A great guest blog here from Danielle Adger from Essex telling us about all the ins and out of spinning your very own wool!
Katy very kindly guest blogged for me for East Essex Smallholders Group, so I promised to return the post! It may have taken a few months but finally I find myself sitting indoors on a freezing cold day, keeping my eye on Pearl our bottle fed lamb and playing Mum when she is hungry. A little about me, I live on the family smallholding with my Mum, Dad, Brother and Husband. We have always kept horses and poultry, but in 2005 we decided to get our first sheep and the rest is now history. We now have a variety of chickens, from laying girls, to our 6 six pens of pure breed chickens. We have turkeys, pea fowl, a rhea, geese, ducks, horses, Dexters and pigs. We butcher and process all of our own meat and make bacon, hams, sausages, salami, chorizo and pancetta. We have a hot and cold smoker, as well a generous vegetable plot. We generally live the good life and are very proud of what we have achieved.
We have kept sheep at Furzedown for 7 years now. Year after year, shearing time has arrived and gone. Each year we say and do the same thing, “We really must” and “why don’t we” then our fleeces get wrapped up in a nice new tarpaulin and packed away with the very best of intentions. They then get moved around a few times from one barn to another until we finally dispose of them, but not this year!
It all started when I organised an afternoon for the East Essex Smallholders Group with “The Spinning Lady” Celia Gwynn who explained how spinning had evolved over the years, from hand spinning wool, to using drop spindles and then to the more modern spinning wheel. She then taught us how to spin with a drop spindle. I now know why they are called drop spindles; because you spend so much time dropping them on the floor! I was hooked, I really enjoyed spinning with the spindle and spent many a morning before work, catching a quick ten minutes spinning wool. It was a great hand conditioner, as I was spinning raw unwashed fleece. It made my hands so soft. My technique improved and I was actually managing to get some fairly decent yarn.
Then my friend told me of an Ashford Traditional Wheel she had seen for sale on the River Cottage website for the bargain price of £100! I couldn’t believe my luck but there was one catch; it was in Poole, Dorset! However my Nan and I set off on a road trip and 8 hours later we arrived home with the fabulous new piece of equipment. Typical me no patience, I had to have a go! With the help of YouTube and my Mum, we managed to get it spinning. Although it was hard and clutch control was very difficult. I managed to keep the wheel spinning, one way to wind the wool onto the bobbin, rather than winding it off. Finally I was spinning wool, I was so pleased. My enthusiasm had rubbed off on my friend Michaela and we both decided we wanted to learn more. So we joined the Mid Essex Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers. They have helped us so much, from teaching us how to card the wool, spinning technique and how we can naturally dye the yarn. We are both so inspired to do more! One catch I need to give up work, so I have more time to enjoy my wool.
It’s a lengthy process: First of all the sheep are sheared normally at the beginning of May. Once the fleece is off you need to trim any clumps of debris from the fleece. They normally get a little dirty around the rear end.You then need to wash the fleece. Goodness me have I been in trouble, sinks full of fleece washing, wool around the plug hole! I now wash fleece outside in my horses tack room, with an urn. I find by washing it three or four times, you can break down the lanolin. However you have to be careful not to agitate the wool with any soap, as this can cause the wool to felt. Then you have to dry the fleece. I have found putting it on a gentle spin in a pillow case in the washing machine gets the bulk of the water out of it. I am, however banned from drying the wool on the towel rail above the bathroom radiator as my Dad went to grab the towel to dry his face to have a face full of wool!
Once the wool is dried you need to card it. This is a process of trying to detangle the wool, to make it easier to spin. You can use hand carders however I am lucky enough to now have a drum carder (thanks to my wonderful husband!) which makes life much easier. This process helps to try and remove the debris that sheep can pick up. Straw! Lots of bits of it in a fleece, I spend a lot of time picking bits out of the drum carder as it makes my life a lot easier when I start spinning. Then you can start spinning. You spin the wheel one way when you are spinning a single length of wool, and then the opposite way when you two ply the yarn. It takes a lot of practice to spin the wheel slowly in the same direction and at the same time drafting the wool, pinching and gliding to turn it into a yarn. It’s a bit like patting you head and rubbing your belly. It takes practice.
Once you have spun two full bobbins you put them on a Lazy Kate. This enables the bobbins to freely move whilst you spin the two yarns together. You have to put just enough twist but not too much! Once you have done this you put the yarn on a Niddy Noddy, which allows you to make a big lop of wool, it’s much easier to handle, you then you wash the wool and hang it to dry weighted. Once this is all done you are ready to turn the yarn into a wonderful creation. I still have a lot to learn, but hopefully time and practice will help. The next thing on my list to learn how to knit. I feel such a sense of achievement using our fleeces and turning it into something we can use.