the lack of well structured locks of wool in an Ouessant fleece should not be at all surprising.

That being said, from time to time we do find locks of Ouessant wool that almost have a distinctive structure. But this is relatively rare and generally only found in certain areas of the fleece, notably around the neck. For example, in the following photo, we can see a few more or less distinctive locks of wool around the neck of Chti des Lutins du Montana.

Comme nous avons déjà vu, l’uniformité n’est pas au rendez-vous dans une toison ouessant. Alors ce manque de mèches bien structurées chez l’ouessant n’a rien d’étonnant.

Pourtant, de temps en temps, nous pouvons voir chez le mouton d’ouessant des mèches de laine dont la structure est presque distincte. Mais c’est assez rare et normalement localisé autour du cou. Par exemple, dans la photo suivante, nous pouvons voir quelques mèches
(autour du cou) plus ou moins distinctes chez Chti des Lutins du Montana.

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In the world of textiles, when we see well structured locks of wool that have a distinctive crimp pattern, we talk about a fleece that has style. On the other hand, we talk about a fleece’s “character” when we want to describe the overall look of a fleece : the style of the locks, the crimp pattern, and the color & feel of the wool.

So even if an Ouessant fleece doesn’t have a lot a style, in my opinion, it does have a distinctive character : both soft and rustic, in a range of exquisite colors ...

Dans le monde textile, quand on voit les mèches de laine bien structurées avec les ondulations distinctes, nous parlons d’une toison qui a du style. D’autre part, on parle du “caractère” pour désigner l’aspect global de la toison : le style des mèches, la couleur de la laine, les ondulations naturelles, et la douceur.

Alors, il se peut qu’une toison ouessant n’ait pas beaucoup de style, mais à mon avis elle a un caractère tout à fait à part : à la fois douce et rustique et aux couleurs exquises ...

... to be continued ...
... à suivre ...

7 comments:

knitterlyanne said...

This series is being fascinating! Thanks so much for giving lots of information in bite-sized pieces. I feel as though I've learned quite a bit.

Jody said...

I think it is like you say Dianne. The Ouessant is not "modern and improved" so they have a more rustic quality to the fleece. Maybe that does scare some away from Ouessant.Some Shetland breeders in the States have been successfully breeding that lack of uniformity out of the Shetlands.

Diane said...

Knitterlyanne, thank you very much for your kind words.
I really had to break all the info down ... hopefully it all makes sense in the end. Oh, and by the way, there's more to come!

Diane said...

Hi Jody!
I'm sure that some spinners would not appreciate working with an ouessant fleece. It is afterall a rustic, primitive fleece. One of the reasons I wanted to do this wool series was to explain what an ouessant fleece was all about. Another thing that I wanted to do was show that rustic and primitive was not necessarily a bad thing : it's just different & can in fact be extraordinarily beautiful. But it's not a merino or a romney or a .....
I know that some shetland breeders in the US have bred out the lack of uniformity in their sheep. Personally, I think this is a real shame : each breed, be it ouessant, shetland, etc has a particular genetic diversity that needs to be protected and saved. This is particularly true for a "rare" breed like the ouessant. It would be close to criminal (IMHO) to breed out the lack of uniformity in an ouessant fleece. If I want to spin merino, I buy merino ... I don't want to raise ouessant sheep that are mini-merinos (or mini romneys, etc..) I think that it is very important to protect and cherish the rare and special gene pool that is found in ouessant sheep. And the best way of doing that is by celebrating what an ouessant fleece actually is, not by complaining about its shorcomings or selectively breeding for what it is not.
Oh dear! Sorry ...that turned out to be quite a little rant! It's just that I'm very passionate about protecting and saving the essential genetics of ouessant sheep. It's considered one of the oldest breeds of sheep and among the most primitive. And, in my rather biased opinion, I do think that the wool is beautiful ... no it's not merino ... it's not romney .... it's ouessant ...

Jody said...

I totally understand what you are saying Diane and I agree with you wholeheartedly!
I am still trying to figure out how best to use the Gotland fleece. Yes it is %Gotland but it still has it's own unique qualities. There is a place for all types of wool.
(I did just receive my 3 colours of covered Cormo fleece yesterday and it is so fine and soft!!)

Diane said...

Hi Jody!
I'd love to know what you end up doing with the Gotland. I have about 8 oz. of Gotland. Very interesting wool. The color is heaven. I've been doing a bit with merino too. I love that fact that there are different breed of sheep that give different types of wool. But I do think that it can be difficult to figure out what certain wools "should" be used for.

Jody said...

Diane last year I had some Gotland blended with white Suri alpaca and blue coloured Bamboo to make a 2ply light sportweight yarn. It is so beautiful with a lovely halo. Very silky and drapey and I will use it for lace. I like to blend the Gotland with Alpaca because I have alot of Alpaca and it makes the Gotland much softer to touch.

Thank you for visiting the Spinning Shepherd!