Saturday, February 6, 2010

Long Term Projects

Some projects have a very long lifespan and this is one of them. Put simply, the grand plan is to make a large knitted lace stole this year. Simple enough, but the path to that outcome requires a few steps. This is a Fleece to Stole project that actually began in October when I bought the fleece at Rhinebeck.

The featured breed at NY Sheep & Wool Festival 2009 was Leicester Longwool, a sheep that produces beautiful, lustrous, curly locks with a very long staple. Not to mention the curls make them completely adorable with their Rastafarian faces!

This is the breed George Washington and Thomas Jefferson imported from England to bolster their existing livestock in early days America. The breed that Robert Bakewell staked his claim to fame while developing selective breeding techniques. He created a hornless sheep with a square meaty body and straight top lines. He also sought out native stock with long lustrous wool. Sadly, over time the breed fell out of favor as other larger breeds came about. So by the time it was chosen as the featured breed at NY Sheep and Wool, the Leicester Longwool is considered a 'rare' breed. If you ever get to visit Colonial Williamsburg, you will see these sheep in the fields and paddocks.

I remember a field trip to Williamsburg back in Junior High School which was a very long time ago. Back then I was more interested in purchasing souvenirs and getting into trouble. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind another visit now - just like I really want to get up to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. I'd say both trips are doable in 2010.

Anyway, back to my project. While at Rhinebeck I made a snap decision to purchase a small fleece, a first shearing from a ewe lamb named Sarah, who lives at Heritage Hill Farm in Illinois. I mean, how can you not buy a fleece with a name and it was so cute in the Trader Joe's bag, all smelly in a nice sheepy way. The thing that caught my eye: she was very clean, shiny and had lovely lock formation. And most important to me, at only 2.3 lbs, she was very manageable as my first fleece.

Heritage Hill Farm Leicester Longwool Fleece 3

I also picked up 8 oz of pre-washed locks from another supplier, only because I didn't see the fleeces first. More on this bag of locks later.

Grazing Herd bag of Locks

The first step involved washing the fleece to remove the grease. I've heard that Merino fleeces are super greasy. This little fleece was the complete opposite, thank goodness! I used lingerie bags and a large Rubbermaid container with multiple changes of hot water and Dawn to release the dirt and grease. On average it took two or three soaks and a rinse or two to come clean. And I suppose it can be cleaner, but it's pretty good the way it is. I set out each lingerie bag on an old window screen straddling my bathtub to dry and then put it all away after the Holidays.

All the while I pondered how I wanted to approach the fiber. Each step has choices, each step is new to me. I did a ton of research on the Ravelry Fiber Prep board and watched a few You-Tube videos before deciding this fleeced needs to be combed. A bit labor intensive, and prone to some waste, but the result is beautiful, even, shiny fiber that will spin like a dream.

Here you can see how gorgeous Sarah the lamb fleece is, after a bath. Very lustrous and clean, virtually no vegetable matter.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

I'm super super lucky to have generous friends. CathyZ has a nice set of fleece combs and she was willing to teach me how to use them and then let me borrow them nearly indefinitely. So, one Saturday last month I ventured over to her house for a combing lesson.

Combing Locks

Little Clouds

We combed and combed, and then we dizzed and dizzed. And we made little clouds of lovely fiber. I went home thinking this is crazy, it's exhausting and time consuming and what in the world am I doing attempting this for myself?!? I really wasn't sure I wanted to tackle this project! So daunting!

But over the last few weeks I've gotten more comfortable with the process and if I take it in one or two hour chunks, I realize I can get through this phase. And I've worked out a bit of a routine.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

I find that laying out the locks onto a cookie sheet, aligned in three rows, with all the butt ends in one direction seems to work. I then give the locks a bit of spritz (water mixed with a few drops of essential oil) to reduce the static.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

Then I lash on about half the cookie sheet's worth of locks onto a comb and work these locks about 4 passes back and forth. I've stopped using a diz altogether because it hurt my right wrist - all that pulling. My little rolags are just okay. I don't think I will win any prizes for my rolags but they will spin up fine.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

So I'm over halfway through that 8 oz bag of pre-washed fleece and I have the entire Sarah the Lamb. And I've learned there is a marked difference between the two. The lamb fleece is immaculate compared to the pre-washed locks. I've picked out lots of vegetable matter, second cuts and brittle sections while combing these locks. Which only means by the time I get to combing out little Sarah, it will be so wonderful it will seem like I've been upgraded to first class and I won't mind the journey nearly as much from that seat!

Sheep to Shawl 2010

A word or two on the plan: I intend to comb the entire lot, then spin the rolags into a 2-ply laceweight yarn. From there I will dye the yarn, and then knit up a rectangular lace stole. The leading contender for pattern is Myrtle Leaf Shawl with Willow Border from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby, which calls for 950 yards of laceweight yarn. None of this is committed as I want this process to evolve. I'll delve into these ideas in future posts.

Right now I want to get back to more combing on this SNOWMAGEDDON (hello, Brooklyn - 1 INCH???) afternoon.


knottygnome said...

yeah sometimes i find combing relaxing but other times i find it really tedious. good for you for working on a project from start to finish.

barefootrooster said...

lisa -- this is super exciting. thanks for sharing your process in so much detail! i enjoyed this post a whole bunch -- and boy, is that shawl going to be lovely!

Oiyi said...

I love reading about this. This is truly a labor of love. Awesome!

Allison said...

Wow, what an amazing process. I can't wait to read more!

NJStacie said...

Wow, this is fabulous! Great progress shots, great project! What are you going to dye it with? Have you considered converting any of the triangular shawl patterns into a square pattern? Man, i have so many questions - I'll just wait for the next installment :)

Claire said...

Wow, that is going to be such a labor of love! I have not done that much fleece prep. I'm afraid I stop at washing and send it to a local processor who does the carding and such for me. Such a lot of work but it will be so worth it!

Gale said...

That is a great project.

Denise said...

I have a lot more appreciation for the homespun yarn I've bought over the years, I hadn't thought about the time it took to prep the fleece before spinning.

Anonymous said...

Very cool! I've always wanted to buy a fleece, but I've never done any combing or carding. That fleece looks so lovely.

Cookie said...

What a wonderful project!

At Home Mommy Knits said...

What a labor of love. I'm looking forward to seeing the whole process from start to finish. :)

mary jane said...

mmmmmm, what a great ambitious project, it must smell good too..

Matthew said...

That wool is so awesome looking. I hope my hair looks that good when I'm an alter kocker.

Diana said...

wow, that is quite a project. looking forward to seeing more about it as it progresses. and I agree - we need snow days!

Rainy Daisy said...

I want one! Yes, a whole sheep! With curly locks!

It all looks just beautiful. And I saw your post about the loom as well. Fun! Can't wait to see pics of pretty woven gems.


The A.D.D. Knitter said...

Love that Leicester Longwool! You are such a fiber fiend, Lisa, I love it;)

Also--is that tiled table from Morocco?

Katie M. said...