Winter has finally arrived here in Maine. Temperatures have dropped, the ponds and lakes are slowly and surely icing over, and our landscape is now blanketed with a couple feet of snow. For some, the snow and cold and shorter days become burdensome but for me it brings with it a softer pace and an opportunity to find balance between the physical needs of my world and the relaxing.
So when we are not out shoveling snow or tending to animals or enjoying treks through the woods on snowshoes, I am finding time to spin or knit and indulge in the creative aspects of my life.
A goal I have set for myself this year is to put a real dent in the number of prepared fleeces that need spinning. Our spare room is overflowing with bags and bags of wool, all waiting to be spun into yarn. I began yesterday spinning skeins of a beautiful silver blue face Leicester fleece, with the intention of making Noah a sweater. This is only the 3rd Christmas he has asked for a new hand knit sweater and I have come up short. Also, if fleeces keep piling up, I may have to offer to insulate someone’s house with them.
While spinning yesterday afternoon and as I watched the snow falling softly outside the window, I thought about all the years I have been sitting down to my wheel. I remember those early days of trying to twist my sheep’s coats into some likeness of yarn. I started spinning on an Ashford Traditional wheel and treadled patiently and with great focus until I began to see some improvement. Those first yarns were bumpy and thick, then turning quickly into a lace like thread, all on the same spool. It didn’t seem as easy as all the ladies at the spinning group made it look. I often wondered if I would ever spin smooth and consistent yarn that I would be able to knit with. Years later, I realized that some of that first thick and thin, knobby yarn would be almost impossible for me to recreate and without realizing it then, I was producing some pretty fun novelty yarn. These days, I go between a wheel hand made by a local cabinet maker and a Schact double treadle wheel and the fiber I spin results in a much more uniform yarn. I really have to work at that novelty yarn now.
Spinning friends were always giving a new spinner a bit of their wool stash to try out. It was often wool of unknown breeds or origin, balls of white or colored roving, or tidbits leftover from a dye pot. I spun them all and felt like each one was a precious source of yarn possibility, regardless of how scratchy or short stapled the fiber might be. I wasn’t a seasoned fiber enthusiast then and appreciated every pillowy ounce that made its way to my own growing collection of wools.
My early flocks of sheep began much the same way. Those first ewes were bought off a friend of mine, mostly Romneys, and at the time, I didn’t know enough about staple length, or crimp, or the grades of fineness to coarse, to know what I was getting. They were all wonderful sheep, and because I happened to start with a breed that naturally lends itself to fiber production, I made some terrific yarn. Now, after twenty years of spinning and raising sheep I have become a bit more considerate about the wool I spin and the sheep I raise. This preference has had as much to do with the type of yarn I wish to create……a certain softness but one that is not too fine, a long staple length, and plenty of crimp and luster. This goal is what has led me to finally raising the sheep breed I now have and share our farm with, Blue Face Leicester. On the farms in our area, there are many different breeds of sheep being raised ……Jacobs, Coopsworth, Border Leicester, Cotswald, Shetland, and of course the very popular, Romney. The owners of these flocks are happy spinning, felting, or weaving their sheep’s fleeces into beautiful handcrafts. It’s nice to have the diversity amongst all these wool growers.
Of course, being somewhat of a fiber addict, I am always happy to add in a little angora or mohair and even silk to my stash. These fibers may add a bit of extra shine or softness or luster to a yarn I want to spin. I will often use my drum carder to blend different fibers and colors together.
By the warmth of the wood stove, I can trace back over my journey with sheep and fiber and spinning and see that all the years of tending to this craft has brought growth, learning, and tremendous satisfaction. It still does and I look forward to all the days ahead treadling my favorite wools into piles and piles of scrumptious yarn. Happy New Year to all or should I say Happy “Ewe” Year!