Friday, 23 September 2016

Manx Loaghtan Handspun Wool Cushion

My first visit to Wonderwool Wales in 2013 proved to be a weekend of the highest excitement.  New to spinning, it was there that I began wading through the shallows toward the depths of my ignorance.  I shudder, now, to think how I used to refer to all yarn, from alpaca to acrylic, as 'wool'.  Staggering towards the exit on Sunday afternoon, a trader packing up raw fleece offered me half price on her remaining Manx Loaghtan. Since these rare breed sheep are small and primitive, their fleeces only weigh a couple of kilos.  A big, strong girl like me could surely manage to carry home one more bag. The deal was done, what a bargain, beautiful, unusual, gingery brown wool.
Off to my first spinning camp a couple of months later, I didn't want to put anything coarse or crappy on the swop table, so I left the Welsh Mountain fleeces at home and steeled myself to offer up half my washed Manx Loaghtan.  Couldn't understand why it was still there at the end of the camp.  Mystifying.
Put away against the day when I became a better spinner, it was a pleasant surprise to rediscover the other half of the fleece, still in a pillow case in the loft.  Looking at things positively, I have definitely become a better judge of fleece than I was back then.  

Manx Loaghtan locks typically have a widely varied staple length. This one also had a break in the staple, about 2cm up. Matted, felted areas were probably not all due to my washing technique, as they were worst on the chest and shoulder. Oh cringe, no wonder no-one had wanted the other half from the swop table.

"Take it straight to the compost heap, Beaut.  That's what I'd do."
My companion, Elinor Gotland, is a ewe of ruthless purpose.  I hugged the full pillow case to my chest.
"But I spent ages washing this fleece."
"Cut your losses and spin something worth spending time on.  That's real wisdom, knowing when to stop."  
Some lessons I have yet to take to heart.
"Look at the pretty colour, though, feel how soft the fibre is."  I passed Elinor one of the nicer locks.  "Like cafe au lait, pale and frothy on the top."  I sat down at the wheel and started drafting out a thick single, straight from the fleece.  "I just want to try spinning Manx Loaghtan, it's such an ancient breed, saved from extinction on the Isle of Man. Even the ewes have those curious horns and long legs.  The breeders' website says they are remarkably athletic sheep.  'Good quality stock fencing not less than 1.1m high is essential.'"  Elinor snorted.
"Minx could have hurdled that, no trouble at all."
"A wild Loaghtan I met in Paris, danced the cancan in a cabaret, marvellous at high kicks.  So talented, such a shame - she's another one who never learned when to stop." 
"How's that?"
"One night, she tossed her head and went one grande battement too far - got her horns caught in the chandelier and brought the house down.  Literally."

It didn't take long to spin up half that small fleece and Navajo ply a lumpy yarn.  Without any combing or carding, the pale tips of the locks remained intact, stippling the brindled brown.  There was enough wool to knit up into a stocking stitch cushion which matches the sofa rather well. Manx Loaghtan fibre is uncommonly fine, not what you'd imagine from a so-called primitive breed.  When the time comes to stop and sit down, we now have a very comfy cushion.


  1. Beautiful cushion. I just read an old 1860 I think ettiquette for young ladies,I can't find it again for the life of me to give you the link. It says in washing clothes to keep the colour from running to wash them in alum. Thought this might be worth a try for your cotton prints. The last blue cotton shell print was beautiful anyway though, thought I would let u know.

    1. How interesting - a sort of post dyeing mordant, maybe? I knew alum had been in use as a pickling agent for a long time, but I supposed it to be a relatively modern chemical

  2. That cushion is lovely. My Manx Loughton isn't soft at all, quite scratchy really, but it would make a good cushion :D

  3. I love Manx as well - I made a sweater for DS out of it, with knitted in polar bears in something white and fluffy. of course it's not soft worn on bare skin, but as winter woollies go, most people wear something underneath anyway. and the colour is lovely with that foxy brown! I need some more - and this time I plan to use it with an old german breed called coburg fox - it's much lighter in general, but it contains some manx brown hair in the mix!