Friday, 17 May 2013

Gotland and Zwartbles Sheep Fleece - Durable Projects

Gotland and Zwartbles sound like two detectives from a European crime series, like the ones they've been showing on Saturdays on BBC 4. Gotland would be a moody, intense Swede and Zwartbles her bouncy Dutch sidekick.  The two sheep fleeces would have trouble looking more different, but both have great durability.  Imagine the detectives, one older, with wild silver curls and the other with a brunette beehive and plenty of cleavage.  I shall write them a screenplay entitled The Girl with the Sheep Tattoo
The Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook tells me Gotland sheep originated in Sweden.  They are not common in Great Britain.  I got mine from BarberBlackSheep, you can find her forum on the Ravelry website  Not only does she keep a small herd of Gotlands from which she sells sorted locks, free of debris, she also replies constructively to naive and stupid comments and questions from beginners.  This is not an ordinary wool.  You can see the strong, fine fibres in their long open waves and ringlets, but my photo does not do justice to the subtle blue sheen of the real thing.  Like Zwartbles, Gotland fleece felts easily.  My plan to give the whole lot a good scrub in the bath was gently diverted to putting a small amount in a net bag and leaving it to soak undisturbed in cold water for two days, before gently lowering it into hot soapy water for five minutes, then into several similar rinses before laying out to dry.  

This is the first time I have washed fleece before spinning.  I understand that a good way to take advantage of the fabulous colours and sheen, keep the weight and drape, yet produce yarn suitable for a sweater, is to blend Gotland with other, complimentary types of wool or silk.  I really fancy trying a Gotland/silk mix - one day.  Once blended, such a yarn probably wouldn't take well to scouring up to 80 degrees Centigrade.  

First, I decided to get the feel of Gotland on its own. I have been warned that to avoid a hairy fuzz and keep the sheen, Gotland should be spun worsted, that is from the end of a combed or carded roving which aligns all the fibres, rather than spinning woolen from a rolled up rolag.  

Until I get a pair of combs for my birthday, I have only the hand carders.  Rolling the carded Gotland off sideways kept the fibres aligned.  Gently tugging the ends of the bundle created a sort of roving, but this is not the way one should do it, just as good a way as I could. 

Spinning semi-worsted with low twist, as instructed, took a lot of false starts, with the single ply fibre breaking over and over again. Eventually, I got the basic idea and spun my own tiny storm cloud of two ply pure Gotland, about double knitting to aran weight. Now I needed a small project that would show off the lovely colours and take full advantage of its durability.

Pottering about on Ravelry, I came across the perfect thing, a crochet pattern for a macrame style owl hanging designed by Thomasina Cummings, who also shares a forum, dc2tog. If you don't use Ravelry, she has an Etsy Shop where you can get this and many other patterns The owl pattern is not intrinsically complex and is very clearly written.  I don't have advanced skills and need to get the book out to do anything more than simple chain and double crochet stitches.  This was the most absorbing puzzle to work out row by row, a really pleasurable afternoon.  

On the beach, I found pebbles with holes in for eyes and sticks for a perch. Here is Driftwood the storm-tossed owl.  I think he will withstand a season in the garden.

I enjoyed making this owl so much, I wanted to make another straight away. 

Zwartbles is another fleece suitable for the great outdoors. It is now familiar, it was quick and easy to flick comb and spin more superbulky balls from my remaining raw fleece. A 7mm crochet hook was about right.  Rather than wash away all the protective lanolin, I just gave this owl a long cold soak and a rinse to get the dirt out.

Presently, I am grieving over the loss of the garden fence.  The posts have rotted at the base and it is only held up by the espalier apples I have been training for fourteen years. Replacing the fence with a permanent wall means uprooting the apples.  Much as I appreciate my mud spattered husband's Augean labours digging out the footings in the rain and much as I shall enjoy planting new things, I am a bit gutted.  The Zwartbles Owl is called Applewood and has apple branch hangers.  Couldn't manage applewood eyes, because the wood is still green, in fact growing and blossoming  ...  [Sound FX - a stifled sob - I can write screenplay].  

There were some peeled larch branches dried out on the wood pile, so while Steve slaved with a spade, I stayed out of the rain in the garage and had a great time playing with power tools. 

I made a pile of rustic larch wood buttons, gave them a rub with olive oil and reckon they should last and function as buttons.  I am now not so much loosing my espalier apples as  seasoning the wood for a winter of applewood button making. Loads of raw material to try out an apple bark dye bath too.

Since Gotland and Zwartbles both felt well, what better use for them than to be needle felted into another pot on the sponge football? (see last week's blog) Perfect for keeping the buttons in.

The plot for The Girl with the Sheep Tattoo is coming on nicely.  My brother Matt can play the Midnight Shearer.  Such is his skill, that in pitch darkness, he soundlessly steals the finest fleeces to order, for a cartel of unscrupulous spinners.  I shall insist on going on location to screen test the most photogenic sheep - there will be shorn sheep nudity, but all in the best possible taste.  Phoebe can be The Girl, top fleece spotter and criminal mastermind, a thoroughly modern Moriarty. 

My other brother Roo will be typecast as captain of a small ship, smuggling fleeces out from obscure ports all over Europe, under the very noses of the detectives.  I foresee a row with BG over which of us gets to be Gotland, but the wig will suit me best and I don't have the cleavage to be Zwartbles.  Yes, there will be tears, but it will all be worthwhile when we get to sit next to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freems at the BAFTAs next year.

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