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Let's Spin . . . Blue Faced Leicester

Let's Spin . . . Blue Faced Leicester

Blue Faced Leicester, or more commonly referred to as BFL, is a favorite fiber of handspinners, as well as knitters, crocheters, and other yarn lovers.  Because of its popularity, BFL fiber is fairly easy to find.  It's also one of the most readily available breed-specific commercial yarns.

photo by Sally Ann Thompson

photo by Sally Ann Thompson

BFL is one of the English Longwools.  The breed originated in Northumberland County, England in the early 1900s.  It was originally developed to cross with other types of sheep to produce high quality crossbred ewes, a reputation they still hold today.  BFL have dark facial skin under white hair, producing a "blue faced" appearance.  Their heads and legs are wool-free.  The Bluefaced Leicester is predominately a white wool breed, but does carry a recessive black gene so black and gray fleeces do occur.

BFL is a fine wool (24-28 microns) with well-defined crimp, and a long staple length typically between 3 and 6 inches.  (refer to this post for term definitions) Their fleece is described as soft, shiny, and with excellent drape.  In general, longwools tend to be coarser fibers, however fabrics made from BFL are fine enough for next-to-skin wear. In addition, their long staple creates a hard-wearing yarn that is resistant to pilling. It takes dyes beautifully.  BFL also blends well with other fibers such as silk and mohair, adding some resiliency to these.  No wonder it is so popular!

BFL handspan singles

BFL handspan singles

Much of the BFL fiber spinners come into contact with is combed top.  I actually spun Louet BFL carded sliver (available here in my shop).  I also have available BFL combed top in three colors - dark, white, and oatmeal, as well as a BFL/Tussah Silk blend.

Carding - a fiber preparation in which fibers are opened and pulled into alignment using a tool with many short teeth.  Carding produces a homogenous loosened mass of fibers (rolags, batts, punis).
 
Combing - a fiber preparation where fibers are aligned, more organized, and smoother (top).
BFL handspan yarn, chain-plied, before wet finishing

BFL handspan yarn, chain-plied, before wet finishing

BFL has a reputation as a good wool for beginners to spin.  Likewise, I found it to be an easy and enjoyable spin.  I had a little clumping, but for the most part the fibers flowed smoothly.  I think the spin might be even smoother with the top preparation rather the sliver.  I used a worsted short-forward draw.  Longwools need less twist to hold them together than other shorter fibers.  Case in point, I found I needed to back off a little from my typical method of adding twist.

BFL handspun chain-plied yarn, finished

BFL handspun chain-plied yarn, finished

I've been wanting to try chain-plying and thought this was as good a time as any to start.  Chain-ply, also known as Navajo-ply, creates a three ply yarn.  Basically, like a crochet chain, you make a loop of yarn,  pull another long loop through, and then ply those three together.  The process of pulling new loops forward and plying is continued until you finish the entire bobbin of singles.   Clear as mud?  This is one of those techniques that is much easier to understand by seeing rather than reading how to do it.  There are lots of You Tube videos that demonstrate chain-plying.  If you want a Craftsy Class that demonstrates this technique, along with so much more, I highly recommend 'Spinning Dyed Fibers' with Felicia Lo.

My first chain-ply attempt was slow.  I stopped each time I pulled a new loop and then plied.  But, in general, I am pleased with my result.  Just like a lot of techniques in spinning, I anticipate a rhythm will develop with practice.

Blue Faced Leicester handspan-Flora & Fiber

Deborah Robson described BFL yarn as "a string of glistening, white pearls" when spun and plied smoothly.  I wouldn't say I accomplished that, but I can see the humble beginnings of this description in my yarn.  I'm anxious to try spinning BFL top as I suspect this will produce a smoother and more lustrous yarn.  I have another pound of BFL sliver that I also want to try dyeing and blending it with other fibers.  Stay tuned! 

Additional Resources:

Bluefaced Leicester Breeders Association

The Practical Spinner's Guide to Wool by Kate Larson

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius

Customizing My Spinning Wheel

Customizing My Spinning Wheel

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