Monday, March 8, 2010

Ah Spring-Dangerous Season For Handspinners

Spring is approaching in the northeast US.  I am starting to get notices from farms in our area of sheep shearing days, and the fiber fairs are not far off.

One particular farm here in Coastal Maine sent me an email today of their shearing day coming up in a few weeks. I have gone to this and it is a lot of fun. You can help move the sheep into the pens for shearing and pick your fleece as it is being taken off the sheep. You can also help skirt the fleeces out as they come off on the table before they are rolled up. In this process, the short fibers and those covered with manure on the edges are pulled off and discarded, leaving only the prime beautiful fleece to be purchased by some addicted hand spinner like myself.

It is really exciting to watch the fleece coming off the sheep, and examine it at a respectful distance for crimp, color, luster, cleanliness, and all the other things a spinner looks for. The shearer is fast, and the poor sheep doesn't really know what happened until it is over. They shearers are super skilled and can clip around all those delicate areas without injury to the animal. The fleece comes off all in one piece.  I am always amazed watching the process. 

You can choose your fleece or fleeces for the seriously addicted, as they come off the animal.
That is, you can if you are fast enough.  I often wait too long and watch someone snatch up the one I have my eye on.
 Not to worry though, as there are plenty more coming along. Grey, chocolate, various shades of brown, and white- colors of fawn and apricot.  The beautiful clean fleeces from covered or well cared for sheep are a delight to behold.

I love the smell.  It is a smell of lanolin and manure. Why I like it, I am not sure as I suppose many would find it unpleasant. I enjoy the feeling of the lanolin on my hands after touching the fiber.

Each fleece has it's potential to be washed, possibly dyed, spun, and then knitted, crocheted or woven into wonderful and practical  things.

I think what really keeps me coming back for this year after year is the potential at the start of a new project or venture.  It is all possibility.  The reality that there are seven other fleeces in the closet, or stacked on the porch that still need to be spun does not really enter ones mind.  The potential for these new and wonderful fresh piles of fiber to become something beautiful overwhelms all sense of practicality.

My thrifty Yankee spirit is pleased, that for a few dollars I can have such a pile of possibility in my grasp.

When I get my fleece home, I start the process of steps to prepare it for spinning. Hopefully I have only bought one as they can weigh several pounds. Sometimes it is three or four, and I only really can spin one or two a year. If you can do any math at all, you can see what a problem is building here. This leads to the saying that the one who dies with the most fiber wins.  At this stage of the project though, that is of no concern. Trying to talk sense into me will do no good. I have gone over the edge, and will not be talked out of my folly.

I love to wash the locks gently in small quantities, and lie them in baskets to dry on my deck in the warm spring air.  I love to see the color change as the barn dirt and manure are soaked out and a yellow fleece suddenly turns to snow white. On one or two days in spring, I usually dye up a bunch of these gently washed  locks and spend many days admiring all the pretty colors as they dry in baskets around the house. The possibilites are endless at this point.

I am not one to dye my wool with a project in mind. I usually dye it as the mood strikes me in my favorite colors and then decide what I will use it for.

Sadly, I have to admit that once I get to this step, it often ends up in the closet unless I send it off to be carded by a professional. Carding, for you non hand spinners is the process of combing that prepares the fiber so that it can be spun easily on the spinning wheel into yarn. It is also the time when the colors can be mixed as much or as little as you like to make all kinds of color blends that end up in the finished  yarn.

Many hand spinners now days like to buy their fiber prepared, dyed, and ready to spin. I  can appreciate this, as the process of preparing the wool from start to finish is labor intensive. I myself, would not want to miss this spring ritual that has become a delight  that I look forward to year after year.
(photo courtesty of photobucket/ user whitestone 25)

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