Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Why I love to spin raw fleece

I love to spin yarn. The flow of the fleece in my hands, the twist of the fibers, the tug of the wheel. It's my meditation, my relaxation, my joy. I spin almost every night. It's how I unwind, pun intended. Rough days at work, worries on the farm, health issues with family and friends - these all wind away onto the bobbin. 

This Spinolution Firefly 32 oz bobbin holds most of Havencroft Luna's 2018 Jacob Sheep wool fleece spun into a 2 ply, 5 wpi yarn. It was spun raw - unwashed and uncarded, right out of the bag.

But I have a dirty little secret. 
I love to spin raw wool. Yep, unwashed, uncarded, with little bits of vegetable matter (vm) to pick out on the way. 

There are many reasons for this.
  • I weave and crochet with my finished yarns. I love the unique texture that spinning unprepared fleece gives the yarns. 
  • I love the feel of the lanolin. It makes my hands soft. 
  • I love the heathery look of random color blends from each of my spotted sheep's fleeces.
  • It gives my spinning wheel a nice patina. (yes, I do have to clean it periodically)
  • I hate washing fleece.
  • I feel like it helps me connect to and appreciate my sheep and angora goats and goofy alpaca boys.
  • Strong, healthy sheep equals strong yarn. If there are health issues, problems in the yarn are one more way for me to find them.
  • I learn first hand what weeds are hidden in our hay or pasture.

A few of our Havencroft Jacob Sheep ewes grazing on the front pasture, summer 2018. From left to right, Judith, Hester, Ipswich, Molly, Nexxus, Nebula.
It's still quite a process to go from sheep to yarn.

My daughter and I do all our shearing by hand here on Havencroft Farm. We shear each sheep up on a stand, and put the fleece in a pillow case after it rolls off the sheep. We skirt out the really dirty bits as we shear, they don't go into the bag. After shearing, and after the sheep has had her toenails trimmed (mani-pedi with her hair cut, the full beauty salon treatment), the sheep bounces off to scratch and enjoy not wearing her full wool blanket, then I label the bag with the name of the sheep, the date, and the intended use of the fleece. The soft, buttery, silky fleeces are destined for my spinning stash. The coarser fleeces are woven into Fleecyful Rugs.

Each fleece goes into a pillow case for storage after shearing.
I spin right out of the pillow case

I've always loved to spin an entire fleece at a time. I've enjoyed doing that since I started spinning about 2001 or '02. Jacobs are small sheep, so a spinning fleece, which is often a lamb fleece, will net 400 - 1,000 yards of 2-ply worsted or bulky yarn. Spinning in the evenings, it can take me a month to spin and ply an entire fleece. 

Luna 2-ply Jacob Sheep wool yarn, 5 wpi. Spun right from the bag.

After spinning, then plying, winding the yarn off into skeins, and tying each skein securely in four places - Then I wash the yarn. It takes seven water baths to wash most yarns. I wash them in warm water in my kitchen sink. I handle the yarn gently to prevent felting and allow lots of soaking time to ease out dirt and vm. For soaps I use Orvus or Dharma Proffesional Textile Detergent. In the past I have used Dawn or people shampoos and creme rinses.

Raw spun yarn washing steps
Always fill the sink first, and take the yarn out of the sink for draining and filling. 

  1. Soak the yarn in a sink full of warm rinse water for about 20 minutes, to wet the yarn down.
  2. Remove yarn from sink, squeezing out the water. drain and wash down sink
  3. Wash - Fill sink with warm water, add 2X normal amount of detergent after sink is done filling. Disperse soap completely before adding yarn, one skein at a time. Make sure the yarn can move freely. Do not try to wash too much at once.
  4. Let soak for another 20 minutes, turning, swishing and squeezing gently every time you walk past the sink.
  5. Pull yarns from water bath, gently squeezing out the soapy water.
  6. Rinse - Drain and clean sink, and refill with warm water.
  7. Again, one at a time add skeins to sink, gently swirling and squeezing the yarn. GENTLY is the key. Wool, alpaca and mohair yarns are very happy to felt.
  8. Repeat the wash and rinse cycle one more time, or twice if the yarn is still dirty. 
  9. I usually do a double rinse at the end, the next to the last rinse has 1/4 cup of white vinegar in it to remove the last of the soap. 
  10. Then I finish with one more plain water rinse.

Luna's washed skeins of yarn, ready for listing in the Havencroft etsy store.

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