Ongoing Tour de Fleece

Happy Monday! I am back again today with an update on my spinning news. To many a spinner, the word ‘July’ sounds a lot like ‘Tour de Fleece’! The Tour de Fleece is a simply a little pun on ‘spinning’, which is not only a very enjoyable fibre past-time, but also a way to describe the exercise one takes on a stationary bike. The point is to spin along to the Tour de France as it is televised. (There are many levels of complexities, such as teams and challenges, depending on how involved you want to get!). I don’t think the actual bicycle race is even happening this year, but does it really matter? After all, when it comes to spinning or knitting along to an event, any link, no matter how tenuous, is all we need.

Allow me to go back a little in time to the beginning of May. I celebrated my birthday and to my great surprise, received a drum carder! ‘Carding’ is what you do when you comb a sheep’s fleece into a lovely little wool cloud, that you can then easily separate into smaller segments to spin. It is possible to card with hand carders – they look like a big pair of hair brushes – but it is very slow going. I could not possibly imagine hand carding an entire fleece. Hand carding is great if you want to try out a sample of something, or if you want to blend a small quantity of differing fibres together, but on the whole, hand carding an entire fleece is just not for me. Enter the drum carder! If you would like to see what one looks like, and more information about how it works, here’s a link to the Ashford website.

I had one small issue: I needed to find a fleece! After a quick scout online, I found a woman selling washed fleece near Markree, which is not very far from where I grew up in Sligo. You can find her online shop via Etsy.

I got two fleeces as the postage was quite reasonable. One, that you can see exploding with excitement from its parcel above, is a light grey-brown Jacob, and the other is a mixed Jacob, with dark brown, grey-brown and cream. They were about €20 and approximately 1kg each. I am aware that you can buy much cheaper fleeces (on ebay, for example), but the main reason I chose these over something cheaper was because they were washed and scoured. I decided to go with the light fleece first, as I wasn’t really sure how to go about dealing with the mixed one. Here it is fully unpacked:

You can see that it is all in fluffy clumps, which I suppose is the way that it comes off the sheep when it is sheared. This is what one of the clumps, or locks, looked like before I carded it:

You might spy the bits of dried grass in it. Even though the fleeces were lovely and clean, they still had plenty of vegetable matter throughout (not to mention a few crispy beetles, clearly gone to their own fluffy, woolly heaven). I carded a little bit of it. All that involves is turning the handle and feeding the locks in slowly. The two drums, both of which have combs on them, pull the fibres apart and tease them out so that they lie parallel to each other. After doing that for a while, I quickly came to the conclusion that I needed to sort out the fleece. I think that this is called ‘skirting’. I sat down and systematically picked out all of the twigs and briars, shook out the grass, and most importantly, picked out the dyed parts (from where the sheep had been marked), the parts damaged by weather, and the parts that were just really felted from where the sheep had been rubbing itself against a tree or lying down. In all, about a quarter of the fleece was not worth carding, so I put that aside and I have kept it to use for stuffing.

This was the very first wool cloud that I carded.

I quickly got the hang of it and every day or so, would make another…

…and another…

Very soon, I had enough to spin, and it became clear that I would have more than enough for one jumper out of the fleece. In the last year, I have found a satisfying sense of purpose with my spinning that, up until now, I lacked. I have realised that I enjoy spinning much more, and am far quicker and more direct about it, when I spin with a specific project in mind. When I started spinning first, and typically when I would come back to it from time to time, I was drawn to the blend of colours and the mix of fibres. These are both fantastic aspects, but unfortunately usually resulted in a yarn that I had no idea what to do with. Now, I start with the end product in mind, and then work backwards to have a clear idea of the type of yarn that I want to make.

When I thought ‘jumper’ for this fleece, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a dense sport weight yarn that would be very warm and show off the fleece’s beautiful oatmealy variegation. Here’s what I spun up:

The two outer bobbins are singles (one strand) and the inner bobbin is a 2-ply of the singles. Looking at them now in the photo, I think that a 3-ply in this yarn would be very snug indeed. I wound the 2-ply off into skeins and soaked them.

The final step was to swatch – I figured a 3.5mm needle, which gives a lovely woolly, drapey fabric – and then to cast on!

That whole process took less than a month. When I first received the fleeces, my initial thought was, ‘Ohhhh, I am never going to get through these!’ But actually, leaving the carder set up on the kitchen table, it became such an enjoyable little activity whilst waiting for the dishwasher to finish, or for coffee to brew (let’s be honest, more often the latter than the former!), and I finished up both fleeces last week. I spun only enough of the grey fleece for what I think I will need for my jumper. Whilst it is tempting to spin the whole lot up, I think that leaving it unspun at the moment will allow for more flexibility down the line – like to make a 3-ply for some winter hats and boot socks, for example.

I really love the variegation of the wool and how it shows the texture. The fabric is, by its nature, uneven. This fleece, much more so than the darker, mixed one, had a lot of little lumps in it (I think the word is ‘kemp’, but I might be wrong about that). I picked a lot out of it as I was spinning it, but some I left in for the fun of texture. Some people might not like that, but I love the result, and in any case, it is not overly-lumpy anyway, as you can see.

The jumper itself is a top-down yoke based on Hannah Fettig’s Basic Round-Yoke Unisex Pullover (link to Quince & Co. website for details, as Ravelry is dealing with accessibility issues right now). Thinking about how nicely the yarn shows texture, I wanted to incorporate something that showed off that aspect. I am not sure why I didn’t just throw in some ordinary cables, or draw upon my Norah Gaughan cable book. For some reason, I really had it in my head about using a knit/purl contrast. I found a page in one of my Barbara Walker dictionaries that had a pattern for the triangles in purl stitches, and alongside it, a pattern for the lattice that makes the diamond shapes. I decided to amalgamate the two, although I must admit that seeing it knit up, I am not entirely convinced. The purling creates a pleating effect. In fact, in the Walker book, she mentions how this type of stitch pattern was often used to knit pleated skirts. Maybe it would look better with just the lattice. I altered the lattice pattern slightly from the book, using the method of switching stitch order, as one would in more intricate cables, to create the travelling stitches and make them stand out more.

Seeing as the whole thing is an experiment, I am going to leave it be and see how it blocks out at the end. I think that it could be quite interesting. I have had an idea for what to do with the darker, mixed fleece, so I am looking forward to getting started on that and sharing the results with you soon.

Wishing you all a happy, productive week!

One thought on “Ongoing Tour de Fleece

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *