Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning

Rysa and the 6 Skeins: The Side

The wool along Rysa’s sides was some of the most interesting to process.   It is nice and soft and has a surprising amount of luster considering the disorganized crimp and the weathering.  Here’s the wool after washing.  There is still enough lanolin in the wool to make spinning quick and easy.  I’ll wash the skein in hot water with a bit of dish soap after spinning.


Weak tips needed flicking.  You can see the light, wispy tips in the photo above.  I considered trimming them with scissors, but they flicked off without any fuss.

The cut end needed some extra attention.  In some Shetlands, a natural weak spot occurs each year when the old fleece separates from the newer fleece (the rise).  There were just a few areas showing the rise, and the fiber flicked apart easily.  Some locks showed some fiber crushing where the manual shears made a burr on the cut end.   These also flicked out easily.

The photo below shows the downy undercoat on the left.  The primary staple length after flicking off the tip, and a piece of the weathered tip removed.  Over all, the locks lost around 1/2″, sometimes a bit more- esp if they also lost some length on the cut end.   The down is approximately 1.5″.  The primary lock is approximately 3-3.5″20180812_221250

At first, I thought to leave the two coats together combined and spin them as one.   Unfortunately, the undercoat separated as I flicked out the grass and hay bits.  I wanted to save the down for spinning, so I decided to pull it out and spin it separately.

There was a fair amount of loss.  Of the 75 grams of washed fiber,  I have a 34g roving.  The down was only present in part of the side wool, so it only came to 7 g.   The waste came to 34 g (~45%).  There were some cotted locks, but it was mostly flicked ends, weak fibers, and very short soft fibers that were under 1/2″.

I did a sample spin from the flicked locks and found it was very easy to spin this into wire.  However, when handled gently, it stayed a fluffy, lustrous grey-brown.

I ran the flicked locks onto my drum carder and pulled a roving.   I ran the locks sideways for the first pass and then split the batt into thin sheets for the second pass.  I used a 1/4″ hole in my diz and pulled the roving around the drum, clearing approximately 1 1/2″ of fiber from the teeth for each rotation until the drum was clean.

The fibers are fairly parallel, but the springy, disorganized crimp keeps it open and full of air. My first priority while spinning is to keep the softness with low twist and gentle handling.   I do want to keep the fiber ends smoothed down and show off the luster in the yarn, so I’m going to do a bit more sampling to find the happy medium.

Once again, I don’t have tons of fiber to work with, so I need to keep samples small if I want to have enough yarn to use in a project.

Here’s the yarn . 10 wraps per inch, 6 twists per inch. 2 ply, semi-worsted (roving prep, worsted spin- forward draw on the 12.6:1 ratio, Schacht Matchless)


Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning, washing

Rysa & the 6 Skeins: The Belly Wool


Who decided that Shetland was a good idea for this challenge?  Oh, right.  Here’s me paying the price.

I only had 50ish grams of washed belly wool to work with and a good part of that was grass and felted bits.  The fiber is tender in spots, so I tested frequently as I picked.   I started out just teasing the wool open with my fingers, but I switched to tapping it open on some fine carding cloth when the fiber was long enough..

20180806_102919The pile on the top is technically teased and picked.  As you can see, I wasn’t able to get everything out.  I decided to keep anything 1/2″ or longer.  The longest piece is just over an inch.  The white fiber is shorter than the brown, so I decided to roughly blend the two colors.

After all was said and done, I had 10 grams of picked fiber.  Not tons, but I only need 10 yards for a sample skein.

The challenge?  I wanted to test both spinning from the carder- using the carding cloth as a comb- and spinning from a puni.

I expected the semi-worsted spin make better yarn, esp. considering the fiber length and quality issues.

I used the teeth of the carding cloth to catch the uneven fibers and help the crushed vegetation drop out.  It did all of that, but it turned the yarn into something much more like thread-  densely spun and kind of boring.    Fergie was not a fan of this.





The yarn was nice and smooth, but too firm to the touch and oh-so-uninspired.




As it turned out,  the puni made a much nicer yarn.   I used about 3 grams of  my 10 gram fiber supply to charge the carders.

This carding cloth is 120 tpi.  I roughly blended the brown and white fibers, picking out most of the shorter pieces and vm.  Once I had a mostly smooth batt, I used the best fiber from the nep pile and sprinkled the shorter white fibers throughout the batt.  Then, I used my smallest dowels (3/16″) to roll the puni.  I used light tension as I wrapped because I was worried that the neps wouldn’t draft if I made the puni too tight.  In the end, I had a strange hybrid rolag-puni thing to spin.

