Navajo-Churro Sheep 

Last spring I saw an inspiring lecture at my knitting guild by Susan Strawn, author of Knitting America, where she presented her doctoral thesis on Churro Sheep, and the craft culture of the Navajo Indians.   I was reminded of it as I was cleaning out my emails.  I had written to Susan after her lecture to say how much I enjoyed it, and she replied and directed me to this interview.

The Churro Sheep were systematically wiped out by the US government first in 1865 by a massive slaughter prior to leading the Navajo on the long walk to Arizona, and again in the 1930’s by government imposed stock reductions.  Or so they thought.  The breed was considered extinct until Dr. Lyle McNeal and others started collecting and selectively breeding the sheep through the Utah State University.  This is a great interview that aired on NPR last summer talking about the “Sheep is Life” festival that takes place every year in Arizona, and a bit of the history of the sheep.

These sheep have been saved from extinction, and are no longer considered endangered.  If you have been reading this blog, you will know that I just purchased a used spinning wheel and I am having great fun (not great success yet) spinning on it.  I had taken a drop spindle class a year ago, and never really got the hang of it.  At the time of the class, I purchased 2 balls of Roving that I thought I would like to spin.  They happened to be Navajo Churro.

Now that I have a real spinning wheel, this wool will be coming into play soon.

The Navajo-Churro sheep is considered a primitive breed, a direct descendant of the Churra sheep brought to Mexico in 1494 by Spanish explorers.  It has a long hair outercoat, and a fine wool undercoat.  Mainly used for weavings, the undercoat is good for outerwear.  I am assuming that these rovings are the undercoat, as they feel very soft.  I should be able to tell by the staple length.  The wool comes in a wide range of natural colors.

Characteristics (from The book of Wool):

  • Fineness: Undercoat:  18-30 microns; Outercoat: 30-47 microns
  • Staple length:  Undercoat:  3-6″; Outercoat: 6-8″
  • Crimp:  Low, with curly tips
  • Luster:  Moderate
  • Suitable for:  Midrange garments, Outerwear
  • Felting Qualities:  Medium