seven fleece spinner

[written 06/01/08]

note to self: do not fall asleep without getting ready for bed! contacts out, teeth brushed, pyjamas on, lights off, under the covers, books and laptop off bed – – these are allll good and normal things one does before going to bed, and for good reason! otherwise, invariably, like clockwork, it’s restless sleeping + uncomfortable positions + bad bad dreams. so. wake up! and fix things. end of note.

on to a happier subject: fleeces. last year, at maryland sheep and wool, i bought three – my first three – and i processed one (my jacob, aww, i love that fleece). then in april when i bought my victoria, a finn (cross, i think) fleece jumped into the truck with me, so that makes three fleeces again. so, this year, i was determined to have no more than seven fleeces total. seven just felt right. and i had to stick to last year’s rule (more or less, i discovered this year that last year’s merino is 6 1/2 lbs, which is pretty small for merino, but.. ) that no fleece could be over 5 lbs. so i did exactly that – got four fleeces, all under five lbs. a certain someone kept whispering to me that eight is a lucky number in some countries, but i ignored her. i’m looking at 35 lbs. of fiber, thankyouverymuch – i have more than enough!


ok, first, an aerial shot (with skippycat in the background. the dogs were very interested in the sheepy smells too, though i had to keep telling them that no sheep were harmed to get me my beloved fleeces. they do kinda look like carcases though :Z but i know they’re really just little piles of gorgeously stinky greasy fluff.)


i realized i tend to like the colored fleeces more than the pure whites, which is great because most people are drawn to the easy-to-dye white cormos and such. here’s one exception that i couldn’t resist: a teeny border leicester fleece. i assisted at the fleece show, and judging (moving and opening bags as the judges requested, but mostly just listening in on what they were saying, really interesting stuff), and one judge really had a preference for the bigger fleeces, which makes sense practically for commercial reasons, but not for handspinners, it seems to me. anyhow, all the leicesters were judged together and of course the border leiscerster and blue-face leicester fleeces were much smaller than the others, so they were immediately taken out of consideration for ribbons. hmph. i remarked that i was glad the same criteria wasn’t used for humans, or i’d be out of luck (5’2” since i was 14, and that’s it folks).

so, this is a 3.25 lb. fleece, at $6.25 a pound, from a farm in culpeper, va. the staple length is ok, but the luster and hand of the fiber is real nice, plus it just looks like butter, doesn’t it? and how can anything that reminds you of butter be wrong? yup, it just drew me right in. fleeces are divided into three categories at maryland sheep and wool – either show only, sell only, or show and sale. this fleece was a sale only, which you’d think might mean an inferior fleece, but noo way – it costs a bit more to enter a fleece to the show, for judging, and often too, people didn’t want their fleeces competing with each other for any given category. anyhow, so that’s a lesson i learned this year – their were some gorgeous sale only fleeces to be had.


fleece #5 is a lincoln x ewe, from a lamb named ‘latifah’ in west virginia – helpful info to have, though not all sellers include it. during my fiber prep class, we spun some adult coopworth and some lamb coopworth, and the adult stuff i didn’t care for much, but the lamb? oh it was great great stuff. i was surprised at how nice this lincoln fleece was – there’s so much to learn about fleeces, clearly!! – as i don’t like the super curliness of the locks. they often feel rough and coarse.

i’d like to know what the cross is here though – the curls are still there, but they’re so much softer and loftier. and the colors! oh this was as close as i could get to buying another jacob fleece (which i almost did. from the same flock as last year, coincedentally! it felt so much like fate. but then i ran out of cash, so that seemed even more like fate. ha.) without buying another jacob, so into my hand it jumped. i think it’ll dye up just great. i can’t wait to try out overdying some of these darker fleeces.


next, another lamb fleece, but this time an icelandic cross. again, surprised! you’d think such a long staple would be rough rough rough, but no, this stuff is just the opposite. i’m really interested in double-coated sheep, the primitive breeds, so i was very happy to get this fleece. 3.25 lbs, at $10 a pound, from a farm in alliance, ohio.

can you believe how long this staple is?? i tried to separate the two coats, but i think i ripped more than separated. i need to look up more info, probably old spin-off articles?, on icelandic sheep. can’t wait to spin this up – – but how? semi-woolen would be best, i think, taking advantage of that long staple, but they’d have to be handcarded or combed, since i don’t think my drum carder would treat this fleece very well. hm. oh and the color of the fleece is lovely too – lots of variations, but fundamentally a dark dark brown.


