A year ago I bought a coloured fleece at a fleece market. Or two, actually. One brown and one grey. I didn’t mean to, but they called my name and there was nothing I could do. Today I sort the brown Värmland fleece and dive into its depths.
I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. In online courses and webinars I usually work with white wool since it shows better on camera (at least with my limited photo skills). But a coloured fleece has a whole new dimension to dive in to.
Pax, a coloured fleece
The diversity of the coloured fleece is what lures me to dive deep and lose myself in the shades. Not only are there spots of different colours, but the tip and the cut ends can be different in colour, as can the undercoat and outercoat. There is so much to discover.
Walnut, hazel, driftwood and umber
I decide to sort the locks of the Värmland sheep Pax’s fleece into piles of different colours. I start roughly by picking out all the darker walnut staples I can find. They are disappearingly soft and quite short, some seemingly too short to spin. They seem to consist of mostly undercoat. Perhaps they have grown around Pax’s neck.
I also find two shades of grayish brown – light hazel and slightly darker driftwood. Both colour staples are silky soft and have bleached tips. The fibers are not as fine as the walnut fibers, but for some reason these lighter coloured staples feel silkier. Perhaps because I don’t expect it. The different feel of the piles give me a hint that the colours will feel different to draft. I need to keep that in mind when I spin.
The driftwood pile grows larger and larger and I sort it again to look for more shades. I find something of a mix between the driftwood and the walnut. Umber, perhaps. I could probably go on and find more fractions of colours. However, for the project I have in mind I want some distinction between the shades and I am happy with my colour quartet.
When I look at the staples I see that there are still more colours than the four I have sorted out. There are different colour fibers in each staple. Most of the walnut staples are solid walnut, but the others sparkle of different shades. This brings even more depth in the wool and in the yarn I have planned.
Even though the staples feel a bit different from pile to pile, the distribution of undercoat and outercoat seem fairly similar – a lot of airy undercoat and a few strands of strong outercoat. For this reason I would say that most of the staples are of vadmal type according to the Swedish tradition of classifying staple types.
Vadmal type staples like these with mostly airy undercoat and a few strands of outercoat make perfect carding candidates – the crimpy and unruly undercoat fibers will help building air pockets in the rolags and the longer and stronger outercoat fibers will marry them together, creating a reliable reinforcement in the midst of the cuddly soft.
I separate the colours because I want to show them one by one. To do that I need to find a combination that doesn’t blur them all together. I play and move around until I land in harmony. Walnut, hazel, umber, driftwood and back to walnut.
I use my combing station to tease one pile at a time. In this process I get a first idea of how each colour drafts. A lot of the walnut staples are very short and there is a lot of waste in this pile (which is also the smallest pile). I suspected that when I sorted the staples. The difference between the hazel and the driftwood is very small, but they are still somewhat distinct between the walnut and the umber.
Yarn of a coloured fleece
I want to make the colours the stars of the yarn I spin from Pax’s fleece. No fuss, no fancy, just a single strand of yarn, moving from shade to shade.
My favourite tool for spinning singles is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this tool I have a good overview and control of the spinning right in front of me. I see every potential lump and have the opportunity to open up the twist to smooth it out. I never want to stop. This tool is the perfect companion to the colour quartet. Every rolag amazes me – the depth of the colours is truly mesmerizing.
The floor supported spindle also gives me the opportunity to make long, smooth longdraws that just melt in my hand like butter. Again, I never want to stop. Rolling the shaft against my thigh charges the rolag with twist. I make the draw. Long, smooth, slow. Like syrup. I watch the draft closely, to find when the thickness is exactly right. I slack the strand to control the twist and roll the yarn onto the shaft.
The colours pass by my eyes rolag by rolag. I get to spend time with each section of browns, one at a time. When I have finished one rolag I butterfly it onto my spinning hand and transfer it to the lower cop. Again, the colours wind onto the cop in an ever changing spiral.
My heart sings as I see the cop build up of a thousand strands of brown. No spinning mill can separate the colours of a fleece like this – they would spin a solid oatmeal. I sort and spin for colours because it is possible for me as a hand spinner. Because I can.
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