Series (Installment 3 – Icelandic Wool): Spinning my way through the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook

This is the third post in the Series.  Follow the links below to view the 1st and 2nd posts in this series.

Installment 1 – Huacaya Alpaca
Installment 2 – Corriedale Wool

Icelandic Wool 

This breed originated in Iceland and is hardy and adapted to harsh, changeable climate and marginal pasture and browse conditions. Ewes are prolific, good milkers and possess exceptional longevity. The Icelandic has historically been a meat breed, but is also a noted source of wool for lopi yarn. Fleece colors can be white, tan, brown, gray or black. The breed is both polled and horned with both sexes capable of horn growth.” 1

  • Fiber Characteristics – Icelandic fleece are dual-coated.  There is a long outer coat called the tog and a downy soft undercoat called the thel.  The can be separated or spun together.  Icelandic fleece is a very versatile fiber and  the tog/thel combo can be spun into a single ply lopi type yarn (although a true lopi is actually slightly twisted roving) , 2-ply tog/thel combo or can be separated.  The tog is long and strong and can be spun for warp or a variety of uses.  The soft thel undercoat can be spun by itself or blended with fine fibers such as alpaca to make a next to skin soft yarn.  Micron of the tog (27-30) with an average staple of 4-18 inches, micron of the thel (19-22)  with an average staple of 2 – 4 inches. 1
  • Grades  – There are not typical grades like that of alpaca, but from my experience, lamb and hoggett fleece are softer than adult as one might expect.  Also on a lamb/hoggett fleece, the tog and the thel are closer in micron and the resulting yarn is softer.  As a sheep ages, it seems that the tog gets coarser, much like alpaca fiber. 
  • Blending  – The thel is wonderful blended with other soft fibers like alpaca for next to skin wear! Blending the tog and the thel together and spinning it is very common and makes a wonderful strong yarn for outerwear, but on young fleeces, the tog and thel can be blended together and still be next to skin soft.    
  • Prep Work   – most often, I like to card this fiber into batts or rolags to spin, but Icelandic can be spun from the lock as well.  It is best if you feed the fiber cut side into the carder. If I am going to separate the tog and thel, I like to do so before washing, but it can also be accomplished after.  I separate by hand, but you can also use a single pitch comb if you prefer.  Do not use double pitch combs as all of that beautiful thel fiber will end up as waste.   Careful washing is VERY important for this wool more so than other wools as Icelandic fiber is some of the best fiber on earth to felt with.  I have even found that the fiber in my draft hand will felt from the moisture in my hand, so I take only a small amount to hold at any one time.  Any agitation in the wash and you will find yourself having a solid mass rather than fiber to spin.  It usually requires only one wash in hot water to remove the lanolin and 2 hot rinses as they are not a really lanolin heavy.  My experience is a loss of 15% or less to lanolin.  (I will be doing a video of tog/thel separation in the near future and will update this with a link
  • Spinning Ease –  When well prepared, Icelandic spins like a dream.  I have seen many folks afraid of this fiber on discussion groups, but for me it is one of the most fun fibers to spin.  It is so versatile!  I would not recommend it for a true beginner, but after some experience conquering other wools and wool prep, I say jump in and enjoy.  True traditional Icelandic Lopi (from native Iceland) is defined as a “slightly twisted” and is very light and airy and is more “roving” like.  True Lopi should not be confused with a “single”, but many people use the two interchangeably.  I have never spun true Lopi, but I do have a single pictured below. 

    “The machine-carded roving is produced in disc-shaped rolls. This is the original unspun lopi first used for knitting c.1920’s. More recently, lightly spun lopi yarn in different thicknesses has become available.” 2
  • Dye Uptake :  you can see from the pic below that Icelandic takes dye wonderfully.  Healthy fiber (from healthy animals), like the ones I have had the pleasure of working with has a natural sheen and beauty and produces wonderful jewel-toned colors.  
  • Setting : Wet setting is accomplished like any other wool yarn.  Submerse in hot water, no agitation and hang to dry.  With “Lopi” style yarn, I do a tiny bit of fulling by a submersion in hot water followed by a submersion in cold water, no agitation and then some good  thwacks (4 – 5)  and hang to dry.  I also let my “Lopi” yarn sit on the bobbins for at least 48 hours to “relax” before skeining. It makes a world of difference! 
  • Knitting : Icelandic is wonderful to knit with and can be used for next to skin garments for all but the most sensitive of people.  It is durable and can be used for almost any project.   The lamb/hoggett fleeces are very soft if not overspun, and can be enjoyed next to skin by almost anyone, even if not separated.   

    Some of my work with Icelandic wool.  I spin a lot of Icelandic, so I chose this selection to show the versatility of Icelandic.

    Batts blending both tog and thel.  Dyed a raspberry colorway.
    A lovely soft natural copper color to the right.  Fiber from my friend Tracy. 
    Tog and thel blended together into a 2 ply yarn.  Fiber from my friend Connie
    Tog and thel blended together into a 2 ply yarn with guineau
    feathers incorporated.  Fiber from my friend Connie
    Thel only.  So shiny and soft – 2 ply.  Fiber from my friend Connie.

    Tog only.  Strong and tightly spun 3 ply because of it’s intended
    use.  Fiber from my friend Connie.

    Tog and thel blended together into a 2 ply yarn.  Fiber from my friend Connie.

    Tog and thel blended together and then plied with a cut up
    silk scarf.  
    Fiber from my friend Connie. 
    “Lopi”style yarn still on the bobbins – fiber
     from my friend Deb – Sheep “Agnus Dei” 
    Finished well “relaxed” Lopi Style yarn.
    Fiber from my friend Deb – sheep “Astrid” 

    2 thoughts on “Series (Installment 3 – Icelandic Wool): Spinning my way through the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook

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