5 of 51 Yarns: Icelandic Tog

This post is part of a spin-along through 51 Yarns by Jacey Boggs Faulkner, in the Wool n’ Spinning community. For other posts in this series, check here.

The next three yarns are all about dual-coated sheep. This is the last stop in the first section of the book, which is all about the general categories of sheep breeds. Dual-coated wool is so unique that we need to devote three different samples to it.

Some animals have more than one type of fiber growing together. In the Arctic, most land animals have a downy undercoat (qiviut) growing together with a wirey outer coat. This is true not only of muskoxen, but of arctic fox and arctic hare.

In the sheep world, some “unimproved” (think “heirloom,” like a tomato) sheep adapted to cold weather in a similar way. Those breeds survive today in places like Iceland. The Karakul is a dual breed in the Middle East, so obviously it’s not all about extreme cold. I’m not sure what conditions would lead to this adaptation, or maybe all ancient sheep were dual coated.

I’ll be focusing on Icelandic sheep for my three samples. I have a small quantity of Alberta Icelandic (again from Dominion Fleece) which I will separate into my Tog and Thel spins, and I have a large quantity of Maryland Icelandic (from Breezy Willow Farm) which I’ve already carded together.

Here is one complete lock of the Alberta Icelandic. Together it’s pretty long, 5 or 6″.

Tog is the name of the outer coat, and Thel is the downy inner coat. My first job, after giving the fleece a good wash, was to separate them.

After some experimentation, I used my combs to sort of flick open the tip of the lock (which was just Tog and a little sticky, just out of habit) and pulled them apart by hand.

This was trickier than I thought. I guess I thought the Tog would be mostly at the end and would pull easily away. But, and this now seems obvious, the Tog goes all the way through the Thel to the butt of the lock, where it was growing out of the sheep. So it’s a little tricky to hold onto the cut end, which is mostly Thel, in such a way that the Tog can still slip through when I grabbed the end and pulled.

Here is a goodly chunk of Tog pulled out; you can see it’s the full 5-6″ long.

Here is the Thel with Tog removed. You can see it’s more like 3-4″ long.

Here is a closeup of the fibres side by side. Thel on the top, Tog on the bottom. Both seemed pretty fine in this fleece, though the Thel was obviously a little bit finer. The main distinction for me was that the Thel has a lot more crimp, while the Tog is wirey, if still fine.

Here are the separated piles. About half an oz of Tog on the left, 1.3 oz of Thel on the right. Very fluffy. Other spinners in this study have gotten very different proportions of Tog to Thel, or have found the Tog was much thicker, or had Tog that was coloured and Thel that was white. As an unimproved breed, Icelandic has a lot of variety.

I decided to spin the Tog into singles right from the cloud I had made. I have never spun from a cloud before, but this was a nice one. I spun short forward out of it, which was good for controlling those long wirey fibres.

After fulling, the skein is balanced and strong. Even though though the twist angle is low, I could have hurt myself snapping it. No elasticity in this thing. It’s really very beautiful. Not soft even to my tolerant standards, but with that lustre and halo it’s hard not to love it.

I knit it up on US 3s, and it acted wobbly, like my longwool samples. Those wirey fibres don’t want to bend. So just for fun, I knit it into a little lace pattern, the same one I just put on Ms hat. As expected, those holes opened right up.

I’m not sure this yarn is what you’d call useful. I suppose I could make a fancy lace pot scrubber. It’d be great for a mesh bag if it were plied. But honestly I just made this yarn to see if I could. To play!

Next time I’ll talk about my Thel sample, and compare the two.

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