Friday, 21 October 2005

Dressing a fleece (March 18 2005)

I got to dress a fleece last night. It wasn't a great fleece (which was why we were playing with it) - it was from a very old merino sheep that had been shorn less than 10 months after the last shearing. The sheep is one of two very elderly sheep that were missed in the round-up when the farm was bought and converted to an alpaca farm. The owners decided to have the sheep shorn when the alpacas were, despite the fact that their fleeces were too short to be any use. And dirty. really dirty, the tips of the wool were really tarry.

But the wool is also 18 micron merino - delightful. So we washed a little bit up. It was amazing how quickly the lanolin, dirt and grease came out with just a tiny bit of soap and hot water. My main job last night was to dye the silk thread I had spun out of caps and I had no spinning project on my wheel at the time, so J gave me a tiny pouf of the cleaned wool and I started to spin it - it takes an amazing amount of spin, especially after having played with silk for a few weeks!

I am a naturally fine spinner - I really have to force myself to thicken my draft if I want anything thicker than lace-weight yarn. After spinning a bit she told me to go finer, so I did, and I was getting a single a fraction of a millimetre across. But because the kinks were so close together, the fibers were grabbing each other anyway, resulting in a very strong, thin thread. I was amazed at just how much thread I was getting out of that tiny pouf of wool. I didn't do too much, because with less than 2" of staple it was very fiddly to play with, but J told me that she thought that as I spin so finely, I should enter a fine-thread competition. In that you choose 10g of thread, and spin as long a plied piece of yarn out of it as you can. That actually sounds like something I'd be good at. I don't think that merino would have coped well with spinning to even 8 ply very well at all.

We also pulled out a Romney fleece - this was totally different. It had much less kinkiness to the fibre, and a much longer staple - 6" or so. We washed the lanolin out of a bit of that as well and flicked it a bit, and voila! It was ready to spin. It required a totally different spinning technique. I did a sample run of making if very fine, and instead of ending up with a luscious, fine, strong thread I got something equally strong, but which felt like string instead. So I did a few more runs of spinning, increasing the thickness and decreasing the spin with each run. By the time I had got to a bulky 20-ply or so, I had a luscious, soft, dreamy yarn that would make you just want to drown in it, if it were made into a sweater or a throw.

Lesson learned last night - don't fight the fibre. It tells you what it wants to be.

I came away with a beautiful yellow/moss green/pinkish brown, tri-dyed spun silk thread, and 200 g of a commercially-dyed navy and lighter blue, 85% merino, 15% flax mix, which I'll spin up this week and later weave into a scarf. Photos will follow. I love this hobby.

Busy day at work today. Expect me to be somewhat quiet.

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