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Cambridge. Remember her?

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Born 1/27/13 at Shepherd’s Hey Farm (she’s #1305), sheared in November 2013 with me stalking her fleece since May 2013?

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And remember that I took the silvery bits of her fleece and spun that up into a lace weight yarn to make a bit of a shawl?

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Well, another part of her fleece met the spinning wheel. The dark grey bits.

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I spun the singles thicker, being very careful not to over twist the singles. This beautiful fleece has a staple length of 6″, and a nice crimp but not as tight a crimp as…say, a Cormo or Merino. And while I wanted to spin these singles worsted for a smooth and silky finish, I wanted the fibers to twisted together but not packed together so tightly that the garment resulting from this yarn would be wool-armor.

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The yarn is a DK-ish weight 2 ply yarn. I wanted to make a 3-season cardigan with this yarn, so while there was a voice in my head that was whispering that I ought to make a 3-ply yarn (I love round yarns!), I thought that I would get a better draping garment with a 2-ply yarn made from this fleece. And we all know that I am quite opinionated about my yarns 🙂

One would think that because Cambridge is mostly Romney that this yarn would be too “woolly”, or “not next to the skin soft”. We will see what happens when this yarn is knitted into a garment. Granted, this is no Qiviut, but I don’t think I’m going to have to wear 3 layers of turtlenecks before I can put on a Cambridge sweater. It is fantastic fleece — and the spinner who got her grubby little hands on the fleece (that would be me) may be improving bit by bit in her spinning skills.

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I will let the photos do the talking on the color of the finished yarn. Whatever words I come up with will not do it justice. But I love it that this fleece is a million different shades of grey (no, not 50), something that I think only nature can create.

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I have a pattern in mind. Norah Gaughn’s Kingscot. I think Cambridge would love being a swingy cardigan that I can wear every day.

Next chapter….Cambridge Meets the Knitting Needles.

Happy New Year!!!!

What did you put on your needles on January 1? I cast on a few things, but I started one very special project. It’s very meaningful to me because it uses two skeins of my handspun, one that shows how the fiber won, and one that shows that I learned a lesson from the first mistake. Appropriate for the New Year, right?

IMG_9797When I first started spinning, this is what I envisioned: Pick out beautiful fiber from a top producer, spin it better than any machine could, and knit it into a garment that I would either wear forever or gift, beribboned and opened to lots of Oooos and Aaaahs.

THEY say that to be an expert at something, you need to put in 10,000 hours. (Malcolm Gladwell? Although it seems the 10k hours concept has been around a long time).

Having started spinning in earnest (OK, in a panic since I had signed up for a seminar with Maggie Casey at Maryland Sheep and Wool and didn’t want to appear like I knew nothing) in April, I am very far away from expert.

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Imagine, as a beginner spinner, encountering cormo combed top for the first time. It’s like ice cream, vanilla and chocolate. Combed to perfection, there it sat in beautiful coiled loops at the Roclans Farm booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool. I had just taken my first spinning seminar.

It really looks like it would be easy to spin. I mean, it’s practically spun! This was the state of my brain as I purchased my fluff from Kate.

I had big plans. So, when I started spinning the brown beauty, I wasn’t really held back by the fact that the singles would sort of pull apart relatively easily (first warning sign). I chalked it up to being a beginner, and mindful of the “one big mistake beginner spinners make is over twisting” lesson that I was taught, I spun lots of it. Over 3,000 yards of singles, to be precise. I plied it, the yarn looked OK. Maybe a bit uneven, but charmingly so. I was optimistic.

Then, it went though a soak. And the fibers went…..BOOOOOINNNNNG!!!!! I now had 1500 yards of loosely spun, loosely plied yarn. This was a total rookie mistake. Cormo has a tight crimp and once soaking took some of the spinning twist out of the yarn and “livened up” the crimp in the fiber, it became very obvious that I should have spun this fiber with a lot more twist.

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It wasn’t many weeks after this incident that I learned that cormo isn’t exactly a beginner’s fiber. I think one should try as many things as possible, and don’t let things intimidate. Perhaps not 1.500 yards worth though!

