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Portlanding along, Part 2

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

The end result of working with this Portland ewe fleece is three skeins of woolen yarn, a skein of combed worsted, and a blend made from a kitten crossed with a cloud (1/3 Portland, 1/3 yak, and 1/3 cashmere that I had lying around, as you do).

This is a really well-behaved fleece. Once it was scoured thoroughly, it was easy to pick -- rather than using my big Patrick Green picker, which I think would have torn the fleece apart and done further damage to it, I ran handsful of clean locks once through my hand cranked roving carder.

Because the fleece had been scoured twice, and because there were still second cuts in it, I was worried that it would turn out to be a rather nubbly wool. There was a heck of a lot of broken ends and nebs that I removed and carded out during the 'big card' on my Patrick Green triple carder.

That said, the woolen yarn that I ended up with had very few nebs in it -- it is a textured yarn, can't be helped, but once it was plied it came out really soft and plushy.

I sent it thought my triple carder three times: I made about 7-8 big batts with each session, then tore those batts into 6-8 sections so that I could mix up the carded fleece for its second and third passes, blending everything together as much as possible. Dizzing the final batt off was a joy as nice, fat rovings pulled easily right off the carder.

Spinning the roving was an absolute breeze -- a very well-behaved, springy fleece. Well- prepared, working with this fleece is less about spinning and more as if one is pulling the yarn right out of the batt.

Plying the woolen singles went very quickly, and I used my Woolee Winder on my electric wheel to make the process go by smoothly. The subsequent skeins were made up using an antique skein-winder (dated c.1750 - it has one job, but it does it very well).

Then hanging outside on a very cold, but sunny and windy day to set the twist.

This would be fine to wear next to the skin -- I can see it being quite versatile if it is either combed or spun more finely than I have here -- easily made up into hats, scarves, or a cardigan. It should have a good drape -- the combed worsted would be great woven into fabric for something like a jacket or a skirt, if not household goods -- it would be great for a thin, but warm blanket, for example.

The fleece has a wonderful lustre and shimmer, and while its natural white sparkles, it would dye up wondefully well.

The novelty yarn I made out of the Portland/yak/cashmere can from the wispy bits still on my swift drum which didn't come off when I dizzed off the main batts. I spun this on my Bosworth attache charka because I wanted a finer yarn than I would get whizzing it through my electric spinner -- I prefer to spin finely on the charkha as there is no issue with tension or pull as I'm spinning. I plied it on my old Jensen double-treadled Saxony wheel (mine is a left-handed cherry wheel, like the one in the link), as I wanted more control over the speed and tension of the plying than I would have got with the electric wheel. The resultant two-ply is very soft and has a wonderful halo. This blend, again spun very finely, would make a wonderfully decadent jumper or cardigan.

The final result: three skeins of 2-ply carded Portland, one small skein of 2-ply combed Portland, and a small skein of the 2-ply Portland/yak/cashmere. The yak has given the latter a slightly darker colour and a bit of a halo.

I have not made any knitted samples from any of these skeins so that I can send as full a batch as possible back to Justine, who plans to make some samples for the farmers from whom she received the fleece. I hope there's enough here! I removed and did not blend in the leg wool that was on the fleece as it was very rough and full of guard hairs; there was a leftover bag of waste from the carding process to remove all of the nebs.

However, this fleece and resultant yarn has much potential for garments and homeware. My main suggestions would be

  1. make sure the raw fleece is skirted well before anything else is done. Remove any second cuts

  2. separate/grade the fleece -- the leg wool is very coars and full of guard hairs, for example

  3. thoroughly scour the fleece once, and carefully: this fleece was scoured twice, as the first pass cleaned it, but left in a lot of the lanoline. While I did pull out a lot of excellent locks for combing, because the fleece was still greasy, my combs and then carder got really gunked up. When this fleece is thoroughly scoured the first time, it behaves very well through the carder and then in the spinning process.

These skeins came up really well despite the fleece going through some rough times -- a well-skirted, graded, and thoroughly scoured fleece would result in a wonderful yarn with much less wasted. I suspect it may take at least two fleeces to make an adult-sized jumper, as these are small sheep, but mill-spun yarn from this fleece would make a durable, drapable, and beautiful garment.

Meanwhile, the unscoured leg wool is still in a lingerie bag that has been adopted by resident speakers of the House.

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