It's Time to Spin November 04 2014

Fall is definitely here.  Frost has put the garden to bed for the year, and there's snow on the mountains. We had a great year for tomatoes and peppers, which we stored for the winter by freezing, canning, and dehydrating.


I find myself gravitating toward my spinning wheel now, despite the fact I should be making inventory for the holiday season, cleaning the always-dirty house, or doing some other tangibly productive activity.  Going back to my wheel and spinning is such a soothing activity in light of how busy we have been.  I always look forward to winter days when there's a fire in the fireplace, snow flurries outside, and I can sit down and do some spinning.  My husband laughingly says Sundays are a good day for me to spin, because football is on TV and I wouldn't have the attention-span to sit and watch it with him if I weren't spinning.  The sheep are all nice and snug in their warm fleeces - it is always amazing to see the frost on them early in the morning - and that makes my fingers itch to spin up some warm handspun for winter hats and gloves.


I've enjoyed working with some of our dark brown Corriedale roving, which spins up like a dream, but now I'm clearing off my bobbins for my true passion - our homegrown Shetland wool. I finished plying some of our shaela (charcoal) wool from last year (from Caprica, the dark ewe in the above photo).  It is such an easy spin, and one of my favorite colors.  This year's crop looks to be as nice as last year's. 

I'm very conscious about the quality of our Shetland roving, as I'm constantly evaluating our breeding program and many mills seem to have trouble processing Shetland fiber well.  We've had it come back from the mill with noils, which could be on the mill's end from over-carding or -washing, or on our end from wool quality or biological issues (mites etc.).  Additionally, our Shetlands do experience a "rise" of their wool, which is a historic trait of the breed that allowed Shetland shepherds to "roo," or pull/comb out, their sheep's wool instead of shearing.  If we don't time shearing just right, we can get a natural break in the wool before or after shearing.  Then there's always the vegetable matter, or VM, issue in roving as we don't coat our animals.  Some fleeces just seem to attract VM, and the silly ram lambs sit in their hay while eating!  It's enough to drive a shepherd mad!

With the limited number of Shetland sheep we have, and the small fleece sizes, we use a small mill who is willing to do small batches of each color for us, but small mills just don't have the capabilities of the larger ones.  With all these concerns, it's always nice to evaluate the wool through spinning, even though we've gotten very good at judging the wool quality when we open up the shipping boxes fresh back from the mill.  Anything that doesn't meet our quality standards is relegated to felting, woven roving pot holders, or pillow stuffing, although we do expect fellow spinners and fiber artists to understand our roving did come from a live farm animal and is not combed top.  (On the subject of combed top, we feel that would be a disservice to Shetland fiber, as its beauty is in a woolen spin.) 

I was a little leery when I sat down to spin some of our moorit (brown) Shetland roving from our ewes, Bonnie and Claire.  I could tell it was nice and soft, and I knew the fiber staple was 4+ inches (I can't spin short fibers well), but there were some visible noils and VM.  Not horrible, but when you only have two moorit ewes, it's tough to see your precious brown wool come back anything less than perfect.  I started to spin, and a minute into it I was very, very happy; it was a great spin!  The VM tended to fall out as I spun, and what didn't was easy to pick out, and the noils were very easy to pick out of the wool or even the yarn.  That was a very different experience of noils than I've had in the past, and it hardly slowed me down.  It spun as fast as the Corriedale roving, and soon I had a full bobbin. 

Next I have my eye on the gorgeous gray roving from Cameron and Chloe.  I had written off their fleeces as too coarse, but it came back from the mill as a lusciously soft, luminous gray shot through with darker (albeit, coarser) fibers.  There are some noils visible in it, but I'm hoping they'll be as easy to handle as in the moorit roving.  I'm watching the weather report, looking for the next nice spinning day - wind, snow, freezing temperatures, and maybe some football.  It's time to spin.

Thanks for reading!

- Kelsey