The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook – mmm…

It’s just over a year since I started spinning, and started buying fleeces. I know, I could have used beautifully prepared roving; there really was no actual need to spend Sundays up to my arms in manky sheep’s wool soaking in a bath of gunk and making a horrific mess. Contrary to speculation, I do have a life.

But I live in an area surrounded by sheep and, when it comes down to it, I like sheep (no, not like that; this may be Wales, but jokes are just jokes). I like sheep as sheep, I like the different breeds:

I like fleece colours, I like the feel of lanolin and I even quite like the smell – of a washed fleece, she added hastily. Most of all I like the fact that the wool I spin has come from maybe three miles away, that I’ve done the whole process. I suppose I’m controlling the means of production (comrade).

But I do know I need help, and I can’t constantly call my spinning friends, post repeated requests on Ravelry or hang about waiting for a chance to ask questions at Guild meetings. And that’s where this comes in:

There’s been a lot of talk about this new book among the fleecy spinners I know. It’s an extraordinary reference work looking at animal fibres, mostly sheep – well over 100 different breeds are detailed – but also goats and goat crosses, camelids including (of course) alpaca and vicuna; rabbit, yak and musk ox… And the fibre from every single one has been obtained, examined, processed and worked. They’re all clearly photographed, and most illustrations include small knitted and woven samples. A real labour of love by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.

I’d assumed that because I was a ‘beginner’ spinner, it would be a bit beyond me, that it was really designed for people with wider experience and more knowledge. Now, when I look at that assumption I realise just how wrong I was. Yes, as a spinner you do need some experience to get the most out of this book, but it’s basic stuff really – a little bit about fibre preparation and woollen versus worsted spinning. But you don’t even have to be a spinner at all.

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook is perfect for people starting to work with fleece as well as those with more long-standing obsessions, but it’s also ideal for anyone interested in wool. There’s a lot of breed description and history – Sir Robert Jardine, for example, apparently bred the rather lovely Castlemilk Moorit ‘primarily to be beautiful lawn ornaments’, for instance. And there’s a lot of straightforward practical info too, which is just what I need.

Sometimes I’ve got it right on instinct, but more times I haven’t – I just don’t have the experience yet. Regretably more fleece than was necessary has ended up in the compost bin / stuffing cushions / lining hanging baskets, so I’ve been quite cautious. But now I know how to deal with my lovely Manx Loaghtan,

and I won’t risk drum-carding any of it. Gentle hand-carding, maybe combing the longer pieces.

I’ve also recently acquired my first longwool fleece, a Teeswater, and I’ve been avoiding the issue, which is a little difficult as the large cotton bag – OK, old duvet cover – containing it hits me in the face every time I go in the shed. I’ve searched t’internet for preparation tips, sorted it and had a brief play with some of the gorgeous locks,

but then I stopped, a little nervous of damaging it. Now I can check out what I’m doing more easily and in more detail, and I know that it’s a ‘reluctant felting wool’, which is very helpful and something of a relief.

I’ve also got a precious Shetland fleece, so I turned to the appropriate pages and found a real mine of information. I need to get my katmoget out and have a good look at it, and I can’t assume it will be the same basic pale grey when I’ve finished processing it: ‘Our Shetland samples all washed up considerably lighter and whiter than they looked in the lock … that’s true of all wools but seemed to be dramatically so for the Shetlands.’ Interesting; wonder what I’ll end up with? At least I know enough now to treat my fleece with respect, and who wouldn’t want to do that?

Especially when they start off like this Shetland lamb:

Just one of the many sheep in the UK (Trondra, on this occasion, I think – Mainland in the background). Until I read the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, I’d not actually realised just how much of the world sheep population derived from British animals, nor had I realised just how many sheep – proportionately – we had. The UK has a landmass about 1.5% that of the US, but more than three times as many sheep, and more recognised breeds than anywhere else in the world. I’ve barely scratched the surface!

(I may need another shed.)


10 thoughts on “The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook – mmm…

  1. Harriet

    Bloody hell! And you have time to work and garden and knit too? Seriously, that looks like a mighty good volume that I may be tempted by when someone puts an extra day in the week!

    1. kate Post author

      Well, I don’t really, so things end up a bit messy – but hey, that’s what I say…
      It is really good; there’s the occasional little glitch when discussing this side of the pond, but minor ones; the problem is I want everything (especially a Castlemilk Moorit, even as a lawn ornament)!

  2. Annie

    As another fan of all things woolly I’ve pondered buying this book, but I don’t spin I only knit and my budget is tight … but you’ve convinced me, I’m off to find out where it’s cheapest 😀

    1. kate Post author

      I’ve found it fascinating, I must say (though perhaps I’ll put off looking for any wolf or yak round here and just concentrate on the sheep). I also found it really handy when a local alpaca person was asking me about to buy fleeces, too – I learned enough from it to beware, so maybe it indirectly saved me money!

      I think Book Depository is probably cheapest; it’s just gone up at Amazon for some unspecified reason. I’ve suggested my local library get it too – I’m sure it will be popular here in sheepland – so might be worth trying yours too…….

  3. Knitsister

    So far I have stayed off the fleece buying and spinning…but I know it’s only a matter of time!! The more you write about this passion of yours, the more I feel the urge to start myself…another shed first I think 😉

    1. kate Post author

      I was so emphatic about not learning that I was dubbed ‘the reluctant spinner’ – it gets to you, Heike, be very afraid!

      (And I was warned about this, but did I listen? No. Boy, does your stash increase. You’d definitely need that extra shed!)

    1. kate Post author

      Oh it is — but it just encourages me even more, and I’ve probably got enough in my stash to last for at least two or three years…. sigh..


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