Friday, 17 April 2015

Hand Spinning Combed Wool Tops

Wensleydale sheep have long stapled ringlets.  I managed to process my first bit of Black Wensleydale fleece by flicking each of the locks open and spinning them one by one. Thanks to some helpful tuition at a spinning weekend, I have now learned that the butts don't just pull straight off the comb if you slide them onto the tines with a couple of centimetres sticking out at the back.  
The other hand comb pulls through the fibres much more smoothly if the locks are misted with a little water spray.  Though they get less electric, you still have to take care not to let the long fibres loop back on themselves.
"I'm not going to lie, Beaut, I reckon you are slower with those combs than you were with the flicker."
"Elinor!  Leave that perfume bottle alone, I've just repurposed it as a fleece sprayer."
"You've put lavender oil in this water.  Thought someone's Nanna must be visiting."
"I'd rather have lavender scented yarn than whiff like an overripe tropical fruitbowl."
"I'm experimenting with a new shampoo.  Might be a little heavy on the coconut, but I can just feel it nourishing my fleece.  You're as stuck in a rut as the Rolling Stones.  If they were driving in the slow lane with a flat tyre on their tour bus."

It did take me a couple of evenings to comb these little nests of Black Wensleydale. Although they were far easier to spin evenly than drafting from one lock after another, after all that work, I overplied the singles and ended up with a rather wriggly skein of fingering weight yarn. Elinor beckoned me over to the computer where she was researching on the information highway - or online shopping.
"Weight for weight, that raw fleece cost you as much as mill combed white Wensleydale.  Was it really worth the effort?"
Just for comparison, I did buy some full Monty, superwash processed Wensleydale. Both had a the same staple length, but unlike my combing, the tops had no neps at all.  And all I had to do was draft out the white braid in 
advance before spinning a finer and more even yarn.  
"It feels different, though, Elinor, there's less crimp, less life in the wool."
"What could be less lively than your dingy plant dyes?  Walk on the wild side, lovely girl, give yourself a treat and try a braid from Colourful Designs."  
This fibre is called 'Very Berry', a wonderfully soft Falklands Superwash Merino dyed by Bex. I've watched spinners turning out laceweight singles just working straight from the top of a braid.  
My drafting kept pulling down one side, til I was shown 'wafting'. Just break off and flap the end of the braid about til it comes back to a point.  No struggling for solid colour, even the plying was an adventure, watching the berry shades in the singles mix and match.  Knitting Elizabeth Zimmerman's classic Baby Surprise Jacket was my final
venture into the unknown.  The pattern is all worked in one piece and even with the supplementary instructions, I must have been half way through before I could see how it would fold to make a human shaped garment. I'm calling this one Sabrina's Aubretia. It is machine washable, which I consider essential for babywear if you are any kind of a friend to the mother in question. I made the newborn size, but since my spinning came out double knitting to aran weight, she looks a little lost inside it at two months old.  It is going to take perseverance to learn to spin fine yarn from tops without predrafting.  Wonderwool is on next weekend, oh the excitement - it is just possible I may succumb to buying another colourful braid.  Got to keep up with the times. 


  1. I love these Zimmerman knits. I knitted the little jacket for a teddybear and plan on making an adult version. This may take some time as I need about 300 stitches on my needles.
    The aubretia colours are joyful.
    Wonderwool's nearly here, so many delights...


    1. I looked at the pictures for the adult size and I do fancy doing one though it would be a mammoth task, being all in one - definitely a circular needle project :) This time next week, we'll be at Wonderwool, hope to see you there.

    2. I'll be on the guild stand. Hope to see you.The Fair Isle jumper is still on the needles, I'll bring anyway.