Off to my first spinning camp a couple of months later, I didn't want to put anything coarse or crappy on the swop table, so I left the Welsh Mountain fleeces at home and steeled myself to offer up half my washed Manx Loaghtan. Couldn't understand why it was still there at the end of the camp. Mystifying.
Manx Loaghtan locks typically have a widely varied staple length. This one also had a break in the staple, about 2cm up. Matted, felted areas were probably not all due to my washing technique, as they were worst on the chest and shoulder. Oh cringe, no wonder no-one had wanted the other half from the swop table.
"Take it straight to the compost heap, Beaut. That's what I'd do."
My companion, Elinor Gotland, is a ewe of ruthless purpose. I hugged the full pillow case to my chest.
"But I spent ages washing this fleece."
"Cut your losses and spin something worth spending time on. That's real wisdom, knowing when to stop."
Some lessons I have yet to take to heart.
"Look at the pretty colour, though, feel how soft the fibre is." I passed Elinor one of the nicer locks. "Like cafe au lait, pale and frothy on the top." I sat down at the wheel and started drafting out a thick single, straight from the fleece. "I just want to try spinning Manx Loaghtan, it's such an ancient breed, saved from extinction on the Isle of Man. Even the ewes have those curious horns and long legs. The breeders' website says they are remarkably athletic sheep. 'Good quality stock fencing not less than 1.1m high is essential.'" Elinor snorted.
"Minx could have hurdled that, no trouble at all."
"A wild Loaghtan I met in Paris, danced the cancan in a cabaret, marvellous at high kicks. So talented, such a shame - she's another one who never learned when to stop."
"One night, she tossed her head and went one grande battement too far - got her horns caught in the chandelier and brought the house down. Literally."
It didn't take long to spin up half that small fleece and Navajo ply a lumpy yarn. Without any combing or carding, the pale tips of the locks remained intact, stippling the brindled brown. There was enough wool to knit up into a stocking stitch cushion which matches the sofa rather well. Manx Loaghtan fibre is uncommonly fine, not what you'd imagine from a so-called primitive breed. When the time comes to stop and sit down, we now have a very comfy cushion.