Last spring I traveled to the Lake Metroparks Farmpark in Kirtland, Ohio for their annual sheep shearing festival. I watched sheep dog demonstrations, wandered the beautiful grounds, and chatted with helpful spinners. I also came home with a four-pound Jacob fleece, purchased for $8.00 from the owner of Bloomers the sheep. Sadly, I’ve forgotten the name of the owner.
This was the third raw fleece I’ve acquired–and the most beautiful.
Bloomers has a good life, as evidenced by the variety of vegetable matter in her fur. I was so grateful to the fleece seller for pointing me in the direction of this fleece; although plentiful, the pieces of v.m. are large and pretty easy to pick out. Bloomers sports a range of beautiful browns, creams, and greys. Her fleece is soft with a lovely crimp, the staple four inches or so.
There’s something about a raw fleece: the springy wool that warms and insulates the sheep and then provides such wonderful material for making yarn. This is the stuff that sweaters and hats and mittens and socks come from. I love the waxy feel of the lanolin, the barnyard smell, the curls and crimps of the locks, the many color variations, the evidence of the lived life of the sheep.
I’m new to all this, and I’m learning about the different elements that come into play when working with fleece and designing a yarn from that fleece. I don’t yet set out with a specific type of yarn or garment in mind. I just process the fleece with the tools I have, spin it how it seems to want to be spun, and then ply it and see what I’ve got.
With Bloomers I started with a flick carder, opening up the locks. Then I used my hand carders to make rolags. That worked pretty well, but I started wondering about drum carders. Would a drum carder save me time? Would it change the character of the yarn? I knew about Praxis Fiber Workshop, a space for fiber artists with looms, wheels, and dying equipment. Checking online, I saw they also had drum carders.
I’ve now spent two delightful afternoons at Praxis, learning to drum card and meeting a bunch of friendly, knowledgeable fiber artists, including a spunky 96-year-old weaver. Before my first visit to Praxis, I watched a couple of helpful Youtube videos on drum carding. It’s not too tricky. Turning the drum slowly was good advice. The drum carder seems to align the fibers a little more than my hand carders do. The colors are more evenly blended as well. I love the big fluffy batts that come off of the carder.
I took my rolags and batts and spun some sample yarns: singles and two-ply, and even my first three-ply yarn. The yarn spun from the batts definitely has a softer feel to it, and the color variations are less dramatic. My next step will be to knit some swatches.
I don’t yet know what I’m going to make with my Jacob fleece from Bloomers. What I do know is that taking the wild fleece off a sheep’s back and turning it into a useful yarn is somehow magical to me, even now that I’ve done it myself.