spinning Blue Texel: adjusting expectations.

As soon as I had the cabin to my own last week I spread out the kilo of Blue Texel lamb fleece I bought at Purewol to look at it. It was different from what I thought I had bought. I thought I had bought a kilo of light grey, long luscious lamb locks:

But on my table I had one kilo of Blue Texel lamb fleece, in variegated colours and length. The locks were of pleasant length (8 to 15 cm) but not as long as I had seen on display at the farm stand. The fleece wasn’t sorted optimally either and I had to go over it myself, picking out the unspinnable pieces such as matted and felted short locks, presumably from the neck or inside of the legs. I had to throw out 150 grams right away, out of a 1000 grams. That’s a lot, for an A quality fleece.
It was a very clean fleece though, no poo or vegetable matter whatsoever. It also was from one individual lamb, which is good.

Overall it’s a good fleece. Just not the same quality fleece that I saw in the sampler basket. The biggest problem for me, just before the amount I had to trow away, is the variety in colours. This fleece will not result in the mono-coloured handspun jumper that I envisioned when I bought it. The colour variations mean there will be no spinning straight out of the bag. Colours require a cognitive spinning approach. Bummer.

Here’s the underside of the raw fleece, showing it’s true colours. Quite dark, compared to the first picture. But with lighter pieces on the sides:

Next, a close-up. In the middle it shows the inferior quality fleece in dark brown colour. This is probably the neck part. Around it are the dark grey locks, seen from the shorn base. There are also some short shorn pieces visible, these are rubbish and have to go. A lock of the lightest piece is put on top, for colour comparison:

I sorted the fleece. Picked away the matted dark brown pieces. There was quite a lot of it. Also picked out a lot of the too short shorn fibres. Shown here in the middle and on the right:

On the left are the dark locks that are spinnable but just very dark in colour. Above it happens to lie the skein I spun from that darkest grey Shetland from Wolgelukkig. They match in colour.

Here’s a picture of the rest of the fleece. It shows the colour variation. There’s a bit of very light grey; a bit of silver grey and a lot of dark grey:

Together with the very very dark piece on the table I seem to have four colours in my fleece.

The sampler basket at the stand led me to believe I’d have only one colour, a gorgeous light silver grey. I bought the fleece with a monocoloured handspun jumper in mind. Now I have four colours and I really have to think about the knitting before I spin this.
Better start the cognitive approach then.

Were I to spin this fleece from front to end, without regard to colours, I would end up with a barber pole yarn and a heathered or mottled effect in the knitting:

 my handspun shrug

Which I only like on certain occasions. The handspun shrug shown above salutes the individual ewe that gave this wool, which I happen to know personally, from this organic farm. And it’s a reference to the breed of Dutch Bont Sheep:

Bont schaap pic by ekenitr

Dutch Association of Bont Sheep
This makes this yarn and this shrug a joy to wear. Even though it makes me look rustic and “alternative” and “homemade”. But that’s ok.

In the wool room there are another 5 boxes with processed fleeces from the same farm and there are numerous handdyed rovings. These will give me rustic yarn and “homemade” garments for years to come. I certainly don’t need “homemade” yarn from Blue Texel, even if Texel is a Dutch breed.

Another option is to spin the fleece colour by colour. And then knit a jumper with stripes.
Only I’m no fan of stripes. At all.
I try to avoid stripes whenever possible, which isn’t always easy because when I started to collect yarn and fleece I kept skimping on sweater-amounts of yarn or fleece. It was a skein here, a 100 grams roving there. Because I was frugal and hadn’t learned to enjoy and spend money on my one hobby yet.
With single skeins you can make a shawl, a hat or combine them with other yarns in a sweater. A stripey sweater. My aversion against striped sweater is that they demand attention and do not need the presence of my fun rings or my fun necklace so much. Or my fun face.

