Thursday, June 25, 2009

You Spin Me Right Round

So finally I've mustered up the energy to document my spinning journey on the farm! Chris wasted no time getting me started with spinning. She was a spinner first and a knitter second, and enjoys spinning immensely. She sells some of her handspun, from her own animals' wool, in the Joybilee store. The rest of their fleece gets sent off to be mill spun, after which Chris dyes it on the farm.

The Dalziel's son is a professional sheep shearer, and had sheared all of their animals last fall. The fleeces needed to be sorted and cleaned to be put in the shop, so I got to learn how to tackle a raw fleece.

First, the fleece is unrolled and placed on a wool sorting table (basically a wooden frame covered with chicken wire). The goal is to identify the neck wool and bum region. The neck wool has a really fine crimp and a different feel to it (it was traditionally used in Shetland knitting), whereas the bum region has lots of "dags", which are basically clumps of poo. The fleece is then "skirted", which involves separating off the edges with dags. The midline, which corresponds to the back of the animal, is usually covered in chaff (bits of hay and dirt that have been dropped on the animals); this is removed as well. The remaining fleeces is bounced on the wire table so that short "second cuts", where the shearer has passed over the wool twice, fall through and are separated out. Any large bits of vegetable matter are also removed. We wore gloves to do this, as the wool has a lot of lanolin and dirt at this point. It feels greasy and wet, and has quite the odor as well! Once the fleece has been skirted, it's ready to be weighed and washed.

Chris and Sarah skirting the fleece

Leftovers make good puppy toys!

Chris very generously gave me my own fleece (!!!), from a Romney cross sheep named Platinum. I washed the fleece at the farm, which was quite the process. I didn't realize how much work went into this! I used a double sink filled with extremely hot water (it should be too hot to touch). One sink serves as the washing sink, the other as the rinsing sink. A handful of the fleece is plunged into the washing sink along with a good dose of dish soap. It is left to soak for about 10 min, so that the dirt and lanolin can come loose. You can swish it around a bit, but I started to run into problems with felting the fleece from handling it too much. It was hard to strike a balance between getting the tips clean, but not felting it! The fleece is then transferred to the rinsing sink, which should be of equal temperature. The wash-rinse cycle is repeated 3-4 additional times for each handful of fleece. It took 5 long, patient hours to get the whole thing washed, and mine was a small fleece. After it has been washed sufficiently, the handfuls of fleece are left to drain in a colander. It was then spun dry in the washing machine, and left to dry further in wicker baskets.

My fleece before washing

I'm sure there are many ways to wash fleeces (Chris sometimes also does each lock by hand, which takes much longer); this was just the way I was shown. Before spinning it, I'll have to hand-comb each lock with my dog's old flicker brush - an acceptable substitute if you don't want to buy a hand carder. Spinning my fleece will be a long-term project, one that I probably won't get going on for a while.

After washing!

Chris started me off spinning with some white wool roving on an Ashford drop spindle. First off, take a look at the living room- what fiber artist/knitter/spinner/weaver wouldn't drool over this? I made myself a little nook on one side of the room, with a basket Chris gave me to hold my fiber. She taught me the park and draft method of spinning on the drop spindle, which I found to be quite hard on my back and shoulder. If I do keep spinning on a spindle, I'll likely look for another method to try.

Soon after, she had me going on the Ashford Kiwi. It felt quite awkward at first, but as soon as I felt more comfortable with the mechanics of it, things went really quickly. I was amazed at how fast yarn can be made - much more instantly gratifying than knitting, and so meditative as well! In a few days I had spun two bobbins of worsted singles. Sarah then showed me how to ply on the Lendrum wheel (which I found much more difficult to use). We wound it on a niddy-noddy, and then washed the skein in lukewarm soapy water.

A few days later, we dyed some roving with indigo (more on indigo dyeing later), which I then spun. My main problems were with having too much twist in the yarn, and then when I tried to correct it, winding up with singles that just fell apart. My final plied yarn wound up fairly well balanced (this is measured by holding up the skein and seeing if it twists one way or the other). The blue skein is finer than the white, but I'm thinking that I may still knit them up together.

Too twisty...but less lumpy

Overall, I loved spinning and would really love to have a wheel. It will be hard to go back to a drop spindle after the ease and speed of the wheel, but that's where I'll be for a while yet. I'm very grateful to Chris for her generosity, and love the idea of bringing a fleece from the raw product to a finished knit item! This could be another fiber addiction coming down the road... danger!


Marie said...

Hmmm. I'm seeing you as a semi-retired country doctor living on a small-scale fiber farm that doubles as a plum destination for occasional small-scale medical / health & wellness seminars and fiber workshops. Dee and Todd could be your caterers, your Mom could do the travel marketing, Cha could write about it, and I could do the business development plans!

Yarndude said...

Wow, that's an amazing first yarn, you must be a natural. :P

Don said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don said...

Hi Jess,

What a process. I have so much more respect for spinners and appreciate all my knitted stuff that much more.