So a couple of Saturdays ago, a field trip that I organized for my local almost-spinning-guild finally happened. Four of us met at Webs (America’s largest yarn store – and they’re not kidding) for 9am, and we carpooled up to Northfield to Balky Farm, and another of our group met us there. The original plan had been to go see the sheep shearing and then look through/buy fleeces fresh off the sheep. But the shearer arrived on Friday and had brought an apprentice, which meant that the usual two-day job took only one day for all 140+ sheep. When we arrived, we realized this had been completely serendipitous – the shearer, apprentice, shepherd skirting, the sheep and then our group would never have fit in the barn. We would have absolutely been in the way!
Instead, we naturally took up all the space going through the boxes and boxes of fleeces.
These fleeces are large. They are beautiful. They are some cross of varying amounts of Shetland/Dorset/Finn/Romney/Cheviot, not necessarily with all of those breeds in there. There were a LOT of sheep, so there were a LOT of fleeces. The five of us went through them all. So. Much. Wool.
Stewart sends some of his fleeces to Prince Edward Island to one of the remaining mills there where his wool is processed and woven into blankets. He sells these at the markets he vends. The shears are what the sheep were shorn with – that makes for very strong hands! And in the bottom picture, you can see many, many happy sheep out in the spring sunshine chomping up new grass. Thank you, sheep!
The shepherd, Stewart Balk, keeps these sheep as a labour of love. He explained to me that his father loved shepherding with all his heart, and Stewart grew to love it as well. He does have another job that I am given to understand pays other bills, and the sales from the farm keep it going. The five of us want to keep this farm going, so we plan to support it as best we can. Very local wool from sheep kept by the happiest shepherd I have ever met, and those of us who visited this farm came away enchanted and determined to make Beautiful Things with the fleeces we bought!
I bought two. I had planned to buy only one, but came away with two. I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ve already made plans to visit the farm next year.
Of course I started to wash them. Yes, I’m packing up my stuff to move in a couple of weeks, but I figured I could at least start washing one of them and see what it would look like. So in went a couple of large handfuls.
So on the left, the orange bucket is either the wash water or the initial soak water – I can’t remember, and honestly, both looked very similar when I was done with them. I had started with the white fleece, which you can sort of see a bit of in the bag next to the blue bucket. SO DIRTY. This white fleece is so much whiter than it looked fresh off the sheep. The middle picture shows a bit of clean fleece. I know, I know, it doesn’t look clean, but trust me, it’s squeaky. It no longer smells of sheep, and the remaining vegetable matter is easily combed out. The picture on the right is of the dark grey fleece – I have not washed any of that yet so that luster in that picture is actually mostly lanolin, but watch out. If this cleans as nicely as the white, this is going to be an utterly gorgeous grey.
Okay, so I just couldn’t wait. I took the top that I’m holding in the picture above and spun it, then chain plied it so I didn’t have to muck about with multiple bobbins and swapping them around (I have a project on the spinning wheel and I didn’t want to change anything). Behold my three ply yarn!
Possibly tonight or tomorrow (in any event, this weekend), I will wash this wee skein. Yes, this wool has already been washed, but after it’s spun and plied, it should be set in some warm water (and sometimes soap or detergent). This causes the fibers to relax into the finished yarn, so there’s some fluffing up that happens called bloom. If there’s any residual lanolin, which is often the case, or other substance (for example, combing milk, which aids in keeping static at bay when you’re combing), that’s the time to remove it. This has neither, but it still needs to relax and bloom. This step can also involve some agitation, which can slightly felt the fibers resulting in a tweedy or otherwise more sturdy yarn. It’s all about what you’re after as a finished yarn in that case. Because I’m pretty sure I want to weave with this yarn, I will probably not add any huge amount of agitation. I love the luster, and there will be further wet finishing when the cloth is woven and off the loom, so.
I promise to take a picture and post it next time! And hopefully, I can get a few handfuls of the grey washed, combed and spun so I can get an idea of what that’s going to look like.
Honestly, creating this wee skein was a balm to my soul. I have so much to do, but took about 30 minutes to make some yarn. I can’t wait until I have a space and the time to have the option to decide to make something on the weekend without a giant list of must-get-done’s looming.
I am still trying to spin for a few minutes every evening before I go to bed to try to make progress on the blue merino wool I’ve got:
I know that yarn looks mighty thin – I’m inspired by my friend Rachel who spins the most gorgeous cobweb-thin yarn. I want to spin just like her when I grow up so that I can weave beautiful, drapey wool cloth!
By the way, if you want to see the size of some of the fleeces and really gorgeous close up photos of the locks, you should ABSOLUTELY go visit Rachel’s Instagram page! Just go. Look. You will not be disappointed. I promise!