I decided to use a spindle because it was just a tiny amount of yarn and the only wheel without a project on the bobbin was upstairs.   (yes, the spindle has a project on it as well.  So do the other 10 spindles on my downstairs rack.  I’m beyond help…).  You can see how rough and crunchy the puni is.  I didn’t have high hopes for this yarn. 20180806_104338
I spun the yarn supported, American long draw-  flicking the spindle, giving a bit of a pull to get the drop going because this spindle doesn’t weigh much, and then drafting against the support point to draw out an arms length horizontally.   In spite of the fineness of the yarn, there’s decent loft and a nice soft surface on the yarn.  The white neps locked in nicely and in most places made a good tweedy pop rather than a white spiral.   I did the Andean plying party trick and ta-da-  a soft, 2 ply textured, heathered yarn.   The photos on the bottom are plied & washed.  The fibers bloomed differently, so you can see the texture of the white fibers rising above the brown fibers.    Much more interesting than the grey-brown thread!

I am looking forward to using this yarn in my punch needle.  I am pleasantly surprised by the handle of the yarn.   This is definitely yarn- not thread.  It has some good squish factor and texture without looking messy.  I was worried it wouldn’t stand up to knitting, but it’s nice and strong.   I have 4 grams left to play with, so I’m going to make another mini and see what it looks like knitted up.


Here’s the second puni spun up.  This one isn’t quite as interesting because I used a lighter hand with the nepps.   Of the two, I prefer the one with more texture for use, but the smoother one makes a prettier skein.


Next Up:
Spinning the Britch

Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning, washing

Rysa and the 6 skeins

Meet Rysa.  She’s a lovely bellwether Shetland ewe at Trinity Farms.
Today I am separating out her fleece to make six different skeins of yarn- one from each of the following body areas: neck, sides, britch, belly, shoulders, back.  My  goal is to spin for a purpose suitable to the fiber characteristics.   I’m going to spin to the crimp where possible and vary the yarn design for specific uses.

Rysa made it easy for me to sort out her fleece because she’s somewhat color coded.  Her rear legs, britch, and most of her belly are white.  Her front legs are less darker and less weathered.

Each region has distinct fiber lengths and feel, so it was a quick sort. In general, her back and shoulder fibers are quite soft and would make yarn quite suitable for next to the skin wear. I don’t see any evidence of a rise so far, but the shepherdess let me know she saw one area while shearing.

Shetlands have the ability to shed their fleece.  Periodically, the fleece develops a weak spot in the staple where the fleece will naturally separate.  Shepherds can roo the coat by gently pulling on the fiber and lifting the older fleece from the new fleece growing in.  If a sheep is sheared after the rise has started, the shears cut below the natural break in the staple.  If this happens, the fibers can be easily flicked from the cut end.  If the rise is well into the staple, you can grab the butt and pull it with a sharp tug.  The staple will separate at the rise, leaving the sound staple for spinning.

Shetlands are small.  The typical fleece weight is 2-4 pounds.  This whole fleece only weighs 1# 13 oz  prior to washing.  The photo has washed out the beautiful brown of this fleece.  I’m looking forward to seeing the color in the spun yarn!

Here’s a photo to compare the raw locks across the different areas.

At first I thought his ewe had a single coat, but after washing, I found areas where she has a very soft, downy undercoat that is about 1.5″ long.   Most of the fleece is soft with 2-3.5″ long staples with 7-8 deep,wavy crimps per inch.  The locks are downy at the cut end, have a more clearly defined crimp in the center of the lock, and then taper to a slightly wispy point.  The locks at the shoulder and the sides have a longer, more wispy tip.

Shetlands can have a variety of coat types that range from a soft, downy single coat through a medium-long wavy coat to a primitive, double coat.  Personally, I have a soft spot for double coated shetlands.   That said, working with Rysa’s fleece is so easy.  I may need to shake things up more often!