Hmm. What else is there to do? Well, I could spin a gradient or ombre. That’s when the yarn slowly transits from dark to light. Mmmm..meh. I did that on this handspun shawl:

 my comfort shawl with leaves and a brioche neck line.

It’s ok. But I don’t want a gradient jumper now. Spinning a gradient is a bit of a gimmick, to me. Besides I still have a red gradient yarn waiting in the stash.

Mind, my very first well fitting sweater was made from a  gradient yarn. A rainbow gradient no less! What was I thinking when I bought that yarn? Well, I wasn’t.
It was on one of the friendliest wool fairs I ever visited (first Brei- en Haakdagen, 2011) and I just followed my heart. It was a great fair, people were a joy to meet and it was the first time I spend any considerable wool money on myself. Without planning. Just bought what I loved:

It’s a 200 grams skein of Aade Artistic 8/2 in a rainbow gradient and I had no idea what to do with it. It wasn’t enough for a whole sweater. And besides, when knitting a gradient you have to consider how to continue the colours when you park stitches for the arms. And also: you have to like wearing rainbow garments. Which I don’t. I just don’t want all colours simultaneously.

My solution, later that year, was to purposely break up the colour reports. Into stripes, no less. Anything better than a full rainbow on my body:

My owl sweater
, from my very first blog post. I don’t wear it very often any more because a full body in wool is warm but without sleeves it’s cold. So when to wear this? Also: it attracts the eye. There’s not much space left to accessorize. Or have people notice your lovely face.

A fourth option for variegated coloured fleece is to use the different colours for colour work such as stranded knitting or intarsia. This looks splendid with colours that are closely related such as fleece from one individual sheep or wool that’s been dyed with plants.

I’ve spun dark grey fleece before and didn’t get the needed yardage and opted for stranded knitting with a commercial white. It was my Snow Sweater, which is a handspun dark grey Dutch sheep from that organic farm I mentioned earlier. Probably family of Texel breed. Yeah, you remember Snow Sweater, I went on and on about it on the blog. I wear it often:

Which is why I don’t need another dark grey sweater with stranded details in natural colours.

I don’t want much, do I?

No heathering, no stripes, no gradient/ombre and no colour work. That leaves … ??? …

That leaves definite decision making to a future moment. Right now I just want to spin. That’s really all I want. I don’t want to plot and scheme. I don’t want to plan a sweater. I just want to spin this lovely fleece!

So that’s what I’m doing:

I washed the fleece and I separated it into its four colours and then started to process each colour individually. Here you see the white locks combed on the left, then the light grey which is already being spun. Then a big wollop of dark grey and at the far right the piece that’s really really dark grey. Above that there’s still the unspinnable darkest pieces but I threw those away after I took this picture.

I chose to separate the colours because even though I don’t know how I will use the yarn yet I do know I don’t want a heathered yarn. What I’ll do with the different coloured skeins I’ll decide in the future. If anything, it gives me something to think about while I spin.

I could always use the different colours in different projects, abandon the idea of a solid grey jumper all together. Well, it isn’t going to happen anyway, so abandoning the idea of a Blue Texel jumper all together.
Or I could work colour blocks into a jumper, like having a light coloured body and some dark arms for example. Perhaps with white cuffs at the sleeves. Looks good on cats:

That grey one! It speaks of a colour block sweater with some beautiful sparkly green accent, caught in a dark contour! And I happen to have just the right sparkly green for that:

 Yes, I finished that beautiful batt that Cjadam made. It’s 260 m out of 50 grams of silk and merino and angelina. It would combine well with a Blue Texel in various shades… eyebrow wiggle. Yes, something to think about.

By now I’ve wrapped my brain around the fact that I will not have a solid grey sweater. Expectations are adjusted. There are still a lot of possibilities to use the yarn from this fleece. There’s no need to determine a choice just yet. The first stage now is to enjoy the spinning and the fibre prep. Just like I wanted.

