Spinning from Gotland fleece

Sometimes I’m asked by customers “How do I spin Gotland?” or even “What can I make with it?”.

I can’t answer the second question; that’s entirely up to you! But in terms of working with fleece I thought it might be helpful to provide a few ideas for those spinners who might never have tried working with fleece because sometimes people also say “I don’t have any fibre prep equipment” or “I don’t know how to prep fleece”.

When you first encounter a raw fleece it can be a little daunting – it seems so terribly sheepy, how do you choose one, how do you skirt it (remove the bits you don’t want to spin because it’s not good enough/dirty), all that washing and prepping, time consuming, messy, needing specialist tools. I wanted to show that that actually it’s really not as daunting as it might seem and that actually you can make a start with some very simple tools indeed.

I’m not going to cover fleece washing of raw fleeces in this post – I might do that in a later one if people would find it helpful. What I’m concentrating on here is working with washed, dyed fleece such as the Bags of Colour Dyed Gotland I’m selling at Wonderwool this weekend and hope to have in my etsy shop afterwards. Here I’ve taken the first stages out of working with fleece for you; the fleeces were washed (scoured) before dyeing with acid dyes in various shades so they are nice and clean and ready to be prepped.

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Some spinners already have equipment such as hand carders, drumcarders and wool combs and know how to use them. This isn’t a blog post about that. I love my fibre prep equipment and use them all the time for all sorts of fibres. But you can make a start with nothing more expensive than a dog comb (left) or pet slicker (right) from your local pet shop and they generally don’t cost more than about £4 or £5.

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Starting with the pet slicker you can use it either to comb out the locks of clean fleece or as a “flick carder” where you flick at the ends of the staple – the butt and the tip – and it opens up the ends. You’ll want to do this on a protective piece of cloth on your knee as it will wreck your clothing otherwise or you can work on a piece of board on a table instead, an old chopping board is ideal for this. Take a staple or few staples in one hand and wrap it once around your forefinger to secure it.

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Tap or gently brush at the tips and they will open out. Turn the staple of wool around and wrap round your finger again to secure and tap/brush the other end to complete the staple.

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Alternatively you can comb out the staple tips and butts with a pet comb in the same way, holding the staples and wrapping to secure round your finger and working on one end and then turning it and working on the other.

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You can see the waste removed by the combing, any weak or felted tips from the outer end that’s been exposed to weather for longest and any short cuts or new growth from the butts leaving you with clean long fibres ready for spinning.

You can spin them as they are from end-to-end, either any-which-way or keeping them all pointing in the same direction and spinning only from the butt or only from the tip. This is similar to a worsted yarn such as you’d spin from combed top; the fibres are all aligned and smoothed down to make a hard wearing yarn great for weaving with. I like to spin these from the fold however as it makes a nice smooth yarn with a bit more bounce than a true worsted yarn and Gotland has a good staple length which lends itself well to this form of spinning along with other longwools, silk and alpaca. It’s not a worsted yarn because the folded fibres give more of an airy woollen yarn but without the fuzzy ends sticking out quite so much. It’s very easy to do, maybe give it a try if you’ve not done this before.

Simply fold your combed staple/s over your forefinger and hold the ends tucked down in your palm and hold gently – you’re aiming to keep the ends tidily out of the way but not hang on for grim death as they need to be able to slide out as they draft into yarn. Take the front edge of the fold and join onto your leader and spin and the rest of the fold will follow on as you draft. Your other hand can control the single yarn as the twist builds up.

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It’s easier to do than describe! And it makes a lovely yarn from longer fibres.

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Gotland opens up very readily (in fact it can be quite a static fibre once you’ve released it from it’s staple formation!!) so if you don’t even have access to pet combs like these you can simply tease the fibres apart with your fingers (known as “picking”) and spin from the open “cloud” of fibre like that. It will make a more rustic textured yarn but it’s definitely possible.

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So! There you have it. Three simple methods for starting off prepping fleece for spinning. So if you’ve always fancied having a play with fleece but worried about taking the plunge I hope this might have given you the incentive to have a play!! Get those wool fumes! :0)

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