Friday, 12 October 2018

A Welsh Mule Fleece for Britspin

My companion, Elinor Gotland, looked up in surprise when she heard the car turn into the drive.
"That was quick. I thought you'd be bound to get lost on the mountain."

"Well, I nearly was. When the thing on my phone told me I had 'reached my destination', I just stopped in the middle of the lane to climb up for a look over the hedge and as luck would have it, the farmer came past in a four by four and told me where to find the track to the house."
Elinor looked at the mud splattered car.
"Rough going was it?"
"Not as rough as the fleeces." I shut the boot and carried a large bag into the garden. "When somebody is kind enough to ring up after shearing and offer me a gift, I know it would be too rude to say no, but going through that wool sack this morning was an odoriferous experience. Beautiful views from the shed, though."
"Let's have a look at what you picked, then."
I unrolled a coloured Welsh Mule sheep fleece onto the lawn.

"I wondered about choosing a fleece that was practically cotted solid, to try making a rug, but then, right at the bottom of the sack, I found this. There's not much debris in it and I do like the colour. Thought I might use it to make a new handbag."
"Ooo, you're so ungrateful. This is a lovely open fleece. See how it stretches into windows." Elinor pulled out a lock and twanged it. "No breaks in the staple, fine fibres, tight crimp and maybe even a bit of a lustre. I'd say this ewe inherited some great Blue Faced Leicester qualities from her dad."
I circled the fleece, pulling off the shorter, rougher locks from round the edges.
"That's a brutal skirting you're giving that fleece, Beaut. It's not so long ago you thought every lock was precious. How times have changed."
"I might just spin it in the grease, make some rustic, chunky yarn."
My companion put down her hoof.
"Now that attitude is one thing that ought to change. This is a nice fleece and you are going to do it justice and prepare it properly. It can be your Britspin project."

First, the fleece was divided into three portions, put into three large net bags and soaked for 24 hours in the suint vat. Under the watchful eye of my companion, the dirty water was spun out in the spin dryer and each bag was soaked for ten minutes in a bucket of hot soapy water and given three hot rinses.
"There, now that didn't take too long, did it?" It wasn't the washing that took the time so much as fluffing up all the locks while laying them out to dry.
"If you tweak all the tips to open the locks while they're damp, it'll be much quicker when you come to put them through the drum carder. Hurry up now, this weather is so hot the wool will be dry in no time."
I was inwardly cursing Elinor long before I'd finished, though the cloud of washed wool did have some pretty shades of grey.
No sooner had the fleece dried than my companion was hauling out the David Barnett drum carder.
"It's weeks to go til Britspin begins and I'm not sure I want to spin from batts. Anyway, I prefer doing the prep as I go along."
"Britspin is a spinning competition all about yardage. I can't have you letting the team down, spinning at a snail's pace and stopping every whipstitch to make more rolags. This is a marvellous fleece munching machine and you've barely used it since you bought it. Get on with it, card one batt every day and they'll soon pile up."
So I teased out locks, laid them out on Diligent Dave's intray and turned his handle over and over again.
For a while, it was quite interesting watching the wiggly fibres get caught by the little teeth and stretched out over the drum, and rather satisfying to peel off another puffy batt.
Then it got dull.
"I might be going off grey, after all, now, Elinor."
"Put some of the fleece in your next indigo vat. You were only saying lately how well the blue overdyes grey."
"Ooo, good plan."
"Yes, and you can put some silk in the vat too, ready for blending with the second carding."
"What? Since when was I carding this lot twice?"
"Since we decided you would do this properly."
I'm not sure how democratic that decision was, but I made a start, tearing the softest batts into strips, thinning them out and feeding them back onto Dave the Drum Carder. Adding little strips of loose silk fibres didn't go well. The straight, smooth fibres seemed to become more clumped up than blended.
"Put them underneath the wool in the tray, you numpty. That way they get pressed onto the teeth on the big drum." 

By Wednesday night, I had blended six batts of the best wool with silk and four of the roughest, shortest fibred batts with some ramie, to increase strength. The rest had only been carded once, but too late to fuss, Britspin was about to begin. Yesterday was Day One and by midnight, I had spun and plied all the silk blended batts and wound the yarn into skeins.
My companion looked impressed.
"You've spun about quarter of those batts already. Well done, you might even manage the whole fleece by Sunday night. What length did you manage?"
"Is that all? Let me see the yarn."
"It's 2 ply, so I can multiply that length by two and actually, by three, to have credit for the plying."
"Just look at this big fat yarn! No wonder you spun so much of the wool. How much does it weigh?"
"About 150g. All that work doing the prep, can't believe the entire fleece is only going to be about 500g."
"You should have spun it fingering weight and longdraw, Beaut. What ever were you thinking?" Elinor rolled her eyes. "Bet the girls won't be too thrilled with your performance."

"I haven't seen you spinning any vast mileage. What's your contribution to the glory of Team Wriggly's Twisterellas going to be?"
"I shall be taking part in the photo competition."
"'Spinning in an Unusual Place'? Are you flying off to some exotic location for a photo shoot?"
Elinor settled herself more comfortably into her armchair.
"I think I shall be entering a picture for the 'Individual Spinner Relaxing' category."

Wednesday 17 October - Results 

Here's the finished fleece
Elinor looks as if she's lost a shilling and found sixpence...


  1. Lovely yarn. I'd have spun it fingering too, but yours is gorgeous. Haven't done anything about Britspin this year, not had the energy, but next year will be better.

    1. Britspin is fun, but I'm already staggering from two late nights staying up plying. Hope your mojo picks up soon xxx