Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Navajo-Churro Fiber and Yarn

Churro fiber seems to have a bit of a bad reputation among knitters and crocheters, accused of only being good for weaving rugs. If I had heard this when I first began spinning yarn about 20 years ago, I probably would never have tried it, but I was lucky.

One of the benefits of attending a spinner's group when you're a new spinner is all the free stuff you get. A portion of a Churro fleece was some of the free stuff I got and it was a beautiful medium gray with the typical 20% hair and 80% wool. Taking my time, I chose to separate the hair from the wool by holding on to the 6-8 inch hair and using a dog brush to pull out the soft 3-4 inch wool. First I spun the wool into an incredibly soft yarn that I used to make a baby bonnet for charity. How I wish I had kept some of it. I spun the hair into wonderfully durable yarn that I incorporated into one of my first tapestry crochet bags.

I was hooked, but had no idea how or where to get more. When we visited the Two Gray Hills Trading Post I discovered they had Churro roving for sale. Against my better judgment I purchased some and played with it in the car for the next half hour. I say "against my better judgment" because I had found out about 2 years after my first Churro encounter (through testing at the doctor's office) that I'm allergic to sheep's wool. REALLY allergic.

But...I didn't react to the Churro. For whatever reason, I'm allergic in varying degrees to all the sheep on the planet except Churro. So I've begun spinning it again and find that it's a very versatile fiber.

Yes, it will usually be coarse, but it can also be quite soft on occasion. It all depends on the animal. It's an extremely durable fiber and takes dye well, so the colors come out nice and bright compared to other wools. Because it has very little lanolin, it can be spun without being washed.

There are a lot of really great sites for finding out more information on the history of the Churro sheep.  But long-story-short, it is a breed that originated in Spain and was brought here by the Conquistadores. The Navajo collected and nurtured the animal and it is a breed particularly suited to the extreme conditions of the American Southwest. They come in a bunch of beautiful natural colors from black to gray, and from dark brown to gold.

There are very few places that offer Churro yarn ready to go, so you'll probably have to spin it yourself. What I like to do with my handspun is make tapestry crochet bags since the fiber strength gives me a fabric that is durable. And over-dying the natural colors gives a deep natural richness to the tones. In the photo on the left, the reddish-brown ball is a gray-brown over-dyed with Strawberry Kool-Aid.

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