The first step was washing the fleece, in hot soapy water (scouring). The second step is leaving it the beep alone while it’s drying (fingers twitching). Third step is taking a piece of fleece in one colour, dividing it in two and then tearing individual locks from one half and putting them all in the same direction:

Then I take a simple dog comb to the locks, just combing open the tips and the base but not touching the main part in between:

The tips were still matted together a bit after washing. And yellow. This may be from the sun or from dirt. We’ll see when I wash the finished yarn, if it looses its warm grey tint.

During flicking no dirt or dust comes out of the tips so I don’t think the yellowish colour is from dirt. Something else comes out from the other side of the locks though:

This is short, shorn fibre. In Dutch we call it “dubbel scheer” or “dubbelscheer”. Literally translation: “Double Shear(ing)”

It’s when the shearer doesn’t shear in long broad strokes but shears in small, repeating strokes instead. Like he’s gearing up a little toy car, backing up several times.

Sometimes this shearing motion is needed because you didn’t shear close enough to the skin the first time. Often it’s also a sign of an inexperienced or insecure shearer. They are very worried to shear too close to the skin and hurt the sheep. And with reason.

Sheep skin is very thin, it gets easily broken with the shears. It’s also “loose” around the body, you cannot pull back the wool with one hand and shear it at the base with the other. The pulling back of wool will raise the skin from the body and it’s now at an angle. You will cut into it, guaranteed.

Most often you just let the fleece fall of the skin of its own accord, as you shear in long strokes parallel to its folding ridge. The tip of the shears are buried in the wool, close to the skin, you cannot really see what you’re doing. That’s why the shearer moves parallel to the fold, she never dives straight into it. If anything, you pull back the shorn skin, to flatten the skin with wool still attached:

 pic by Joe Zlomek

That’s why you shear slowly. And with anatomical knowledge of the beast. Sheep and goats have all kinds of folds and dangly bits that will catch the shears if you’re not careful. And remember: you can’t see what you’re doing, there’s wool in the way. Working too fast or without experience will cut into the skin folds or plainly take of tits or the goat chin wattles. Yikes! Better be careful.

Short pieces of “double shearing” are no good for spinners. This short fibres have a sharp cut on both ends, nothing to twist around other fibres with. It’s really a waste of good fleece. All those beautiful locks loose staple length with this kind of insufficient shearing. Out it goes. I picked out most of it while sorting the fleece before washing but during combing I still find quite a bit.

Flicked locks with open tips and clean bases, wonderfully fluffy:

The yellowish tips are at the top. I will spin from the other end, the part that was closest to the skin of the sheep. I tried out spinning from either end and from this end the fibres draft more easily.

This may have to do with the way the scales on each individual fibre are positioned. They probably grow overlapping each other, like roof tiles or fish scales or corn oar. Pulling them in one direction meets less resistance than in the other.

The washed fleece and the flicked locks next to each other:

On the left is the second half of the piece of fleece. This one will be spun on a second bobbin and then the two will be plied together.

Weaving the leader through the flyer reduces the pull on the Louet spinning wheel:

Two bobbins in the same colour:

In the evening, starting to ply the first singles, in the light grey colour:

Time to go to bed… or start weaving in ends on shawls:

The plying threads caught the onwoven end hanging from my handspun Feather and Fan shawl in organic Bont Schaap. My wheel slowed down and I was slowly drawn into it, wondering what was going on. Yes, definitely time to go to bed.


It’s 256 m in the 100 grams that made up the light grey part of the Blue Texel lamb fleece.
I set the twist but didn’t use soap and the skein didn’t loose any of its warm brown overtones. It stank enormously though! Of old sheep sweat and poo. It still smells strongly. And not the friendly kind of sheep smell either.

So I’ll wash it again, when the other skeins are finished, with lots of soap and hot water.
Processing the rest of the fleece will have to wait for a week or two though. We’re off to the city.


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