Monday, July 25, 2016

A fine fleece

Two types of fiber, side by side
Or not

When the fleece came off the ewe in March, it shone silver gray and lustrous in the sun. I was definitely tempted to take it home then and there, but I had sworn a pact to myself that I would not bring home another fleece. I said, no. 

Later, the fleece came up in a discussion among friends and one immediately offered to split it with me. The fleece came home.

Determined not to let it sit for months, I immediately scoured it using Beth Smith's Simple and Mostly Quick method. When it was dry, I set to work carding it with visions of spinning in my mind.

Gnarly black fibers

A silk purse, it isn't

Were I more experienced, I surely would have recognized the problem, but I'm not and I didn't. 

Putting it through the carder was hard. The licker filled and the drums locked. I attributed it to poor fiber prep and spent too much time going through the fleece, pulling it apart and trying to release any sticky bits with a small comb. 

And I kept trying. But even with all the prep and  four passes through the carder, there were still lots and lots of gnarly, nubby black bits. Clearly, the fleece would not be suitable for handspinning. But what is the problem?

That was when I stepped back and examined the locks very carefully. At the base of most of the locks was a snaggly clump of black fiber. It was extremely hard to separate from the locks. Pulling on a lock did not separate it. Rather, the fibers locked together and felt like wire. I didn't have the black fiber tested, but it looked and felt much coarser than the gray fiber. (Note: These were different from the dark fibers in the photo at top right.)

Gnarls in carded batt
I took photos and shared them, along with questions, with more knowledgable spinners. 

Turns out the ewe was double-coated. She shouldn't have been. But she was. And, interestingly, double-coated sheep are typically described as having a longer, coarse outer coat and a short fine undercoat. This is the exact opposite. The outer coat is long and fine and the undercoat, coarser. Some obscure, long recessive gene had clearly expressed itself. 

Now what?

I finished carding what seemed the most suitable, cutting the base of the locks with scissors. I still have gnarls throughout the batts. And I now have a lot of carded batts with gnarls. Maybe a felting project is in my future?

I didn't even try to card the coarser black fibers. But I didn't throw them away, either. More next week.

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