Not everyone would have the ‘gumption’ to tackle washing, carding, spinning wool from a Topsy Farms fleece. Especially an ‘in-the-grease’ fleece, fresh from the ewe. But Carlene Paquette is one of those brave souls. Some weavers come to the farm during shearing, to help on the ‘skirting’ table, and choose the fleece wanted, even getting to meet the donor ewe who was just shorn. When we offered free delivery to Ottawa, Carlene decided to experiment with our breed – North Country Cheviot/Suffolk cross; pasture-raised.
Here’s the process. First she examines the fleece on the floor of her garage, to remove any fecal matter or chaffy bits that were missed during skirting. Ours was proclaimed unusually clean. She also looks for ‘second cuts’ – short bits of wool staple if the shearer went over the area twice. Again, our pro shearers did well. The length of staple is important, as well as whether it is solid. If the sheep has issues in nutrition mid-season, the staple will break in mid-length. She tugged on the wool as a soundness test, and proclaimed it strong.
She then soaks the fleece in a combination of hot water, “Simple Green” (a commercial degreaser) and “Blue Dawn” dish washing soap. Some lanolin stays in; most dirt and smells are removed. Carlene dumps that dirty, oily water on driveway, then rinses again.
Once the clean wool has been spun in netted bags, she finishes drying the wool, spreading it out on clean towels. It has graduated from the garage to the spare room.
Carlene then uses a carding machine to align or comb the fibres, winding them in a soft batt.
Certain fleeces are more curly but this isn’t a characteristic of our wool. Our Cheviot fibre is about 27-33 microns. Mixed with Suffolk it is similar to Corriedale, a popular medium wool for hand spinners with a micron count of 25-31.
She then begins to spin, working a treadle, synchronizing her hands and feet in quiet rhythm. The spun wool is wound on a bobbin. For some reason, this one-ply strand is called ‘singles’ (plural!). She then combines or ‘plies’ the singles into a double strand, creating her preferred density of yarn. She washes the finished skein, then may dye it.
Why all this work?
Why go to this trouble and effort before even beginning to turn the yarn into a product with weaving, knitting, or crocheting?
She finds the entire process of creation, the washing, carding, spinning wool to be relaxing; meditative.
Working with a drop spindle was tedious for Carlene, but once she invested in a wheel, she says she hasn’t looked back. She says her involvement in the skill “sort of spirals out of control. I greatly prefer the creative process of making yarn (to knitting). The skein of yarn is a finished project in my mind. I really like the feel of the fibre running through my fingers. At first my feet had to slow down until my fingers caught up. The process supports my focus on mental and physical health and fitness. Spinning helps me stay away from snacking in evenings and it can be done while watching documentaries or chatting with someone, or listening to music. I even sleep better since I began.”
Who would have thought that our Topsy Farms flock enhances well-being? Anyone who works with our fleece and our yarn, apparently.