After you spin, you ply. That is, you combine two single spin fibers into a plied yarn. You can ply more, but two is good. And this looks good to the untrained eye. There are plenty of defects. I’m not sure what we can do with it. That would be for Colleen to decide. But this skein is ready to go. I hope. As in, I hope it will be put into some project and not just sit around looking pretty (not).
After the first, I kept at it, moved on, and tried to improve. It’s mileage. The more you spin, the better you feel the fiber in your hands. Ha ha. It’s a zen thing. And I got better. Of course, the first was worst, so there was only better to go. And indeed, I am. Ha! I am my own worst critic. It’s only that honesty is a necessary trait in order to improve. I’m not prime time yet. But, there is a great promise. No, one cannot achieve what the industrial mechanical machinery can spin. But, I am happy with imperfections of handmade, custom made home spun yarn. I suspect time will tell as I get better. We have a good many spinning wheels both antique and modern. At least they are all in use.
By default I am becoming a spinner. There are spinning wheels and there are spinning wheels. To me they are like rental cars. I’ve never driven a Porsche. But I can drive a car. Aren’t they all alike? Ha ha! But true enough, I eat to live not live to eat. Mostly. Spinning is getting to the product – yarn. When you look at a skein you don’t know what wheel it was spun on. But I suppose you can have a lot of fun getting there. it’s too early for me to be able to appreciate the differences. Now, if we were to discuss cameras… well, right about now, I have more than a few. And they all have a role in different circumstances. I might use one differently depending on the subject or lighting. Perhaps someday I will know spinning wheels too.
We processed fleece. Sheep fleece. It needs to be cleaned and washed. You cannot wash it on the sheep. I wish. And you cannot wash wool in a washing machine. It will felt. That would never do! No, in order to spin and weave you must prepare the fleece. Why? Because it is the beginning of the process, the source. We’d have sheep in our yard but the homeowners association forbids it. Darn! How many fleece and how much? A lot! So much fleece was waiting we were days washing and drying. Hence, the “mess.” With all this fleece ready to be spun, it would be a good long time before you could expect to do much else. So! I have decided to spin. You know, help out. After all it is one very large task. And so I shall/did. And here is the result. I tried drop spindle a good long time ago and was miserable. I didn’t spin good and the wool did not like me. We parted. But now I am spinning. Um, they say your first skein is a piece of work no mother would love. And mine was a work only I could appreciate. Actually, I got the hang of it right away. Don’t be too smug! I was. Looking back it was true. My first effort was laughable. I got a lot of encouragement from Colleen. She’s a truly supportive spouse. And I have to love her dearly for her kind words. We are still laughing…
Sheep and wool fairs always have a place where they sell fleece. It would be fleece that is sheared from the sheep and sold in large plastic bags at $/pound. It’s less expensive than yarn ready to weave. But there is a lot of processing. Are all fleeces equal. Hardly. Picking fleece is an art. I’m learning. I used to go by feel. That would be too simple. As we picked and chose, a volunteer came up and “squoze” my bag. Huh? She recognized her fleece and was checking. Yup, it was from her sheep. A mother always knows. Neat! If you wander into the fleece barn… you get fleece. I/we must be good pickers. A couple people admired our choices and told us they’d take the bag if we changed our mind.
I’ve been processing raw fleece, the kind just fresh off the sheep. ? These pictures are ones only a spinner or weaver would really appreciate. Well, the process begins with pasture and feeding. If your sheep lies in straw, there will be lots of shit and straw and bits in the fleece. Have you noticed that wool is very curly stuff. Imagine the tangles you have without cream rinse in your hair? Some folks raise their sheep in grass and there’s nothing (debris) in the wool. Even better, keep your sheep in a coat. Then there’s little extraneous stuff at all. As you can imagine the price rises with each step of caution. Some fleece will sell upwards of $20 per pound. A finished spun ounce ready to knit or weave can cost around $8 and up. If you lose 50% of a fleece to waste, you are still ahead of the game. It’s all complicated in the processing. I won’t bore you. If you have read to this point, keep in mind that there is a lot of washing and that there is much that can go wrong to ruin an entire batch. Just skip ahead and use the end product.
In many ways it’s like photography. You can press the button and press “print” and you are all done. Don’t bother with the process. I started “cheap” and “on a severe budget.” Load your own film, develop your own film, and print your own images. Black and white, and later, color, it’s economical. Or you can look at it that you controlled your own process. The big driver for me was the $.
The fleece you see starts as locks. You know, Goldilocks. And it needs to be separated, cleaned, and washed. This stuff was a dream. It washed up pure white and fluffy as a cloud. Amazing stuff!! I’ve been washing a lot of fleece lately. It’s got a lot of lanolin. It’s got lots of “bits.” This stuff washed up like a dream. Lucky! Funny, it wasn’t that expensive to purchase. Lucky again! Trust me, we felted, and tossed out lots of other fleece. That’s built-in waste. When you get stuff this good and easy, it’s so tempting to turn to going the easy path. Nope, I’m still cleaning. No more film, no more darkroom, I’m processing fleece by hand. There’s satisfaction in it. If you read all the way to the end – congratulations, you know how to process a fleece. Otherwise, just go to the store and get your stuff off the rack. We do both now. Options are good.
What’s felt? Well you have probably felt felt. It’s a soft material. The definition is more like: take some raw wool and put it under pressure and rub; the fibers will lock and form a sheet of material. Or you may use a needle to lock the material into shapes. How about a giraffe, or a dragon, or a heron? Yup, she did all of that and more. It was enormous 9as in more then 15 feet in size) and she demurred on how long it took to do the giraffe. I’d have lost interest long before the neck ever got done. Hey, it’s art! My (felt) hat’s off to you.
In order to get yarn you start with a sheared fleece. The fleece is washed. It’s turned into roving. Then, it’s spun. After that you knit or weave. If you skip the spinning, you can felt. Felt? The would be pressing the fibers together until they form a sheet of fiber all on their own. Like art, this is the raw material for creating a myriad of things. I’m more interested in the process than in creating art. People like came to buy the raw materials. Sometimes it’s the journey more than the destination. It’s all here. If you know fiber – ie spin and weave or knit – then you recognized the various states I mention. Otherwise, enjoy the patterns and color.
Hand weaving and spinning is a lost art. Wrong! There are many enthusiasts. It’s not too common. Your average person does not weave or spin. But the gatherings – so called festivals – draw thousands – of people, sheep not included. There is fiber on the hoof and fleece and finished product. Lots of money changes hands. There was a classic auction complete with rapid fire auctioneer. His job is to rev up the crowd and grow enthusiasm and drive the price ever higher. The tapestry loom he was standing in front went for $20. Really!? The wood was worth more ( a whole lot more). But there were other things that sold for a lot more. Last spring I bought a loom – sight unseen – for a mere bagatelle. This time around I stood pat. Yes, there are llamas – and alpacas – and sheep – and goats. A good time was had by all.
Fiber, it’s a new world for me. I’m following the process. The interim step is the spun fiber. It’s made into wondrous things – cloth. Pattern is a big part of the process. And this requires multicolored and multi-textured spun material. It’s a fascinating process. I like the graphical component. I like order. Some of the material seems ethereal. Try to focus. The woven products are myriad. Industrialization has made cloth inexpensive. We take it for granted in the everyday products we purchase for almost nothing. Synthetic and throw away it’s hard to believe that the craft is ages old. We value the handwoven and pay pennies for our everyday cloth. You shop Walmart for the price not the quality.