My knowledge of spinning amounts to a few hours spent with a spindle and small bump of fibre several years ago. I enjoyed it but saw how quickly a whole new stash would appear and decided to leave it to the experts whilst I concentrated on knitting up finished yarn!
I am in awe of spinners. It’s quite amazing to see raw fibre magically transform into yarn and then into something you can wear, and the art of spinning itself has such a gentle and meditative air about it – who knows, maybe one day I will return to it. But in the meantime I will look on in wonder at those who have mastered the craft. One of those magic spinners is my friend and today’s guest, Jane Lithgow. Late on Friday night I received an email from her with the following lines…
I just need to take one more photo of the finished yarn in daylight tomorrow morning as I have just this minute taken it off the wheel and wound it into a skein. It made me a bit emotional actually as I really wish you could hold it in your hands and see what I am seeing. The spinning is far from perfect but even so I think it will knit up into something really beautiful.
The skein Jane was talking about has been spun from one of my raw Hebridean fleeces and is the first yarn to be produce from the fibre. I knew the fleece would be in good hands when I gave it to Jane to work with, and I too got a bit emotional reading her lovely words and can’t wait to see what it becomes. I’ll hand over to Jane who is going to tell you a little more about the process…
When Rachel and I met up at Yarndale earlier this year she handed me a large black bin bag saying ‘Here’s that fleece I’ve been promising you, I’ve got 250 more of them at home.’ In this way I became a small part of the epic journey that she has undertaken in creating yarn from the fleeces of the flock of Hebridean sheep that her father cares for. My role as a hand spinner is simply to have fun with the fleece and share what I find out about it. I’m delighted that Rachel has invited me to be part of her Advent blog to show you what I have been doing so far.
The first thing I did was to lay the fleece out just to take a look at it. It is a beautiful thing in its own right – jet black locks which fade to shades of chocolate and cinnamon where the sheep has spent time in the sun. I chose some of the cleanest, longest locks from around the sheep’s shoulders for washing, or scouring as it is known in woolly circles. As a hand spinner I don’t have much in the way of specialist equipment and find an old cat litter tray, colander and lingerie bag perfectly adequate for my needs. After a few gentle baths in some wool scour I laid the locks out to dry.
Once the locks were dry I had the chance to examine them a little more closely. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook the Hebridean is a breed with exceptionally variable, dense wool that can stand up to weather and wear. There was also some mention of it sometimes being a challenging spin…
I chose locks that were around 4 – 6 inches long. They were quite lustrous and surprisingly soft without much crimp or curl but quite springy and elastic without any coarser hairs or kemp. I passed them through my drum carder several times to turn them into batts which I could spin from. The carder teases the fibres apart and arranges them in rough strips. I carded about 100g before I became too impatient to wait any longer to spin them.
I decided on a semi – long draw spinning technique which suits working with batts as some of the fibres would still be jumbled. This technique helps trap air inside the yarn making it more light, lofty and bouncy than if I combed all the fibres straight.
The resulting yarn is a simple two ply, semi woollen spun yarn with about 200m in 90g placing it pretty squarely as a DK weight. It feels surprisingly soft with some residual lanolin and still smells faintly sheepy.
The next step for this yarn is for me to give it a bath to set the twist properly then I will get to swatch it. I will keep Rachel informed about how I get on and what I make with this precious skein of yarn.
I feel really privileged to be one of the first people who will get to knit with this yarn grown by Rachel’s dad. I am so excited about the Fleeced project and look forward to seeing much more of this yarn being knitted into beautiful garments in the future.
 The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.
All images with the exception of the first one © Jane Lithgow and used here with permission.