last but not least, for my maryland purchases, a maryland fleece! you get extra points for this in the skein competition, so you know i’m already thinking ahead to next year. ;) this fleece is from howell hill farm, in glenelg, md and it just a gorgeous fleece.

this will make a beautiful shiny worsted – the staple length is somewhat short, but the lustre and color make up for everything. it’s like a mother of pearl color. plus it’s so soft and will take dye beautifully i think. natural dyes for sure.

and while i’m at it, here’s my other three fleeces, including the first two from last year’s maryland sheep and wool. it was interesting to see how the feel of the fleece changed with one year of storage (in big cotton laundry bags my mom gave me – no moths, no problems, phew). they definitely stiffened up and the lanonlin changed from buttery to tacky. still, it’ll all wash out.


here’s my six pounder merino. i learned last month that merino, like many fine-wooled fleeces, like cormo, rambouillet, etc, have a lot more lanolin in them than a coarser fleece, like a jacob or a shetland. at the fleece show, it was amazing how much grease would be at the bottom of some of those cormo bags – the paper entry forms would be already turning transparent from all the lanolin! so, as a result, i’m expecting this six pounds of fleece to turn into at least 4.5 lbs. once scoured and washed.

this fleece is from lessburg, va. and was $8 a pound, so a decent price for a merino. i saw one fleece this year that was $40 a pound. $40! and it was a 10 lb. fleece to boot. that’s $400 for one fleece! can you imagine. it was a really nice fleece, but not that nice i’m thinking..!! i wonder if it sold. last year i was very impressed with the crimp of the merino fleece i bought, but this year i’ve learned that though the crimp is ok, it’s a bit too fine, and ideally should be a bit more apparent. anyhow, still a nice nice fleece. i was thinking of sending it to be processed, to see how that works, but i’m worried about getting roving back full of neps. plus i’m interested to see how much actual fiber i get out of a merino fleece. so, here it stays.


next up, the finn fleece i bought from misty mountain farm, in amissville, virginia. it’s a six pound fleece (i know! i know. but i was dazed from seeing the brand-new lambs still, so how could i resist? you can’t split up a fleece, that would make it sad..!) whose color just drew me in. unfortunately, the camera doesn’t see that color, but here’s a rough approximation of that. happily, i’ve already cleaned over three pounds. hooray!

i was thinking that with one of these fleeces, i’d like to spin half of it worsted, and the other half woolen, just as an experiment, so that i can really see how the different preps and techniques look, apart from the fiber itself. i’m thinking i might do that with this finn – it’s a nice medium wool, i believe, so.. anyhow, still thinking. no spinning yet. oh, and that’s a washed lock on the left and an unwashed lock on the right. and in the first finn pic, that’s the underside of the fleece on the left, and the outerside on the right. nice contrast, i think – great colors.


last but definitely not least comes dicken. he comes from shepherd’s hey farm in comus, maryland, about thirty minutes up the road from me. when i was standing in line last year to buy my fleeces, a woman came up to me and said, is that dicken’s fleece? oh good! someone is buying him! and she proceeded to tell me that he was her lamb, a bottle-fed lamb at that (!), and though the staple length was quite short, she was sure it’d be a great fleece. of course, knowing he was a bottle-fed lamb (and as a result, he follows her around the farm like a little puppy), that his name was dicken, and that she said i could come up to the farm whenever to meet dicken.. well, you can imagine how happy i was to ring that fleece up.

so, lucky #7 is a 4.75 lb. fleece, at $8 a pound, and he’s a romney x corriedale. plus the lanolin content! wow, soft soft soft. since i don’t see the curly bits at the end (i forget what they’re called) that you usually see on a lamb fleece, i’m wondering if maybe he was shorn already, just a bit. but he definitely wasn’t coated, which i prefer, as the tips are all that nice light brown from the sun. in the pic you can see two staple lengths – and this is the best part – guess what? this year, dicken won a second place ribbon in his division! (i forget which one it was..) i couldn’t help but grab a little lock, to compare to last year’s lamb locks. all grown up, snif snif. anyhow, a nice happy conclusion to my fleece-extravaganza-of-a- post

so. how much spinning have i done since the festival (already a month ago. wow!)? the answer: none. well, i spun a bit that first week, but since then nothing nada. i figure i gotta recharge my spinning batteries. they were definitely working overtime. plus, there’s the day-long spinning festival at the mannings coming up in two weeks – free and demos alll day long. what more could help me feel inspired to spin spin spin?

in the meantime, my garden is calling. and so are my parents. plus i get to see one of my sisters today, and there’s a wedding next weekend. and lots of library work this week too. so, busy as always. thanks for reading, also as always ~ ~ happy weekend!