I’d put Rysa’s coat between a kindly and a medium, and closer to the kindly side of things.  In spots, she has a second coat but it is not dense and seems to be about 10% of the fiber weight.   If you’d like to read more about the different types of coats, this is a nice page with pictures and descriptions:


Fleece Description by Area:

The shoulder:

The raw fiber is 3.5″ long, with 8 well-defined, wavy crimps per inch.  The fiber is soft and could be worn next to the skin.   Lanolin level is low- moderate.  I’ve opened the lock for the picture above, but the cut end is dense and webby with more definition along the center and finally tapering to a lightly wispy tip.  Overall, the fiber is in good condition with light weathering at the tips.  I expect this fiber to process easily because the tips are firm and the cut end is clean and defined.  I’m hoping to spin this finely enough to make a ring shawl.

The brown has a grey undertone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the color after it is spun.  Unfortunately, I think I will lose some of the color variation by spinning superfine yarn.

The side:

The locks vary throughout the side.  The further the lock is from the back, the less crimp. The pulled lock was from the edge where the side met the belly.  It has roughly 3 crimps per inch.  The fibers have deep, loose waves that are disorganized and almost fuzzy.   The lock is 3.5″ long with the last 1/2 inch being a wispy, weathered tip.  Though the tips are strong,  I plan to trim them during processing to remove the coarser fiber.  The color is a beautiful rich brown.  I’m planning to spin a three ply dk weight, but I will do some sampling first.  I’d love to make a cabled hat, but I’m waiting to see how much loft I want in the finished yarn before making that call.

The back:

The lock is 2 3/4″ long with 7 crimps per inch.  The fibers are next to the skin soft, lightly webby, and very fine.  There’s more lanolin here and more weathering on the tips.  Some tips may need flicking.   A quick test spin by twisting in the grease showed that this spins easily into a soft, 2 ply laceweight yarn.  I have enough fleece to do a lace scarf or shawl.  If I wasn’t keeping the fleece separated for the 6 skein project, I would probably blend it with the shoulder fleece and do a full-size shetland shawl.  I’m going to sample to see which yarn weight shows off the fleece best.  The back has a fair amount of weathering so there is less luster.  I’m already spinning a superfine yarn with the shoulder, so I’d like to do a fingering or sport for the back.

 The Belly:

The belly fiber is a mix of short, soft fiber and wiry fiber.  Most is short and fine- approx 1-2″ staple.  There’s a good amount of vegetable matter and felting, so most of the belly isn’t usable. The non-felted fiber is very tender.  Much of it breaks easily if tugged.  I’m going to wash it enough to remove the dirt and some of the lanolin, but I want to leave more lanolin that I would usually to help the fibers slide during picking.

Considering the small amount of fiber and its condition,  the belly is going to be spun into a fine yarn.  After washing and picking, I had a nice little collection of 1/2″ bright white fibers.  I’d like to put those into the yarn for a rustic , lightly textured fine yarn.  The yarn would add some nice variation and interest to a needlepunch project.

The Legs:  Shetlands don’t have much fleece on their lower legs, so I don’t have much of the short, super crimpy leg fleece that can be found in some other breeds.  Nor was the fleece particularly dirty or cotted.  Some of the fiber is tender; some has weak tips.  I’m going to flick this before carding in to rolags.

Rysa’s rear legs are white.  The fleece there has 2-3″ staple lengths with dense fiber that has disorganized crimp.  This fiber is coarser and suitable for outerwear.  Some areas have wispy, coarser tips that I will trim. It would make lovely mittens, a pair of socks, or a lightweight sweater.   After washing, the color is a bright, clear white and has some shine.  I’d love to dye this for colorwork.

The front legs are brown with a 2.5-3″ staple that has a shallower, tighter crimp.  Some of the fiber shows an outer coat which can be easily pulled out.  The fiber is a bit softer than the back leg fiber and would make a nice scarf or pair of gloves.  If I had more of it, I’d use it for a sweater.

The britch
The britch fiber is coarser with some light cotting.  Some areas show a hair-like, second coat which can be pulled to separate it.  Some areas show a small amount of weak fiber at the cut end from the rise.  It is only 1/4-3/8″ and can be easily removed.  Apart from these sections, the locks are 3.5″ long and have a disorganized fiber structure with poorly defined crimp.   The fiber is suitable for some wear, but it is still on the softer side- similar to a corriedale.  Compared to other shetlands I have spun, the britch of this fleece is softer with a smoother hand.


I sorted the fleece by area and broke the fleece into 4-6 oz portions per mesh bag.  I placed tyvek labels in the bags so that I could easily identify the different fleece.

