Thursday, 3 February 2011


I've had fleece on my mind over the past few days. First, a visit to the National Sheep Society and meeting some fellow wool devotees and supporters of the Campaign for Wool, yesterday. Then today my good friend Claire Crompton came to sort out some spinning techniques for her flock of mini-sheep, created from yarn grown, spun and knitted in the south west UK. The flock is growing and you can read all about it on Claire's blog:

Claire bought me a Cotswold fleece, obtained from a farmer who doesn't do anything with it, regarding it as a waste product. It looks gorgeous - what do I mean by that? It is filthy - sheep live in fields and don't have access to regular wash and brush-ups, so that is to be expected. Vegetable matter attaches itself to the fibres, occasionally small insects (dead, usually!) are to be found lurking in the locks of wool, and quite often the remains of normal biological processes are attached to the rear end of the fleece. And it usually smells of sheep - an acquired taste. It is possible, and quite straightforward to buy ready processed, clean wool top to spin so why on earth would I want to use the raw fibre that needs to be scoured, dried, combed or carded according to the fibre type and intended spin? Masochism?

I love fleece, and I particularly love the qualities that remain in the fibre when it has been prepared by hand. The fleece I work with is generally from a breed I can identify, will have come from a local farmer, is intended for an end product for which it is entirely suited and will require skill and patience to turn it from smelly, mucky fleece into gorgeous yarn. The preparation and spin I use will be chosen to retain the particular quality of the wool and the skills I have developed over 30+ years will show me when it is appropriate to stick to the traditional preparation and spin, and when 'breaking' those rules will give something truly unique and wonderful.

I am going to put my fleece in a bucket of water to soak, and dream about what I shall do with it when it has been scoured.....

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