Friday, 23 January 2015

Washing and Hand Spinning Black Wensleydale Fleece

Shankend Farm has acquired two new hoggs with lambs at foot. This is Kate's photo of them, coming off the trailer last summer.  Great was the excitement in the Shankend group on Ravelry, as these sheep are Black Wensleydales and their fleeces had travelled with them, ready for sale.

Wensleydale sheep are a longwool breed and their fleece is much prized by hand spinners. Though the micron count of the individual fibres is not especially fine, the staple length is very long and everyone ooh and aahs over the lustre.  Here is the sheep my wool came from, taken after she had been shorn. Below is a picture of a longwool sheep I saw at a show. 
Here is the box with my 200g of raw locks.  Just imagine that ewe covered in glossy black ringlets next summer.
Time to consult The Spinners' Book of Fleece.  On Beth Smith's recommendation, I invested in a bottle of Unicorn Power Scour. Following her instructions, this raw fleece had a 20 minute soak in three successive baths of hot water with detergent, then three hot rinses.  Loads of dirt came out.  I put the sample sachet of Unicorn Fibre Rinse in the last rinse bath.
My companion, Elinor Gotland, was impressed.
"Got to hand it to you, Beaut.  You only have to do it wrong a dozen times before you'll take advice. Tidy result.  Oh, now look, some of these butts are matted.  You agitated that fleece."
"Might have squodged it up and down a bit.  Just to help the dirt out."

I was useless at combing the locks, too. The fibres did not go into an electric fuzz, like some of my past attempts, probably thanks to the Fibre Rinse.  However, added to the internal fibres crossing, the locks rotate in a spiral.  Starting at the tips, tugging at the tangles soon pulled the butts out of the other comb.  

Instead of just opening the tips with the flicker, I resorted to flicking the whole way to the middle, then back from the butt, aligning the fibres of one lock at a time.
This was time consuming, but pleasurable in itself.  Black Wensleydale does not feel coarse at all, more silky and the great length of fibres was completely new to me.  Since the crimp is more like a wave, I imagined much less twist should be used in the spinning.
Just holding a bunch of aligned fibres was challenge enough, never mind calculating the number of treadles per inch of drafting.  With my hands far apart, to let the long staple length slide, I did manage to spin from the tips, with intermittent tangle events. Joining each new lock on needed a considerable overlap.
Though the singles were fine, they were very uneven.  Spinning from the fold helped, but having started, I pressed on with working from the tips, hoping that practice would improve matters.  These lustrous bobbins show how much I got from almost the whole 200g raw locks.  I plied them just beyond the balance, which seemed a moderate amount of twist while I was working.
The yarn had a nice hot bath with another squirt of Unicorn Power Scour, a final rinse and was hung up to dry.  I must have been a bit rough, again, because the strands of yarn had to be peeled apart when rolling the skein into a ball. Still, this was fingering weight spinning, look, 15 wraps per inch.  At least, it looks like that when I measure a bit without lumps.
Showing the yarn without a flattering amount of tension, you can see it is balanced after its wash, but terribly loosely plied. I must have put very little twist in the singles - those long staples do fly through the hands.  Bound to split easily while knitting and it would be a devil to crochet. On reflection, I've learned a lot more making this one substandard ball of wool than from many, easier, better ones. Wensleydale has very different characteristics to fine or Down type fleeces.  It felts easily and must be cleaned very gently.  I need to take some to Spinning Camp to be shown how to comb it. If I could make some roving, I bet that would be more straightforward to draft.  Above all, this is a beautiful, fine, strong, shining fibre and it will be worth it.

The bottle of Unicorn Power Scour has much less left in it than I thought.  I suspect Elinor Gotland has been helping herself. 

Because she's 
worth it.


  1. oooohh that yarn looks lovely! Gorgeous colour!

    Good grief...Elinor in her bath!

  2. Yes, I thought it might trigger parental control alarms on the computer, but it seems this bathing beauty shot is ok.

  3. Lovely finished ball of yarn. I spin mohair locks and find a dog comb works well.


  4. Mohair? Is that the fuzzy wool, with a halo I think I remember from early 80s cardis? What do the locks look like? Intriguing.