Next step: washing

This fleece doesn’t have a lot of lanolin, but it did have a lot of dirt after our long, wet winter & spring.    I did a 20 minute wash at 50C with Power Scour,  intending that to be the only wash.  I followed that up with a hot water rinse.  The rinse water was still quite dirty, and the wool held more lanolin than I prefer.

I did a second wash with less solution.  I also split the bags into two sinks.  Each sink holds 15 gallons of water.  I put roughly 1 pound of fiber in each.

After this wash, I did another two rinses until the water was clear.  Then I spun out the bags in my spin dryer and laid everything out on the skirting table to dry for the night.  The weather has been hot and humid here, so I turned on a dehumidifier and a fan to speed things up.



Fleece turned out to dry:


Next post:  Spinning the belly wool

Spin-a-long, Spinning, Support Spindles

Spinning in the Not-So-Wild

It’s been alternating between rain, sleet, snow, and just depressing cold, grey blah.  Not much spinning out in the wild these days, but I have hope! At some point, things will dry out enough to take my spindles outside.


In the meantime, here’s a little support spinning in front of the fire.  Oh, and the dog isn’t dead.   Proof of life comes around 19 minutes in when he stretches out a bit without waking up.


Fiber:  the world’s most poorly treated sliver of bamboo, merino, bison, and cashmere. A Louet blend purchased from Paradise Fibers ages years ago.   I have no excuse for its condition.  I am a bad fiber mom.


Tibetan spindle from Texas Jeans.

Shaft: unknown wood, 10 3/4″ long

Whorl:  dyed spalted tamarind

Many thanks to Joshua Lynch for repairing the spindle shaft after Fergie ate it. 

Spindle Bowl:


Made by Niddy  Noddy UK
Hand turned in Hawthorn and Cherry

Length:  5″
Width (at widest point): 2″

Dimple for spindle is 3/4″ across

About the video:
As promised, I haven’t edited out the gloops.  Because I’m using a GoPro to film this, the spindle is farther from my body than it should be.   To keep your body happy when you spin with a support spindle,

  1. keep all of the motion within a forearms length out from your body,
  2. keep your arm range of motion below shoulder height with elbow lower than your wrist.

The temptation is to do a super long draw out and up, so you can make a long, beautiful stretch of yarn.   You can do it, and you will feel like a superhero for the first ten minutes or so.   It puts too much stress on your shoulder. Even if you aren’t feeling the fatigue as you spin, protect your joints so you can spin for many years to come!

About jumping spindles:

I’m using a new spindle bowl and my repaired spindle together for the first time.   I love metal tipped spindles.  They spin fast and last forever.

However, I frequently spin in a bean bag or with my legs up on an ottoman.  Spindles with super low friction tips take advantage of the incline my body position gives to the bowl.  Add in my usual little tilt on the spindle and an over-enthusiastic twirl, and physics launches my spindles into space.  I tried a metal tipped spindle on a corian-lined spindle bowl and managed to get a good 3-4 feet before the cop caught hold so I could reel it back in.  Of course, I was demo’ing in my booth at the time.  Harpooning passers-by is not a wise marketing technique!

Moral of this story-  keep your spindle upright if you don’t want it to spin away!  OR- if you are beyond saving, like me, use a spindle bowl with a small lip or with a deeper bowl and steeper sides.

fiber prep, Fleeces, washing

Processing a Disorganized Fleece

20180417_143249Normally when I buy a whole fleece, it comes looking something like this beautiful Shetland fleece on the left.  It unrolls, and I can lay it out on the skirting table.  It’s easy to see the different areas of the fleece, break it into similar types of fiber, skirt what needs skirting, & check for short cuts and weathered locks.

This shetland fleece is not disorganized!  It’s also worth noting that the shepherdess manually sheared this sheep on shearing stand.  She’s a rock star!

When I buy fleece by the pound, or if I’ve purchased from someone who manually shears and isn’t intentionally keeping the fleece intact, the fleece tends to look more like this:


There will be lightly attached strips or rounds of similar fiber mixed in with small groups of dissimilar locks.  It’s hard to tell where the fiber came from on the sheep, esp. if it is really intermixed.  For some fleeces, it doesn’t matter.  If the fiber is fairly similar across the fleece and it’s been well skirted, I can give it a shake and put it in to wash.

