Sara Dunham on Working with Wool…

Rounding off the ‘Working with Wool’ section of WOVEMBER is proving difficult for the simple reason that we have just so many wonderful pieces to include here! It truly is a privilege to receive emails from people all over the world from people who want to share the different work they are doing with WOOL. Although we talked about spinning during the ‘Processing Wool’ phase of Wovember, a number of hand spinners have written so carefully about their work with WOOL that we thought we should share their work in this section of WOVEMBER. These are artisans for whom each skein of yarn is an individual story, and one which often relates back to an individual place or flock, and often even to one specific sheep. To explore this beautifully intimate hand spinning work, we commenced today with Diane Falck’s post about working with wool from her Ouessant flock. We shall spend this afternoon exploring the ideas, tools, processes and work of Caecilia Hewett, and RIGHT NOW we have this post, featuring some lovely sheep-to-yarn stories, from Sara Dunham. Sara wrote to WOVEMBER near the start of the month to alert us to her website, aptly-named – entering a selection of her writings into our competition. You can see some of Sara’s photos in the WOVEMBER COMPETITION gallery, and there is plenty more woollen inspiration over on her site! We are so glad Sara wrote to us, and that we can share her Work with Wool with you today!

February 9, 2012 – A Scottish Surprise

Remember these cuties from last fall?

I finally got around to washing one of the Scottish Blackface fleeces. Thanks Find Five…and our friends who fixed the water heater in the wash room.

From everything I’d read, I knew it was going to be a long, coarse wool. That’s okay, I’m a coarse wool sorta girl. I wasn’t expecting quite as much kemp as I found though. See that short, kinky black fiber? There was tons of white just like it, like a full kemp undercoat. Ugh.

Just for grins though I ran a bit through the drum carder as is/was. Pretty, but hairy. I then combed some, which I thought did a great job pulling out almost all the short fibers, leaving the long, soft outer coat.

But it was very fly-away-ish (I’m sure there’s a better word) – like it was everywhere and all over my black polar fleece jacket. I misted it with a light spinning oil concoction and ran it through the carder.

Very pretty.

I then grabbed the Kromski wheel and took it out on the Wool House porch. In February (!). Betsy joined me and alternately napped and tried to catch birds (what a grumpy cat face!).

I was surprised as I started spinning that there was still a good deal of kemp in the combed and carded roving. I decided to “[spin] on with confidence” and other than ending up wearing a bit more animal hair than normal, I actually found it a fun spin.

I wound it off in a small skein and here’s where I was the most surprised. It weighed nothing. Obviously a tiny skein of yarn doesn’t weigh much anyway, but this weighed nothing. I remembered when Stella and I were picking up the fleeces as they were shorn that they were super light. I assumed then it was just a lack of lanolin thing, but after washing the lanolin out of a greasy fleece, shouldn’t the playing field be level?

I gave it a good soak in hot, soapy water, rinsed and squeezed out most of the water. Took it outside and gave it a twirl. Next surprise. Out flew three or four pieces of kemp. Gave it a good snap and more flipped out. I snapped it several times and it never let up. How much short fiber was still in there?!? Ugh. Maybe this yarn is mainly good for rugs.

But it sure is pretty. I love this picture – it’s hanging on the Lamb Camp sign. I love back lighting, straight lines, fuzzy yarn, pretty color (or lack of). Might be my favorite yarn shot yet.

And the final (well, so far) surprise. It knit up beautifully. Such a pretty bright color, good stitch definition (even with my sloppy knitting), and even with the kemp still working it’s way out, it’s really soft and not at all offensive. I think you could knit a sweater and not be disappointed. Or weighed down.

So the moral of the story is – well, I think there’s a bunch of ’em at this point.

And I guess the real moral of the story…if a cute little Scottish Blackface bottle lamb was ever looking for a home…

April 4, 2012 – Lilac Yarn (or a sheep of many colours)

This is Mia. Everything in the basket is Mia. That’s one of the fun things about Jacob sheep. With their spots, you can combine any amount of each color and get all sorts of variety.

While most Jacobs are black and white, Mia and her brother Blizzard are a rare color called Lilac. They are brown and white…or brownish/grayish and white. I guess kind of purple-ish. I thought it might be fun to set up a lilac photo shoot.

I wish there was such a thing as smell-evision. We have lilac bushes outside two doors and you can smell them all the way on the porch. The viburnums along the side sheep paddock (the white flowers) waft through the entire yard and even into the barn in the afternoon. Seriously.

Mia comes out to eat with the oldies in the a.m. And while they would never dream of leaving the barn to explore the yard, given half a chance, Mia would probably head on into town. As I came around the corner of the house, there she was on the back porch.

I quickly sat the basket of her wool down and knew she’d sniff it.

It would have been nice to try to pose her in front of one of the lilac bushes, but she’d just end up grabbing some leaves or flowers and Have To Go Back To The Barn Right Now! Which she did anyway because she ran over and topped a few strawberry plants.

Remember, there are good yard sheep and bad yard sheep. Or maybe there is just Miss Ewenice and bad yard sheep. Regardless, Mia is a bad yard sheep.

Meanwhile back at the Wool House…

I used Mia’s lamb fleece from last year and did a 50/50 blend, a 5/95 (almost all dark), an all white and two “core” combination (see the basket above). For one I took some dark and sandwiched it between two light strips and the other I did the same thing, but then ran the “sandwich” one pass through the drum carder.

…isn’t it nice here? I love how this picture draws you in to where you feel like you are in the middle of the lilac bush, watching the butterflies, listening to the bees. Take a deep breath.

Many thanks to Sara Dunham for writing to WOVEMBER – discovering your blog is a real treasure trove of WOOLSPIRATION! All images and words used here are © Sara Dunham and republished with her kind permission. These articles were originally published here and here on the myfavouritesheep blog