Friday, 4 November 2016

Hand Spinning Border Leicester Sheep Fleece.

"It's Wovember already and I haven't got a fraction of my Border Leicester fleece washed.  I meant it to be all prepared for a lovely month of spinning and celebrating wool along with the Wovember crowd."
My companion, Elinor Gotland, leant over to see the gauge sample I was knitting.
"How come that bit's got even fewer stitches per 10cm?"
"Well, I thought the fabric felt a bit flimsy for a jacket, so I spun thicker yarn as well as dropping down a needle size."
She looked at me and sighed.
"Another sample spin gone wrong.  Good job it was such a big fleece."

All in all, the Wovember plan was running way behind schedule.  It started so well. I opened my parcelled up Border Leicester lamb fleece from the Doulton Flock to find it had arrived together with prize winning credentials.  Laid out on the lawn, I could only imagine how one sheep managed to stagger about under the weight of so much wool. The locks were a good 15-20cm long with that nice crimp that doesn't turn into corkscrew curls and an enticing lustre gleaming through the dirt. I scurried round it, finding little need to skirt any manky edges off and not much vegetation to pick out. Though the quality did vary from the shoulders to the britch, all of the wool looked like a joy to spin.

Determined to wash it well without disrupting the lock structure, I sewed a long net curtain into six drawstring bags and laid parallel rows of individual locks inside each one, before rolling them loosely and leaving to soak.  After the cold soak, each bag full had ten minutes in a bucket of hot detergent, a pause to drain and spin, then three hot rinses and spin again, just like the experts say. The method did work fine, when I lifted the locks out of the bags to dry, there was no felting and no grease left, just a bit of dirt on the tips and some natural discoloration, which hardly mattered, seeing as I mean to dye the yarn anyway.

At that point, there was plenty of time in hand to prepare some samples using different techniques and see how the wool spun. Combing first. Seemed I had been all too effective cleaning out the lanolin, each stroke of the comb produced a 15cm ball of electric fibre fuzz, determined to loop over on itself and catch back into the tines, despite spraying with water and even adding back oil - which always seems daft to me.  I persevered, drafting it out into tops off the combs and rolling that to store as nests. At the wheel, using short forward draw, the long fibres seemed to spin finely, all by themselves.

The impressive staple length also made rolags a bit of a challenge to card, though much less electric than the combs.  I do love spinning longdraw, well, my version of it. I still haven't mustered the nerve for that chewing gum stretch just before you let the single run onto the bobbin. I did try flicking out the butts and tips and feeding some fleece into the drum carder - big mistake, the long staple made it hell to separate a dividing line to pull the batt off the drum and the process seemed to create neps in locks that had looked fine beforehand. No point spinning that, I put it away for felting.  Taking a dog brush simply to open up the tips and butts, I really enjoyed spinning a handful of locks from the fold, keeping my finger at right angles to the yarn for a semi worsted result, just like Jacey Boggs showed in her Worsted to Woolen video class.

Elinor found me examining my three Border Leicester yarns and the three swatches I had knitted from them.
"The combed worsted is the best.  Lovely lustre and it will give some drape to that jacket you're so keen to knit."
"I don't want it to hang round my knees. And the nests of roving don't lend themselves to spinning at double knitting weight."
"Make woolen yarn, then." She stretched the knitted sample. "Fullbodied and warm with more elasticity. That'll keep your jacket in shape."
"Woolen yarn pills.  I want to be wearing this jacket for at least a couple of years."
"So spin fine singles from combed nests and make three ply."
I couldn't suppress a groan.  She rounded on me.  "I don't know why you bother pretending.  It's obvious you can't really be bothered with a proper combed preparation.  You just want to tart about grabbing locks and spinning that lumpy stuff from the fold."
"Once it's knitted up, I think irregularities in the yarn will add character."
"Character?  What, like the old fortune teller at the fair or the nutter on the bus?"
"It's Border Leicester, rare, British and special.  It has character. I don't want to look like I bought a 'wool' jacket at the shops. I'm thinking #woolworks "
"Hah, you wouldn't know what to do with a hashtag if it bit you on the ankle."

It is never comfortable to be in Elinor Gotland's bad books.
"Did you see that the Wovember 2016 theme is The Politics of Wool? I'm going to write on my blog how wrong it is that manufacturers can call clothes wool, when really they are mostly made of synthetics. They wouldn't get away with that kind of misleading label in the food industry."
"How much pork do you think there is in the average pork sausage, Beaut? Or horsemeat in a beef lasagne?"
"Well, it's still wrong and I'm going to say so. Look -  #wovember2016 "
"Preaching to the choir, Beaut. Anybody who reads to the end of a blog about a rare breed sheep fleece already cares quite as much about wool as you do. Get out there and #bethechangeforwool "
So she volunteered me to spin and talk at the kids' old school.

1 comment:

  1. I've been known to say exactly the same thing: Border Leicester spins itself! It also makes beautiful bouclé, both 'true' bouclé and an easy spiral yarn, in which you spin a thickish singles and ply it with something very thin, such as silk, nylon or commercial cobweb weight yarn. Love your blog!