Thursday, August 16, 2012

So Fine!

Back to spinning... on some super fine Corriedale (yes, really!)
I called my favorite local shepherd ( a little while back and asked about some really fine gray fleece.  She had two on hand, both Corriedale.  I was skeptical, but I went out anyway, since she's never steered me wrong and she has lots of fleece on hand all the time.
I truly couldn't believe what I saw...
This is one of the two fleeces that I bought.  Both Corriedale and both very, very fine wool with abundant crimp.  Also very greasy fleeces, as most fine wools are, so the washing was a bit of an adventure.

I pulled off a small part of one of the fleeces and washed it the normal way I do fleeces.  After it was dry, it still felt sticky, so it got another bath.  Then I put it on the drum carder - mind you, I have a fine fur drum on my carder - and I got a batt full of noils.  

Back to the drawing board...

I took the pitiful, noiled batt and combed some of it to see what would happen.  The resulting nest of fiber is shown above.  Still some waste, but not a total loss as the batt would have been.  I did spin a couple of the nests of combed fiber and they were very nice to spin and quite fine and pleasing singles.

Then I said to myself, "Self, this fiber needs different preparation to be it's very best".  So I set about learning to deal with superfine wools.  Checked some books out of the library, read them, spent a little time in denial and then decided to try lock washing.  I shudder in the face of this kind of fiddly prep just to get the wool clean!  But, armed with a roll of tulle I sewed up the little bags to hold the locks of wool.

After the tulle bags were ready, I went back out to the garage to commune with my fleece.  Took it out of the plastic bag and unrolled it.  Took off some skirting bits that I didn't want to deal with for this kind of process and brought in about 600 grams to attempt my experiment with lock washing.  There is still about half of the fleece in the bag, just in case I want to experiment further.  I also have the other fleece, so there is plenty of wool for me to fiddle with.  I took pictures of the process for my friends over on the Knit Picks Community and I'll share them with you here too.

Here's the setup: nine nursery plant flats and one large tub big enough to hold them all and allow a bit of sloshing around space.  This shot shows the tulle bags with the raw locks stitched inside, in the nusery flat and ready to go into the water.

I stacked up eight flats like this and put an empty one on top to keep everything together and pushed the whole mess down into the soapy water - held it down for a minute or so and brought it up out of the water, and then pushed it down again.

At that point it looked like this and the water was positively filthy... like the first wash on the uncontained fleece the way I usually do my wool washing.
So then I did another wash, and several rinses using this same process, but separating the trays and using the empty tray on top of each one after the first wash.  This was to help each batch of locks get cleaner - at least that is what I hoped would happen!

After all that was done, I took the bags and laid them out on a screen to dry.  I used my mini trampoline for this - put up on sawhorses for good airflow and turned on the ceiling fan to circulate the air around the fleece.  I wasn't sure how much the bags would slow the process, since I usually am able to pull the locks apart as they dry and that can't happen in lock washing.

Here's a shot of the bags drying on the screen.  Nice clear gray, and the dirty tips will come off when I flick card them prior to spinning.  It took a couple days for the bags to be fully dry.  I opened one and flick carded the locks.  I used a small pin brush made for brushing dogs - the kind that looks like fine carding cloth - often called a slicker brush.  Flick carding is a process I hadn't used before.  Grab one end of the lock and brush out the other end with the dog brush until it is nice and fluffy and straight.  Then turn the lock around and do the same thing on the other end.  Remember not to card the fingertips!  It smarts!  I also dug out my old horse shoeing chaps to cover my legs while I did this.  It worked great since it is nice thick leather and I could really get a good push with the brush against the leather.  The flicking pulls out all the tender tip wool and gets out all the vegetable matter in the wool as well.  Very nice preparation and it leaves me with little tufts of fiber that is all lined up in the lock formation and ready to spin.  I started spinning from this preparation - super fine singles and pretty trouble free spinning.  Here's what it looked like after I had a bit of this spun up.

The locks are in front.  Different colors, yes, but I didn't sort for color on this batch of singles.  I wanted to have some variation in the finished yarn.  So I spun the locks as they came up, and there is some variegation in ths singles as you can see.  The singles are super fine, and much stronger than I would have imagined.  I did a chain ply on this bobbin of singles and ended up with 130 yards of chain plied yarn.  I noticed that the yarn was very springy and elastic as it went into its first bath.  As a note, I wind my skeins on a two yard niddy noddy, which I tie in at least four places to keep the yarn organized and easy to untangle after washing.  This means a skein hangs in about a 36" loop when it comes off the niddy noddy.  This skein had a lot of bounce to it, and I expected it to pull up some, but when it was dry it hung in a 24" loop!  I've never had such bouncy yarn!
I re-wound the skein after it dried, since some of the strands were somewhat wayward in the first skein up.  The new skein came out at 120 yards and still has an incredible bounce and springy quality that I've never had in handspun before.  I've got a couple skeins of commercially spun Merino yarn that have a similar feel.  I can't help but wonder if it is the fine wool, the crimp, or the lock spinning that causes this quality in the finished yarn.  Time to do more research into this... in the meantime, I'm enjoying this cottony, next to the skin soft wool that I've made.  Next big decision is what I'll make with it.  Since I have plenty more of this fleece and another fleece that is very similar, there will be much more of this yarn available to me.  Besides - I still have several of the tulle bags left to flick and spin....


  1. Sometimes, I think I should have a drum carder of my own...but I have the hand carders (which you refer to as flick carding). I don't card very often though. Most of the fiber I work with has already been carded and washed and all that. It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to doing all the work...but I'll gladly pay someone to do most of it for me. Carding isn't that bad, though.

  2. Actually, hand carding and flick carding are different. Flick carding uses a single small "brush" against a solid surface on the fiber. Flicking keeps the locks mostly intact.
    Hand cards are much larger sections of carding cloth that are used in pairs against each other. They blend the fiber from several locks and are removed as tiny batts or can be rolled off as rolags for woolen spinning.
    Drum carding takes the idea of hand cards and makes it bigger. Produces larger batts (mine does about 12x24 inch batts) and blends the fiber more completely. Alignment is more random.
    Hope that helps... there is a big difference in the three ways of carding in my experience. Granted, I use my drum carder the most, but I'm learning to love the others for the things they can do as well.