Tuesday, 18 February 2014

February Fibre of the Month - KARAKUL

I realised that I should include some information about the actual sheep.. not just the characteristics of its wool: 

Karakul sheep
imagefrom www.Sheep101.info
Micron count 29+  /  Staple length 15cm - 30cm

One of the oldest breeds of domesticated sheep.  Native to the Plains of Central Asia. Karakul are a fat tailed sheep.. the tail acts like a camels hump, storing nourishment for the animal.  They are double coated and in many places classed as a rare breed.  Described on keepthefleece.org as an 'independent, hardy, adaptable and highly intelligent medium sized breed'.  

An unpleasant fact that I feel I must mention.
The pelts / skins of newborn and foetal Karakul lambs are traded under various names; persian lamb, astrakhan and broadtail being just a few.  To produce this lambs are slaughtered before their 3rd day of life (after which time the fleece becomes harsher and less curly).. or before they are even born.  Foetal pelts often come from ewes who have already had several lambs, a couple of weeks or so before their 4th lambs are due they go for slaughter.  In 2000 the Humane Society investigated and documented the treatment of these animals in a slaughter house outside Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Their findings were shocking (and to me utterly disgusting!) rather than go into it too much here I've included a link to the Humane Society's report.    

Amazingly it didn't cause the same outcry as mulesing does.. and disturbingly the demand for these tiny pelts has actually increased since then. They are used to make karakul hats and they have also been increasingly used in haute couture by top designers - more information can be found here.  

I know this isn't necessarily a relevant fact for felters.. but it is very relevant to this breed of sheep which is why I've included it.

SO Back to the FIBRE

First of all I laid out my sample just the same as last time 20cm x 20cm, this link will tell you more.  And felted it thoroughly for maximum shrinkage.

Very easy and fast felter!  
I used washing up liquid rather than olive oil soap.. as the fibre had a coarse and slightly greasy feel, I tend to find washing up liquid works better with slightly greasy / coarse fibres.

Weight: 13.1g
Finished size: 15cm x 17cm
Shrinkage: 25% x 15%

Karakul fibre sample
Made a strong felt with not a lot of 'give'.  A little 'hairy' in appearance but softer than it looks. Though I certainly wouldn't use it near skin.. I think it would be excellent for bags & slippers.. it is reputed to be very hard wearing.

Next time.. Karakul projects


Teri Berry said...

What an interesting post, I've never heard of Karakul before although it sounds like an interesting wool and the felt looks quite curly.

How horrific that anyone would slaughter a pregnant ewe for her unborn lamb's fleece, thank you for the education, I will definitely be avoiding "persian lamb" fleece. I had no idea anything like this could happen, I've always thought of felt-making as an environmentally friendly craft.

FeltersJourney said...

Hi Teri, thanks for your comment. The practice of slaughtering new borns etc has absolutely no relation at all to felting.. I'm really sorry to of caused confusion here. It is the lamb skins that are used by furriers (the fur trade). I mentioned it because I was talking about the breed and feel that this is a very relevant fact about them.. even though it is actually nothing to do with us felters. You are absolutely right felting is very sheep friendly.. just a haircut :)

Laura McGrath said...

There are so many horrific things that happen to animals -- not sure who even thinks of these things in the first place, but there is a special place in hell reserved for them, I'm sure.

Teri Berry said...

Thanks for clarifying Deborah, I did have images of them shearing dead lambs for their wool but now I stop and think about it that would be daft when you could just shear the lamb at 3 days old. Not that I imagine you would get much wool from a 3 day old lamb.

Angelika Geißler said...

Just discovered your blog and the post about Karakul. I have just worked for the first time with Karakul and love the very dark one. I plan a wall hanging including Karakul. Will get back from time to time. Greetings from Bavaria, Angelika

Anonymous said...

Hi Debora, thank you for your lovely blog. I find it both useful and inspiring.

Speaking about the wool collection process, not everithng is so great in the industry. Somebody I know posted this video on his Facebook page (initially posted by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, UK). It is about how some wool producers in Australia, the source of 90% of the word's merino wool!, perform the "gentle haircut" which is VERY relevant to felting.

Best wishes, Ollie

FeltersJourney said...

Hi Ollie, thanks for your comment :)

I have watched the sickening videos, and wish every suffering inflicted on those poor sheep tenfold onto the people doing it!

This is the minority. Certainly the US case is (in my opinion) showing a bunch of sick bastards torturing and killing sheep.. it's not about sheering to them, looks like they're getting off on the abuse. The Aussy vid I can only think shows a bad crew. If sheep are treated so very badly, as the video shows they get horribly injured and even if they don't die right away many will as a result afterwards. Bottom line each animal killed needlessly eats into the owners profits, it's in farmers and sheerers best interest to keep the sheep healthy. I believe that these videos show exceptional cases of cruelty, not normal practice. To label all wool as a product of cruelty is ridiculous. I have personally watched sheep being sheered here in the UK and can vouch for the fact that a good shepherd / sheerer knows exactly how to handle a sheep so it lies still, calmly and unstressed enabling him/her to clip the fleece as easily as you or I peel a banana. And the sheep skips away looking happy to be free of its' big hot woollen coat.
If I thought for ONE MOMENT that these videos were actually how sheep were routinely treated I would give up felting today!
Peta seem determined to destroy the wool industry, maybe they just want everyone to be vegan. In a recent campaign they show a picture of Jona Weinhofen holding a lamb with great chunks of flesh missing.. but the lamb is actually a fake one (the dude has admitted it was made of foam) and its a young lamb.. who just wouldn't of been sheered anyway. That they are staging pics like this and presenting them as fact reduces their credibility.
Another concern is that if they do bring wool into disrepute, the price of wool will fall meaning that the cost of paying an experienced sheerer to sheer a sheep will cost more than the fleece is worth.. personally I think the higher the monetary value of an animal the less disposable it is to the purely business minded.

If peta want to attack systematic cruelty relating to sheep they should address Atrakhan.. thousands and thousands of Karakul ewes are barbarically slaughtered every year so their foetuses can be ripped out skinned and thrown away as rubbish (as the mothers are). Just so a certain style hat can be made and big fashion houses can use it in their collections (even in 2014 London and Paris Atrakhan was on the runway!). Or Superfine / Ultrafine merino from shedded sheep; sheep are kept in a tiny pen, indoors, usually individually penned 24/7 for 4 or 5 years.. never interacting with other sheep, or feeling grass beneath their feet or eating it etc etc..

ANyway.. to sum up I find the videos as distressing as you, but they don;t represent the way things usually are.. you're always going to get sick assholes who abuse.
Deborah x