Winding up Wednesday: Spinning a Tender Fleece

Shearing season is finally coming to a close and I’m back to the wheel and the loom. My dear Sade was one of the last sheep in the flock shorn.

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My shy little orphan had two surprises for me. First – she’s not such a little sheep! She’s a decent sized gal with a five pound fleece! Guess that Merino finally kicked in.

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The second surprise is that she’s a Lilac! Her tips are still black from lamb hood, but that under color is spectacular.

There’s just one minor issue: she’s a little tender fleeced. It’s not bad, and it’s not throughout the entire fleece. It’s mostly at the spine and the areas of less crimping. I believe part of the issue is a combination of a Merino micron count (I’m guessing she’s around 19 or 20 microns) with a very Jacob texture and lock structure. Extremely soft, but not as strong as a pure bred sheep of either breed. No matter how strongly I feel about Sade, the fact is when you give some of her locks a good yank they come apart. I’m not apt to sell such a fleece to the average spinner, so this is my blanket fleece for this year. There are tricks to turn an iffy fleece into beautiful and useable yarn.

Fleeces are stronger in the grease than scoured, especially those scoured in hot water. I’m processing this entire fleece in the grease. Merino level grease to be exact. I’m glad she’s a fairly clean girl. However, it’s still Merino level grease – yuck!

I have the choice to either flick card the fleece or to comb it. If I just had a half pound or even a pound I would flick this. However, I have five pounds to power through processing and spinning within two weeks. My handy dandy Viking Combs are the best tool. They will be getting a bath after this… okay after my Rom Doll and Mini are done, too. What can I say? Viking Combs are made for serious work, and eighteen pounds of wool in twelve weeks is serious work!

I’m spinning straight from the comb instead of pulling roving. When you draft directly from the combs you are pulling on just a few strands, sliding them forward into the spinning wheel or to the spindle. I’ve found fewer major breaks in staple this way. Also, if you come up on a nasty bit it’s easier to get it out. Working in the grease really helps the fibers to slide past each other. This also minimizes breakage.

The actual spinning is a judgment call. I find that shorter fibers hold together better in a thin single with slightly higher twist. However, that single can also break more easily. This works, but you have to watch the twist carefully. Too much and the yarn ends up hard, not enough, and the tender fibers don’t hold together through washing. I’m going a little thicker than usual since this is a weft yarn. I definitely will not use this for warp! I’ve tried tender fleece warp and it’s not worth the aggravation. If you can do it… go for it… you’re more patient and braver than I. The fulling at the end of the weaving process will felt this slightly and hold everything together.

This brings me to the last issue in working tender fleece – the finished product. If just the tips are tender I have no issue creating sweaters, socks, or even warp yarn from that fleece. However, if the break is in the middle it’s not going to be as durable as other yarns. That’s why I reserve these fleeces for weaving and other crafts, specifically, for projects with felted finishes.

I have hope for next year’s fleece and the ones after that as Sade ages and her fleece becomes courser. Her father and mother both had excellent fleeces, and so does her daughter. Her lamb’s fleece was good. It might just be an off year for her. In the short term, I’m doing what few folks even try – I’m spinning a tender fleece, weaving it up, and enjoy Shy Sade’s work of art.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm,

Moriah