A trip to the Somerset Guild Fleece Fair was the highlight of this year's June Spinning Camp. After a week of rainy days and nights spent listening to the tent flap around me like a washing machine, Saturday dawned fine and full of promise. My last set of clean clothes had remained presentable, even the complicated journey along the lanes across the levels went without a single wrong turn, arriving at Hatch Beauchamp just as the Fair opened. Two friends on the inside, experienced Guild members both, had promised to keep a look out for the perfect grey fleece while the farmers were setting out their stands. As the doors opened, they steered me straight towards it.
Back at home, I looked up from unrolling my Romney on the lawn.
"That one's a beauty, but it wasn't the best fleece there, was it Beaut?"
"How did you work that out, Elinor?"
My companion shrugged.
"Call it intuition. You look one plastic toy short of a Happy Meal."
True enough, even as I arrived at the Ashbury Romney's stand, somebody else had got her purse out and was paying for the exact fleece my friends had pointed out. No matter, the farmer, Philip Prouse, had plenty of other gorgeous specimens for me to choose from.
Surveying my new purchase, I picked off a few wisps of hay.
"I was entirely satisfied when I found this beautiful clean, soft, variegated grey, shearling coloured Romney sheep fleece and it looks just as good now as I when I stashed it in the car boot."
"So what's eating you?"
"After I bought it, I met another friend from camp who had a stand in the marquee. She'd nipped into the hall before the show actually opened and bought an even finer, absolutely amazing silvery grey Romney. It was under her table and she showed me."
My companion roared with laughter.
"Don't let the green eyed monster steal your joy, Beaut."
Soon as my sleeping bag was rinsed and drying on the line, I set to skirting the edges of the fleece. It's a shame the darkest colours are always on the shorter leg and belly wool which gets most matted, but this big fleece had few second cuts and no weak points in open locks with a staple of from 10 to 15cm.
Lustre gleamed along the even crimp. I'd have been happy to spin this fleece with no preparation, just picking apart the freshly shorn locks. Still, having a couple of weeks in hand before the Tour de Fleece, though I hadn't got a suint vat fermented, I decided to set one up for the summer by soaking the Romney for a week in a 90 litre container of cold water.
After one more day having a second rinse in fresh water then a couple of days drying out, the fleece had lost most of its dirt and much of its smell, though a moderate amount of lanolin remained. Though the colour variegations could be split into many shades of grey, I divided it into three broad categories. There was never any real doubt in my mind, there would be no combing or carding the wool, this fleece was begging to be spun from the lock.
Just a few bounces with the flicker was enough to open the tips and butts of the locks. With a small pile of locks prepared, I tried four options, results shown on the card below, described left to right.
Spinning from the fold longdraw, pointing my finger at the orifice of the spinning wheel and pulling backwards was the quickest process, though spinning from the fold short forward draw, with my finger at right angles to the orifice, gave a smoother and more even yarn. Spinning from the butts or the tips produced yarns somewhere in the middle.
"The worsted effect from spinning forward from the fold works well at any weight of yarn, but I think I'd best spin chunky three ply for a thick jacket. This Romney is lovely, but not quite next to the skin soft for knitting the thin cardi I had in mind."
I heaved a sigh and my companion looked stern.
"Old Green Eyes, stop pining for that fleece you didn't buy. Make a friend of this one."
I've taken Elinor's advice. And I've used the fingering weight Romney sample to make her a friend with green eyes.