While visiting a family ranch up north, I was gifted a huge amount of raw wool. During a tour of the ranch the owner showed us a pile of recently sheered fleece the size of a pick up truck. I asked him how much he was selling them for and he laughed saying they were all going to be thrown away. And so happily, I ended up with two large bags of Navajo-Churro wool.
|each fleece is a different color|
I learned the Navajo-Churro is renowned for its hardiness and adaptability to extremes of climate. It's wool consists of a protective topcoat and soft undercoat. Some rams have four fully developed horns, a trait shared with few other breeds in the world. The Navajo-Churro is also popular due to its low-maintenance reputation, resistance to disease, and lean meat. Although this breed is often raised for it's wool alone, the rancher we visited was raising his sheep solely for meat.
|underside of fleece|
This being my first time working with raw fleece I decided to do some research. I emailed a local artist who makes the most amazing raw wool creations. She graciously gave me some wonderful advice. She said that learning in a hands-on way is definitely the best way. But as a general suggestion, if you are just playing around with the wool, she recommends not using carding combs or other mechanical carders to prepare your wool. By using your hands to open the locks of wool you will develop a sensory and intuitive relationship with the fleece, a strong tactile connection. Using carding combs is fine when you already know what you are doing and just need to process the wool faster, but it is important to learn the fiber. So, practice taking small hand fulls of your fleece, opening them up and observing the fiber and how it behaves in your hands. You can "hand-pick", as this is called, enough wool to make a flat sheet or a hat or a pouch, and then felt it by hand. Because Navajo-Churro is low in lanolin, and as so much soap is used in the felting process, she doesn't wash her wool first.
I love her advice! So I immediately spent hours picking and teasing the wool with my hands. After about a half a day of doing this, when I felt I understood how the fiber acts in my hands, I went in search of a carder. Low and behold, a spectacular neighbor came over to lend me her drum carder. And after getting acquainted with the machine we ended up with a nice basket of beautifully carded wool roving. No washing, not too much fuss.
I am so ecstatic about this wool! The smell, the texture...I have plans for a wet felted bag and hat in the near future. We may even have to trade our goats for few Navajo Churro sheep.