Handspinning lace weight yarn was once a far off dream, a distant goal. Friends told me it isn't actually that difficult, so long as you have well prepared fibre. I was convinced they were right on spinning camp, when I first managed to spin some purple roving finely. It has taken a lot longer for me to commit to proper fibre preparation at home.
Those who read this blog will know I have carried on trying to get fingering weight yarn out of fleeces, despite the same old slapdash scouring. Spinning some commercially scoured and combed Wensleydale just lately rammed home the original advice. More effort in the preparation will pay dividends with the spinning. The photo shows raw Polwarth fleece, some separated into locks, with butts teased out and tender tips tweaked off.
My guru, Beth Smith, writes in the Spinners' Book of Fleece that locks can be parcelled up in tulle fabric to preserve the lock structure while scouring and I have heard others talk about using net lingerie wash bags. This all seemed OTT to me, but after struggling to untangle Black Wensleydale locks, even after scouring pretty carefully, I thought I'd give it a go. I laid the prepared raw locks in lines inside the bags and pinned them with safety pins, then sunk the bags in hot water with a good dose of Power Scour. Just a very gentle squeeze/press after soaking for twenty minutes, a fresh detergent soak and three soaks in clean water. Lifting out the soggy locks, I rolled them in a towel and stood on it, which got most of the water out, but left me with locks that looked pancaked, like a cartoon steam roller accident.
They puffed up again as they dried, which hardly took any time at all. Beth says that bouncing a flicker up and down on the tips to open them out means they spin with more body than combed or carded fibres and have fewer neps. With all the grease washed out properly and no matting, these locks of Polwarth spun up like a dream, effortlessly smooth. I also took her advice on spinning from the butts, instead of the tips, so maybe that helped too. On the 15:1 ratio on my spinning wheel, I was aiming for plenty of twist, but I must have drafted well over an inch per treadle, because plying to what looked about 10 plies per inch resulted in a skein that seemed overplied. with several twists forming in the loop when I held it up. Happily, after another hot soak, the yarn turned out to be balanced just right and it really is laceweight. Polwarth fleece gives such fullness and softness, even spun with the most aligned fibres, as utterly worsted as could be. I've been through this sequence three times, and not spun 50g of yarn, but what a pleasure it has been.
"Ooo, I prefer natural colours and characterful fleeces. End of that era, is it?" Elinor Gotland spoke from her grandstand dragon hotseat. "Next you'll be lace knitting sparkly rainbow silk, Beaut."
"Actually, I am doing another Boo Knits shawl, Elinor. I think I am addicted."
"Well, I'm not going to argue. January detox is over. Pour me a sloe gin and you can bring out the beads and I'll say nothing. Got to have something to get us through the winter."
Think we'll all be having a drink. Tonight, the opening match of the Six Nations Rugby is Wales v England in the Millenium Stadium. Cardiff will be seething. Wonder who Elinor supports?