Sorting & Problemsolving:
This fleece needed some extra care.  As I laid it out on the table,  I could see the fleece had all sorts of fiber lengths and textures.  The shortest pieces were 1″ the longest 4.5″.  Most were in the 2.5-3.5″ range, so I separated into three groups: under 2.5, 2.5-3.5, and over 3.5.  This got a bit tricky as I went along because there were at least 4 distinct crimp types: a corkscrew with 2-3 crimps per inch, a side to side with 3 crimps per inch, two different tightly crimped wools.  All of these had fairly different textures, so I decided to split by texture and length.   I like to use as much of the fleece as possible, so I made piles for all of the oddball bits-  even the little 1″ super curly leg locks to dye up for felting projects and for making tweed yarns.


While pulling locks, I noticed some tip and cut end areas had issues.  Sheep live out in the world, and that’s a good thing.  Sometimes, it can be hard on the fleece.  This fleece had its share of weathered, cotted, and/or muddy tips.   That doesn’t mean the wool isn’t worth the work!  This fleece has some gorgeous fiber. It just needed some TLC.  I ran thumbnail over the cut end and tips to remove weak tips and second cuts.

Muddy tips will feel hard- especially if the mud, lanolin, and sheep sweat all came together to make a little brick-like piece.


The fiber can be brittle under the mud, so it’s worth taking the time to give them a tug.  Some times muddy tips will magically open up if you put the fleece in water to soak overnight.  Sometimes, they are stubborn, and you’ll need to cut or flick them off the lock.   These tips were quite weak and came right off when I pulled on the lock tip.

If your fleece has weak tips, you’ll have to either flick the tips off or trim them with scissors.   It’s worth taking the time to flick or trim the locks before carding. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to pick those brittle ends out from your roving.

Spinning weak ends into your yarn can make your yarn weaker and rougher.  Weak tips are caused by weathering.  Sun, rain, & friction all wear away the protective coating on the outside of the fiber.  Without that coating, the fibrils that make up the fibers fray, weakening the fiber and making it feel scratchy.


If  I see some weak tips, I do a quick test card on different areas of the fleece before starting a big carding project.  It’s the fastest and easiest way I’ve found to see if I need to flick the fleece first.

20180331_130116Sometimes, I find felted/cotted tips on the locks.  It happens.  It’s more likely if a sheep has been coated, but it can happen on any sheep.  Some sheep like to scratch up against posts in the barn.  All it takes for wool to felt is heat, moisture, and agitation.

This wasn’t a coated sheep, but this is most likely from the britch area which has a lot of movement and moisture.   Depending on lock length, I’ll either trim the felted bit off with scissors, or I’ll just throw that lock into the plant pot liner bag.  (Wool makes fabulous plant pot liners, so don’t throw it away if you like hanging plants!)



Second cuts happen when the shearer takes a second pass with the shearing blades to even out fleece that was missed during the first pass.  This leaves little bits of cut fleece behind.  You can identify a second cut because both ends of the lock (or bit of lock) will be cut. Frequently, these will shake out.  If you have an intact fleece,  you can lay it out cut side up and run your hands over the surface of the fleece to remove any short pieces.  This fleece also had some partial second cuts-  the short pieces are still attached to a small section of the lock by a few strands of wool.  These are a nightmare because they don’t shake out.  If they come apart during washing, they can felt into the cut end of the lock.  If you find them, you are going to need to check the cut ends for soundness as you pull locks.

I washed like locks with like by putting them in a mesh bag with the tips all in the same direction.

Wouldn’t it be great if I had a picture of the wool in the bag here?  Fortunately, I’ve got another pound of so of this fleece to wash, so I’ll make sure to take it when I put it in to wash!

I made two rows of locks and separated them by running a length of crochet cotton down the center of the bag using a weaving needle.  (tip:  Don’t make a new string each time.  After washing the locks, store string inside the mesh bag until the next time.)

20 minute soak with Power Scour in 130F water followed by two 20 minute hot rinses.  That was all!  This fleece didn’t have much lanolin so there wasn’t much need for scouring.  The dirt came out easily except for stubborn muddy tips.  These, I flicked out while picking and prepping for the drum carder.  Depending on the lock bundle, I either used the flick carder as a teasing pad-  or I picked it up and flicked the ends open.   This fleece opened really nicely into a beautiful, silky cloud.  It would have been a wonderful to spin this from the cloud for a textured, locky yarn.


To card, I ran the wool through my drum carder, keeping the locks sideways for the first two passes and then pulling into thin sheets and running those from the end.  (I’ll link to a how to card fluffy batts here later)

The fiber was so pretty on the drum that I decided to pull it off into rolags for spinning.