Thursday, January 12, 2012

Romney, how I love thee

This post is kind of like cheating. Romney is probably my favorite fiber to spin, it is comfort spinning for me. We like each other, Romney and I, and when you get along with a fiber I feel like it shows in your results.

So, a little bit about Romney wool, besides how much I love it. Romney sheep are considered a member of the "Longwool" family, a group that includes the Bluefaced Leicester and the Wensleydale, among others. Romney is kind of an "on the fence" wool as far as softness. Hovering right around a 30 micron count it will be soft enough for some people to use next to skin, but may be a little coarse for the delicate flowers out there. Romney is still very versatile and can be used for any number of projects including outerwear and even felted projects.

OK, enough about that. You want to see my photos and hear about the real details, right?

Here is my fleece, purchased at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 2011. Grown by a sheep whose name is Stella Luna (yes I like knowing where my wool comes from!) I contacted the shepherdess at Blackberry Fields Farm and discovered my ewe was about 5 years old at time of shearing.

Beautiful, right? This fleece was about 8lbs, some adult fleeces will be larger but I figured 8 was enough. Staple length was between 4.5" and 6" with lovely crimp.
I started my adventure by skirting on my porch. Whenever possible, I recommend skirting outside; it is a messy business. After skirting I still had 7.5lbs of wool. I then started washing this baby using Power Scour. I washed about 8 ounces at a time in plastic bins in my double sink. I used lingerie bags to make it easier to transfer the wool between the wash and rinse water. Two washes, three rinses and the wool was clean and ready to spin or process.

I tried flicking open the ends and spinning but it was not as relaxing a process as I was looking for so I decided to go ahead and  hand card before spinning. This was personally a more pleasing spin. The skein pictured below shows the fruits of my labors. This was spun with a backwards draw (not woolen long draw though) on my Kromski Sonata and chain plied. You can really see the variation in the fleece color here.
 At this point I had acquired more fleece and the prospect of hand-carding the remaining wool seemed daunting. I have 2 young children and while they like to help they aren't old enough to be put to work carding for me. On the recommendation of a local Jacob breeder I sent most of my remaining fleece off to Gurdy Run Woolen Mill in Pennsylvania. It felt a bit like cheating, but I reminded myself I did skirt and clean the darn thing myself so half the work was done already (Ok, not half, but the dirty part anyway!)

What I got back from the mill was a giant box of really well prepared roving. I was very happy with my decision. While I did loose some of the grey of the fleece by having it blended, there is still a nice heathered effect in the finished yarn (see right. )

This really spun like a dream. I used the same spinning technique as for the hand-carded skein above, but got a somewhat smoother yarn. This one however is a traditional 3-ply and not chain plied. The skein is spongy, not dense, and knits up to an aran weight.

I still have a good amount of my box o' roving to spin. Just like your favorite comfort food though, I like to save it for a day when I need that nice friendly, safe, relationship at the wheel. Like the day after I first tried spinning silk top on my wheel. . .but that is a story for another day.

Our next adventure will be with: Hog Island Wool

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Introduction

Welcome to my little corner of the web. Some of you may know me from Ravelry as "Melrose", moderator of A Spinner's Study. First, let's start with the name of my blog "The Woolchemist", in case you haven't gotten the reference, it is a play on the word "Alchemist". I'm not going to try to transmute lead into gold, but it seemed like a wonderful analogy  for the fleece to finished project journey.

My goal for this blog is to share my experiences with the wool/fiber of many of the breeds of sheep, goats, camelids, and various other fiber bearing creatures that I stumble across (or troll the internet and fiber fairs in relentless search of.) I intend to focus on one breed or fiber with each blog post, a sort of journal of my trials and tribulations, complete with photos. Whenever possible I'll show progress from raw to finished yarn. Other times, I'm sure, we'll have to settle for processed fiber and give my combs and cards a break. Either way it should be a fantastic adventure.

Along the way I'll chat about the tools I use for spinning and what works best for me. You'll hear about my favorite fiber sources and how my house perpetually smells like wet wool. Who knows, I may even have time to knit.