Okay, for some reason, I can’t get the cursor to appear below the yarn photo so we do it this way. The yarn in the posting is the stuff I’ve been working on this week: a combination of one ply of Daisy, my shaela shetland ewe, and one ply of some blue face leicester, dyed, I bought at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair, in Cummington, Mass., last Memorial Day Weekend. (A yearly event, by the way, and well worth a visit!)
But how, some wonder, does the fleece on the sheep, end up as sweaters and socks and hats? Well, it’s a long process. First, you have it shorn off the sheep, then you pick out the bits of hay in it, and pull off the edges which are often stained with poop and urine. And you pull out any sections that are “britchy”, that is sort of coarse and hairy, often the case with primitive breeds, especially, around the back hips/upper legs. Then, the fleece is washed, a pound at a time, by immersing it in hot, hot water, with either shampoo or (in my case) organic dishwashing liquid. You let it soak for a half hour, then rinse it with water the same temperature that the wash water is when you spill it off (into a bucket, and take to the woods, don’t put it down the drain: lots of cloggy lanolin and dirt!) It usually needs to be rinsed several times, each time spilling it into a large collander, and toting the water out to the woods. Then, the fleece is put in pillowcases and tied, and put in the washer on spin cycle only, to remove a lot of the water in it, and layed out on screens to dry. After it is dry, you have to pick each curl apart, fluffing it up. Then you put it through a carder, or hand card it, or use wool combs to comb it. This puts all the fibers in the same direction and smooths them out. THEN, you spin it, on average taking 2-4 hours for spinning four ounces of wool. Then, it gets plied back upon itself in the opposite direction to make two ply yarn. This is a very labor intensive process, but very satisfying and relaxing.
Sometimes, to save time, I pay to have a processing plant wash and pick and card it, and it comes back to me as rovings, a long thin “snake” of carded fiber. Sometimes, I do the whole process myself. A lot depends on what I’m going to do with the yarn, once it’s finished, and how much time I have.
It is very satisfying to make a sweater with yarn you’ve spun yourself, and which came from a sheep you can identify, you have fed, maybe even witnessed the birth of. It connects my clothing to the land.
Now that the “Daisy” yarn is completed, it will go to my friend, Sue’s, store, Hodgepodge Yarns and Fibers, and will be available for sale through the store, or through me, directly. It will be priced at about $4/oz., which seems expensive until you realize that nowadays, commercial yarn is often that expensive or more, and handspun tends to be more interesting, softer (Handspun yarn is made from the fleece of sheep kept specifically for their fleece; much commercial yarn is the byproduct of meat sheep production.), less allergic (Many people who claim to be allergic to wool are really allergic to the residues of the chemicals that commercial yarn producers use to clean the fleece.) and you know where your yarn was grown and that the animals were respected and treated with love. Often, you can visit the farm where your yarn came from and meet the sheep who gave the wool…or at least come away with the name of the sheep and a photo of her/him.
And, I will begin to spin the last fleece of “Lightning”, a romney wether who was owned by my friend, Carolyn, until he died several years ago. I got the fleece from a friend who bought it then, and never got to use it. The fleece is a light brownish grey color, soft, and really nice. I may have to keep this yarn and make a sweater out of it for me, for I knew Lightning and was fond of him, a big ol’ bear of a sheep.