Friday, 2 September 2016

Blue Texel Blues

For someone trying to use up stash, I have a terrible record of impulse buying.  Well, if you had sat all day demonstrating spinning, right next to the fleece competition at a local show, would you be able to resist a little private judging for an imaginary Spinners' Choice award?  My favourite
fleece was only small and amazingly soft for a Blue Texel.  It surprised me to hear that the ewe it came from was already several years old, but I could have guessed Gethin had shorn that sheep, because there were hardly any second cuts. The staple length was fairly uniform at about 8cm, typical disorganised fine crimp giving the locks plenty of stretch and bounce.  Beautifully open blanket, no cotting, minimal dirt, lovely varied greys with only limited fawn or brown areas (and a blue farmer's mark), it was my idea of perfection. Although this fleece took no rosette from the real judge, I spent a happy half hour explaining to the farmer why I thought it was such a cracker for hand spinning and worth far more than you'd get from the Wool Marketing Board, which pays even less than normal rates for coloured fleece. We agreed breeding sheep for their wool has been much neglected. Then I bought it.

This is where my Rhapsody in Blue Texel changes key and plays those flat, blue notes.  After a brief spell of gloating over its quality, fully confirmed when laid out on the lawn, I piled half the fleece into two pillow cases and put them in the machine on a wool wash cycle. Last time I did this with a Blue Texel fleece, it came out fine.  Instead of experience paying off with a handy short cut toward sitting down to spin this gem, I spent all afternoon trying to wrench out matted bundles of damp locks, before giving up and stumping off to cook the tea and grieve over my own cavalier stupidity.  I didn't kick myself black and blue. I have a companion called Elinor, who does that for me.

"Every fleece is different, Beaut. Haven't  I told you a hundred times, proper preparation prevents piss poor performance? Look at these locks, ruined by impatience and laziness."
"I thought this Blue Texel would at least have broadly the same character as that big fleece I had before."
"One Blue Texel is no more the same as all Blue Texels than one coffee cake is the same as all coffee cakes."
"It is if you buy cake in the supermarket."
"So go and buy yarn from the shops."  
Ooo, sting, no answer for that.  Peeling potatoes in the censorious silence, I cast about for a new conversational gambit.
"Heaven knows why the geneticists called the breed 'Blue Texel'.  The website says that 'Blue' is the name for the colour pattern and also describes the colour of the flank wool - have you ever seen any real blue on a Blue Texel?"

Elinor sat back and smiled a wicked smile.
"When I was guest starring with a repertory theatre company in Holland, I remember finding blue on Tycho Texel's flanks."
"Who's Tycho?"
"Big Dutch Texel, real Moody Blue artist, used to slap paint onto canvas and just slide about on it. His fleece was always caked in acrylics, his flanks were a rainbow and he never bothered going to the shearer for a trim."  She stopped pulling at the matted fleece and I hastened over to stuff it away out of sight.  "That ram was a restless rogue. Lived in Amsterdam for years, but wouldn't go to the Van Gogh Museum because the queues were too long.  His brother Bram was a different type altogether, a True Blue, he would wait outside the stage door of De Balie til the small hours of the morning, just to walk me home. Absolute sweetheart."
"How romantic.  How come your play finished so late?"
"Oh, Tycho used to pop into my dressing room for a little drink after the show."
Her smile did not suggest he went there to be scolded for impatience.

Even the British Olympic success could not ease my Blue Texel blues.  The man himself and Elinor sat glued to the cycling, periodically disturbing the dog by bouncing up and down on the sofa, wild with appreciation of Sir Bradley and his gang.  Neither of them noticed as I had a little play with some of the remaining, unwashed Texel fleece.  It had been ages since I spun yarn in the grease. This was lovely, soft, 
open fibre to spin, just drafted out so easily straight from the blanket into a thick single. Working with a fair amount of twist on the 15:1 ratio on the jumbo flyer of my Ashford Traveller, I had filled a whole bobbin in less time than it took them to celebrate a couple more Gold Medals.  I am now the proud owner of a nearly new Country Spinner Mark 2, infinitely easier to treadle than an Indian Spinner, though I haven't really sussed out the gears yet.  Navajo plying directly from each full jumbo bobbin on the Traveller straight into the great orifice of the Country Spinner, in a couple of evenings, I had the all the remaining unwashed fleece spun into a high grist superbulky yarn, wound on the one massive Country bobbin.  At which point, Elinor noticed what I had been up to. Yes, I am terminally impatient and yes, I did really enjoy it and no, I have no idea what I'll do with this yarn.  After giving it a cold soak overnight in a bucket and a hot detergent wash and three rinses, I succumbed to another impulse and hung one end of it in a Japanese Indigo Leaf Dye Vat. 
Behold, my Blue Blue Texel yarn, 105 metres long and 5 wraps per inch. 


  1. pity about the fleece - but to show Elinor that you're not the only one: I've stopped using the wool wash in the machine, because I had exactly the same problem a while back:) threw the felted lot out as mulch, wasn't good for anything else... and at least with a bit of indigo you have a proper blue texel now, at least partly:) I just found two skeins of fairly rough "grey" navajo plied yarn a few days ago - no idea what it was originally and no idea what to do with it either - so it'll live in the stash for a while longer....

    1. I am determined to make something with this yarn, just to show Elinor. It has come out soft, though it took a lot of soaking and washing to get it properly clean - should have done it right in the first place.

  2. I would use the mistake wool for an avant-garde never seen before dyeing experiment. Maybe mordant it, sew it down to a backing fabric and leave it in the woods for nature to dye it!

    1. I gave half of it to my friend BG for her needlefelt art - this is a superbly wild idea, I just might do that, BG will be so impressed, she doesn't read the blog and I shall just pretend I have been inspired ... thank you, Muse.

  3. Hi Fran, I've washed fleece in two different machines, the first gave a gentle flop every minute (perfectly unfelted every time), my present machine rolls the drum constantly creatly a little too much agility and it tends to come out on the slightly matted end of the spectrum.
    Next time I'll find out more about the wool cycle before I buy.

    Susan (Pembs).

    1. Never considered machine differences - worth bearing in mind when my old one finally packs up. Thanks.

  4. As a fairly new spiner I bought a blue texel fleece at wonder wool 2010? Turned out to be quite coarse and I over washed it. Spun up a very small amount over the years and eventually ditched the remainder !

    1. The first Blue Texel I had was much coarser, best for rugs. I just get sucked in by greys. Nice to hear someone else has suboptimal stash too :)