Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Do you want a haircut with that?

This is the story of the first of three fleeces I recently purchased. We made our yearly day trip to the Fiber Fair at Greencastle, Indiana April 13th. I had a wonderful day and spent many hours looking at the booths. I found that due to my overly saturated spinning stash, I really had no interest in the wide variety of dyed fibers, or alpaca fleeces. The fresh wool fleeces however, still drew my creative interest. I just can not avoid them! In no time at all, my hands where soft with fresh lanolin, and smelling of sheep. I am laughable in my pursuit of what I want to work up into yarn, rapidly covering every vendor there to do a quick scan of every available raw fleece. I soon realize I am going to have to tell my hubby that I will be buying three instead of the 'one' I had solemnly suggested would be my day's purchases. And I did buy three, one because I love the fleece type and have purchased from that vendor every year, and one just because I had never heard of the sheep breed. They are later stories. For now, this is the story of the third fleece, a shetland of the deepest black that I have seen outside of the Black Welsh Mountain sheep breed. It had to come home with me. It weighed 2.3 pounds and was costly as raw fleece goes, at $10/pound. However, as I worked with it, I can say I probably only picked out a dozen pieces of straw, it was an amazingly clean fleece and worth the price.

Here's a picture of the fleece, straight off of the sheep:

And a picture of a few of the locks. Look at the lovely length and crimp.

But did you also see the brown tips? I found this a bit confusing, if the fleece was so clean, it must have been a coated sheep, yet the brown tips seem to indicate to me that the sheep was in the sun, causing that sunburning of the tips. The tips were certainly dry and coarse as if affected by the sun.

Now here's a bit of advice you will not hear from many fiberholics. Do not _ever_ tempt the fibers fates by saying you will _never_ do something. The trickster coyote of whatever existing fiber deities heard me when I said I would never bother with the time consuming task of cutting tips off of every lock. Ahh but I had spun fleece with these dead tips in place before. Yes it gives an interesting tweedy look to the yarn, yes it makes the yarn uniquely handspun, but, there was this fleece that I purchased specifically for the hope of a very black lace weight yarn. Why would I want those tips there? I could hear the trickster coyote baying his laugh, as I sat for two lovely spring mornings, CUTTING OFF EVERY TIP I COULD FIND!

Actually it was delightful work, and one of the main reasons I wrote the previous post about the enviable chance to enjoy several wonderful spring days at my country place. And the final results really did make a big difference.

I spent three days washing the fleece, a third at a time, a process I also enjoy. The fleece fluffed up into lovely black puffs with occasional gray strands, but no dead brown in sight.

The next part of my processing is to decide what needs to be done to spin the yarn I want. I could take a washed lock, and draft straight from that, but an experimental try at that showed that with regular frequency, a tiny bump, a nub of fiber would draft out too. And spinning fine lace weight would really show those nubs. Carding would only incorporate them into the batt, so that left no choice but to comb the fiber creating top. I have very large combs good for the coarser fibers, but this shetland is so fine, I decided to use my smaller hand combs.

At the top of this next photo is a lock of the washed fiber, and below that is the fiber loaded onto the combs.

The next photo shows the fiber combed and partially pulled from the comb. Above the combs is a long drafted piece of top, ready to spin.

Finally in this last photo, a two ply sample of the yarn, spun on a drop spindle. The yarn came off slightly under plied, but balanced.

I do not intend to spin the yarn on a drop spindle, I only used that for a sampling. The rest of the fleece will be spun on my Ashford wheel with the lace flyer. The yarn may even end of thinner, as I am a better spinner on the wheel, than the drop spindle.
Finally, a photo of the waste from the combs. You can see the short cut areas in the fleece, which was causing the nubs.

I am saving all of this waste, because when one combs a fleece there is a very large percentage of waste. I am not sure whether I will spin this alone for a nubby yarn or blend it with something else, or just use it for stuffing. Time to play and experiment will make that decision.
Turning this shetland wool from raw fleece into lace yarn will be a long and slow process. Of course I could have just purchased something dyed and ready to spin. All of you reading this already know that is not why I am doing this. When I finally hold the black lace shawl I see in my mind made from this fleece, I will remember each and every fun part of the process. It is the process that gives me the pleasure, and just adds to the pleasure of the shawl around my shoulders.

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