Saturday, January 08, 2011

Yes, yes. There's always room for one more craft...

 My kind neighbour has become my new enabler - he gave me the fleece of one of his Icelandic sheep.  He had three sheep at shearing time this year: one brown, one white, and one brown and white.  Given my choice, I asked for the brown and white fleece.

Man I love fibre.  Who doesn't, really?

I haven't done any spinning since I was a pre-teen.  Back then our family was given the use of a beautiful spinning wheel from one neighbour, and several raw fleeces from another.  I can remember washing wool in buckets in the greenhouse shed...picking crud and vegetable matter (VM) out of it, carding it with hand carders, and spinning it on the wheel.  I don't know how much I really did at the time, and have no wool left from then to show.  I remember the fella who gave us the fleeces when I was young asked me to knit him a scarf...and I think I crocheted him a hat. As an adult, I recognize his lovely social grace in accepting the hat rather than the requested scarf (wherever you are - thank you, Misha).

It's funny how pushing my hands into all this wonderful smelling wool brought so much of that back.  I remember sitting in the unfinished part of our basement (with radio plays from the 30s and 40s on my new 'ghetto blaster'), bits of frass and VM falling on my lap and the floor as I spun.  This is when I first learned about S-twist, Z-twist and plying.  Now, I can't help but wonder how my Mom knew so much about the process!  She is the one who showed me how to use the carding brushes, helped me learn to wash the wool without felting it, and set me up with the spinning wheel.  I have vague memories of her showing me how to use a drop spindle as well - a wooden, bottom/low whorl spindle. The spindle was frustrating, but the wheel was fascinating.

I washed this new fleece this week by filling buckets of uncomfortably hot water and submerging large handfuls of locks in it to soak.  Before the locks were put in, I put a little bit of dish soap in the water to help degrease the fleece a little.  Apparently lanolin melts at 107degrees, so I used as hot water as I could from the tap.  Each bucketful of locks was rinsed by the same method (sitting in a bucket of clear water), with as little agitation as possible.  I used the spin (SPIN ONLY) cycle on our front loading washer to get as much water out of the fleece as possible before setting it up on the rack to dry.  One spin is fine (on my machine it is 11 minutes), two begins to felt the fibres.  (Yes, I found that out the hard way!  Lucky for me the fibres are not so well on their way to felting as to be unusable for spinning.)

Because I'm not the most patient person on the planet when it comes out to new ideas, I elected to spin one spindle-full with unwashed wool (something spinners call 'spinning in the grease').
Some of the current web information about spinning is in favour of 'spinning in the grease' and some is in support of spinning with washed fibres. I love the smell of unwashed fleece and have concrete am not all that worried about having bits of VM and short fibres fall on the floor as I work.  I learned that there is a big difference between spinning 'in the grease', and with washed fleece in terms of feel.  The wool that I spun before washing is thicker and loftier.  I think that is due to the stickiness of the fibres (more stiff to draw), and the stickiness holding the wool together well enough that I didn't have to put quite as much twist in it.  For the technical types out there, that 1st skein has 42degree Z-twist, at approximately 10-13 wraps per inch (wpi), considered to be a heavy Aran weight.  It is quite slubby (thick and thin spots), due to my learning curve. I made about 40M/110g of yarn (single, not plied) in that first skein.  I washed it after spinning and skeining to set the twist.

As I have no proper hand carders any more, I bought a dog brush that matches the one from the cupboard to make a pair of ersatz-carding brushes.  In my spare time, I've been combing up diminutive little rolags.

The spindle I'm using is the one originally posted about here, modified by crazy-gluing two scratched CDs to the top of the whorl.  It's working surprisingly well!  At first I was spinning by predrafting each rolag and the 'draw and park' method shown here, but have since figured out how to keep the spindle spinning while I draw and am making much more even, thinner yarn.

The wool spun 'in the grease' and the wool spun from washed fibres ended up the same colour after the 1st skein was washed to set the twist.  I think I'll continue to spin from the washed fibres, just because I feel more control with the spinning process with the washed fleece.  The smell is not quite so sheep-y, and my hands won't be as soft, but the longer process before spinning makes for less seeds, dung and short fibres by the time I get to the spindle.

Washing ahead also seemed to make it easier to pick out the short, unspinnable fibres from the fleece.  Something I would do next time with a fleece is to take the time to spread it out and pick out as many of the really short fibres, burrs and dung bits as possible before washing.

I'm on my third skein now (each averages about 50M in length, and about 15wpi.
I knit a beret from the first 1.5 skeins off the spindle using a pattern designed to show off the loveliness of thick/thin 'designer' yarn.  It went together really quickly, and without incident my the slubby yarn.
Now to knit Todd a toque to say thank you.  Or maybe a scarf?

Happy Saturday,

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