The easiest way to prepare raw fleece for spinning is to "flick" card it. A wire flicker brush for fleece looks just like a wire pet brush for long haired cats. Locks of wool are flicked with the brush to open up both ends. Many types of wool are fine to be spun with the lanolin left in the locks but superfine wools such as Merino or Cormo need specific preperation for spinning as they often have an excessive amount of grease.
I like to prepare merino locks by first washing them to remove much of the grease and then flick carding. As fine wools like Merino and Cormo are prone to felting I use netting to enclose the locks to minimise that amount of handling during washing. The photos below show the sequence of this process.
Working with Hand Carders
Working with hand cards can produce a semi worsterd or wollen yarn depending on the way that the carded fleece is rolled. Stapes are lined up on one card and the other card is brushed against it to open up the staples. The fibre is passed between the cards several times and then removed and rolled into a rolag for spinning.
Working with Hackles
Hackles are a set of metal tyne combs which have been used since medieval times to prepare wool for spinning. A good fleece with a long staple or a roving can be directly applied to the tynes to create a layer of wool fibres all orientated in the same direction. The fibres are then pulled through a diz to create a top. Tops are wonderful to spin and produce a worsted yarn as the fibres are all laying in the one direction.
Hackles are a great way to make blends of colours or fibres. The locks are placed along the tynes and then when the roving is 'dized' off the tynes the top is formed from a mix of fibres
Working with a Drum Carder
A drum carder is a device that speeds up the process of carding. It is similar in action to the hand cards but the metal teeth are on a drum which revolves as you feed in the fleece. Theresulting bundle of carded wool is called a "bat". Drum carders are great for processing larger quantities of blended fibres or coloured wool.
Woollen or Worsted?
All types of fleece can be spun in either of two ways. Worsted - where the fibres are basically aligned in one direction or 'Woollen' -where the direction of the fibres is random. Items such as socks, which will be exposed to more friction, are best made from worsted spun yarn. The longer fibres in a wosterd yarn resist 'pilling 'when rubbed.
A good fleece can be just teased by hand and spun with no further preparation. This usually results in a woollen yarn. A very short fleece needs to be hand combed and results in what are called rolags. Rolags are rolled off the combs and spun to produce a wollen yarn.
Woolen yarn is fluffier and better for subsequent felting or garments that need to provide more warmth.
I love to watch the herd of alpacas grazing next door. They make the most unusual noise when communicating to each other The fleece spins up well and is extremely soft to handle. Although they are wonderful looking creatures they have a temper if agitated and can spit a very long way. I source my alpaca fleece form a stud in the south of Tasmania called Mossvale Alpacas. They have selectively bred their flock to be of a high quality for spinning and weaving. Their black fleeces aree uniformly black thoroughout the entire fleece and have a delightful lustre.
Sometimes I was my Alpaca fleece before it is spun as alpacas spend much of their time mach day in contact with the ground. The fleece that I often have is of such a high quality that it can just be prepared for spinning using a process called flick carding. The locks can be bundled and the tips just briefly combed to separate out the fibres and it is ready for spinning.
Due to my increasing problems with arthritis I invested in an electric wheel and it is so plesant to sit outside on the deck overlooking the garden and spin this luxurious fibre
White alpaca yarn dyes to give very clear colours and takes natural and synthetic dyes easily. A feature of alpaca fleece is the beautiful natural colours that are available, often in the one fleece, as you can see in this photo.I have white, black, brown, grey, chestnut and cream aplaca fleeces ready to spin as it has just been shearing time in Tasmania
I started spinning many yeas ago with Romney Marsh fleece. This fleece was very forgiving to a beginning spinner but for hand knitting I found I needed to change to a crossbred fleece such as a Polworth or Corriedale.
White yarn usually ends up dyed with Kingfisher dyes using a very natural palette inspired by the scenery of the East coast of Tasmania. Often I will knit an article with white or pale grey undyed yarn and then dye it to give a very different result than using dyed wool for the construction.
Now I spin either merino, that I have hand dyed as rovings, or natural coloured alpaca or a sheep breed called Como.. However I cannot resist a lovely Corriedale fleece and like most spinners I have a stash that will last me a lifetime.
We are fortunate in Tasmania that we have access to a breed of sheep called Ringrove Morrit. Not far from where I live a retired geneticist by the name of Val Payne created a line of sheep that were coloured from light fawn to dark chocolate. This fleece is so very soft but is like a good Corri to spin. Unfortunately Val is no longer with us but her flocks have been treasured by a number of local breeders who will preserve her bloodlines.
A lovely crossbred Corriedale fleece from a property near Ross in Tasmnaia and a cinammon ringrove Morrit
When a yarn is first spun it is called a single . Usually two or more singles are spun together with the opposite twist to give a plied yarn. With a solid colour fleece this presents no problems but when spinning a mixed colour aplaca fleeec the resulting single has a variation of colours in it.
If two such singles are spun together to make the usual two ply yarn the result has a flecked. To prevent this I ply with a single yarn using a technique called Navaho or chain plying. This is 'interesting' to learn but once you master the technique the results are well worth it. It produces a 3 ply yarn with distinct blocks of colour which will knit up with random bands of colour. Teh following images show balls of chain plied wool showing the charastic striped look. The knitting from this yarn is randomly striped. I often use this technique to make the warp yarn for my weaving.
Tasmanian Cormo Wool
Cormo wool is a uniquely Tasmanian breed of sheep. It was first produced in Tasmania near the highland town of Bothwell in the 1960's by a grazier by the name of Ian Downie. His family had been breed high quality Superfine Saxon Merinos at Dungrove station for four generations. In his search for a more productive breed for this often difficult environment he experimeted with stud CORriedale rams over his MerinO ewes. He named this new breed of sheep the CORMO by combining two parts of the names of each foundation breed.
After many generations, selecting only the best 3% of his herd to breed with, thebreed became established and CORMO is now found world wide and renowned for its quality. The long staple length of this fleece makes it a joy to prepare and spin without comprimising the softness of the fibre.
My fleeces come from "Mount Vernon" at Kempton in the Tasmanian midlands that specialses in Cormo wool in various colours for hand spinning.
I love to take a raw fleece through the process of preparation, spinning, washing, dyeing and finally knitting. I enjoy continuing a process that has not changed since Saxon times. I create many lace items as I tend to spin quite finely creating a laceweight yarn or Fingerling weight
There are a huge range of patterns available in books or on the internet. When choosing a pattern the ply of the yarn is significant and sometimes it can be difficult to judge with hand spun yarn.
What ply is my Yarn?
The best way to estimate the ply of any yarn is to wrap the yarn around a ruler. Wrap for two full inches.
Estimating Yarn Ply
||Needles for Band
||Needles for Body
NOTE: Needle size is in mm
The first image is Como wool wrapped around the ruler 24 times in the 2" space. This estimates that this yarn would be suitable for use in a pattern which uses an 8 ply or doubleknit yarn
Thee second is alpaca yarn wrapped around the ruler 30 times in the 2" space. This yarn is ideal for lace work or it could be suitable for a pattern that needs a 5 ply wool.
I tend to be a loose knitter so I find that I need to work with a smaller size set of needles or go down a pattern size. Lacy scarves are a great solution for handspun yarn as tension and ply are usually quite unimportant. This link takes you to a pattern for a very simple lace scarf