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Choosing a Fleece for Hand Spinning

Jenny Hart

If you asked me to choose my favourite fleece to spin it would be like asking me to choose a favourite child. Each one has a different personality, strengths and weaknesses.

Below are attributes to consider when selecting a spinning fleece but each of us will put a different emphasis on the importance of these.

  • At the top of my personal list is the end use for the yarn – will it be for knitting, weaving, crochet or something else?
  • What will be the style of the yarn spun – do I want the yarn to be luxurious, fine, against the skin, for an outer garment, for warmth, or for household textiles?
  • Will the texture of the end product need to be considered?
  • The handle may be a factor. Is it soft enough? Does it have the required loft and bulk? Does it feel prickly?

My next block of considerations are all about fleece structure.

  • This includes the form of the staple, that it is even throughout enough of the fleece to give sufficient fibre for the project, that there is good definition of the staple all the way from the tip to the butt end.
  • Check that the fleece has got good tensile strength.
  • Also check for crimp consistency throughout the fleece
  • Check for faults such as staining and matting.

Other points of importance to think about:

  • Cleanliness from vegetable matter and second cuts by the shearer need to be assessed. Fleeces should be well skirted and if so, most of these flaws would be removed.
  • Colour preference, lustre, overall appeal and suitability for overdying or blending with other fibres may be relevant.
  • Think about the yarn design, the choice of technique and your spinning skills.
  • The name of the breed is quite low on my list for selection of a hand spinning fleece. Any breed by name gives a quick summary of some particular characteristics but there can be huge variation depending on the growing conditions.

It is always a good idea to source fleece from a trusted supplier.

This seems like a long check list and there will be a number of design decisions that have been unconsciously made. Often we buy a fleece because we fall in love with it for some reason and that is part of the joy of creating your own yarn. Whatever you choose and for whatever reason those characteristics you fell in love with will be very valid.

Some other points to consider

  • Fine wool will generally feel soft.
  • Worsted yarns need long, strong fibres that are prepared on wool combs and spun with no twist in the drafting zone between the two hands.
  • Smooth, strong, firm yarn will have a nice sheen if spun from a lustrous fleece.
  • Woollen yarns are spun from relatively short fibre. Soft, airy, fluffy yarn will be very insulating.

References:

  • Nola Fournier and Jane Fournier, In Sheep’s Clothing, A Handspinner’s Guide to Wool Interweave Press
  • Pat Old In a Spin ISBN 978-0-473-15713-5
  • Mabel Ross The Essentials of yarn Design for Handspinners

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