A frock from a fleece? From start to finish? Really? Well pretty much (I didn't sheer the sheep :) )!
I was really keen to get a finished item sorted that I had scoured, dyed, spun and knit and I finally managed it!
I started with a rather 'soiled' Texel fleece, some beautiful soft and hairy alpaca and some beyond soft Mulberry silk with a dash of recycled sari silk...a more inspiring combination I couldn't think of, after it had been thoroughly scoured obviously! :) Dealing with raw fleece is easy if you don't mind that pungent sheepy smell and some dirt and the obvious patches of sheep poop.
Step one was the patient process of cleaning the raw, Texel fleece. You really have to be patient and careful so as not to felt the fibres during this process but it is super satisfying to see the dirty water flowing away. I use an alpaca scouring agent that is gentle on the fibres.
Step two was to design the yarn I wanted. I decided to make a two ply yarn with a navy blue ply and a variegated magenta/turquois/violet ply. Two ply hand spun yarn gives a real texture to stockinet stitch as the stitches raise themselves away from the fabric in their own way.
I decided I would blend Texel, alpaca and silk in both plies. I basically wanted random stripes but without them being a complete colour change.
Step three was to dye the fibres. I used acid dyes because I am a complete sucker for bold colours. I dyed all the fibres in the same dye pot because each fibre takes up the dye in a different way meaning subtle colour combinations. I opened the silk up a little but not too much which meant that the dye didn't get all the way into the silk roving leaving beautiful white fibres that show through in the finished yarn. Lighter patches definitely lift the whole yarn and create a wonderful contrast.
Once I had piles of my four colours, dyed and dry I set about carding and blending the different fibres together. All the fibres were very different in texture, staple length and density so I knew the finished yarn would be a challenge to spin and would likely vary in its texture too but that was OK, it's character right?
I used a drum carder to do an initial blend of the Texel and the Alpaca in each colour.
I loved how the colours looked next to each other! Bright and bubbly and so vivid.
After drum carding the texel and the alpaca I wanted to blend the mulberry and sari silks in to get an even blend for spinning.
I used a blending board to blend all of the fibres together keeping the colours separate. Each batt went through the blending board twice so that I got an even-ish blend but didn't completely allow the silk to disappear amongst the other fibres.
It was lovely 'painting' on the different fibres to create a unique blend. With the dye having taken differently to the different fibres I ended up with a lovely variation of tone and the silk just made the whole pile of loveliness shine!
Once I was happy with the batts that came off my blending board I set to and spun the plies that I wanted. I wanted the whole yarn to have a navy blue ply running through it with the second ply alternating randomly between the turquois, magenta and violet.
I love my Schacht LadyBug spinning wheel and I whizzed through the spinning. I confess that the texel was really quite sticky with lumps and bumps that I just couldn't get rid of but I soon decided that it was all just texture that would add to the finished dress. I did also find that the silk, being super slippery compared to the Texel, had a tendency to migrate out of the batt leading to prolonged places in the yarn where I was spinning pure silk.
Spinning in the garden during the beautiful weather we have just had was lovely! So relaxing!
I spun both plies and then plied them together as a two ply yarn. The combination just came alive and I loved the way my niddy noddy looked after I had set the yarn using hot water.
From there it was a question of digging out the knitting needles. I have been engrossed in crochet recently so it was nice but daunting to switch back to two needles. The yarn was a joy to knit and I used a pattern from Drops. What an awesome, free resource that is (www.garnstudio.com/home)!
I am usually super lazy and don't bother knitting the tension square but with hand spun yarn it can't really be avoided as the yarn could be a very long way from the one recommended in the pattern.
Still the dress knit up quickly and I was so pleased with the finished result. Of course it is the middle of summer now so I may have to wait a little while before I wear it!
We will be running classes showing you how to scour and prepare fleece so keep an eye on our website!