The imperfect spinning on my yarn did nothing to prevent me from knitting this yarn up, and I modified the original pattern to make sure that the delicate lace was framed in solid garter — I did not want too many areas on this shawl where the integrity of the shawl was dependent on too many single stranded sections on this garment. The resulting shawl is soft, bouncy, yummy, and warm. The shawl is a modified version of Gudrun Johnston’s Flukra.

IMG_9086I was a little wiser by the time I recovered from my less than perfect first cormo spin. I decided to make a 3-ply sport weight yarn, worsted spun of course from the white top. By this time, I had purchased a flyer for my wheel with higher ratios — so it was easier to make sure I was introducing more twist into the singles. I let it rest a few days, and made sure that when I was tying off the skein to leave plenty of room for the fiber to expand.

This end product definitely looks better, and I’m happy with this yarn:

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I knew right away that I wanted to use the white and the brown together in a project, and as I saw many beautiful versions roll off my knitting group members’ needles, I knew that I wanted to make a Brooklet by Cecily Glowik MacDonald. I wanted the solid portion to be nice and cushy, while I wanted the lace layer to be properly blocked.

It’s a long cowl, which I can wear as a single, double or a triple loop. I’m sure I will get a lot of wear out of it!

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Remember Cambridge of the grey fleece?

I left you as I had just begun to spin singles from her fleece. I was spinning the silvery puffs of it into yarn for the very first knitted project out of her gorgeous fleece.

I just started spinning earlier this year, so I was a little bit nervous. Yes, I have been practicing a little bit every day, trying to get some skill under my belt, with the ultimate goal of being able to create just the yarn I meant to create. My opinion about yarn is well beyond my spinning skills however, and I still consider myself a novice. I felt though, that I had obsessed enough about Cambridge’s fleece and how I wanted to spin it, that I should just go for it. Besides, there’s more than 7 pounds of unprocessed stuff behind this small bit of processed fleece that I knew I had to start somewhere!

Cambridge has been bred to produce a long wool (and her staple length was 6″), so her fleece does not need to be twisted too tightly together to hold. In fact, since I wanted to create as soft a yarn as possible, I did not want to seize up the fibers by twisting it too much. If I were more versed in spinning, I would have talked about the angle of twist, and how many twists per inch I was aiming for….but I am 100% going by how things felt in my hands and by intuition. (OK, some would say winging it, and I have to admit I was!)

I was cautiously optimistic with the yarn that came off my wheel. The color is absolutely amazing.

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Each single is about 5 strands of her fiber, and I twisted/plied 2 of these singles together to create this yarn. So the yarn is pretty fine. It is a 2-ply lace weight yarn, which is what I was aiming for.

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I made a fine yarn because I thought the first project from Cambridge’s fleece should be a gossamer wisp of a shawl. I wanted to challenge myself from a spinning standpoint, but I really wanted to remember how I felt as Lee and I combed out bits of her fleece — the fluffy, cloud like puffs that emerged as we processed her fleece.

Yarn made from Cambridge’s fleece, technically, should not be next to the skin soft (I will leave explanation of all of this to Clara Parkes, here). A sample of her fleece will be sent in to be tested, but the diameter of each fiber will likely be over 30 microns. I was surprised, as I cast on, how soft the yarn felt. (Which I actually wrote off to psychosomatic wishful thinking.)

Now, I may have been nervous as I sat in front of a spinning wheel with Cambridge, but once I had the yarn and I had some knitting sticks in my hand, i had zero trepidation.  I knew exactly what to do, and I wanted to do some magic with the sticks.

The first Cambridge project needed to be a classic shawl, with classic lace motifs. I pulled out my trusty little bible for such thingsEvelyn A. Clark’s Knitting Lace Triangles

Evelyn Clark has designed some amazing shawls. There are close to 11,000 of her Swallowtail shawls up on “the system” on Ravelry. I was lucky enough to take her shawl design class at Madrona this year.

Knitting Lace Triangles gives you a basic outline of how to create a lace triangle of your own design using some building blocks that Evelyn outlines. I used 2 lace motifs, the ripple lace and the medallion lace. Classic. That is what I was shooting for.

Here it is! A lace triangle that is 55″ wide and 23″ deep at the center. I hope I did Cambridge proud!

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Cambridge (SHF1305) was born at Shepherd’s Hey Farm on January 27, 2013 (photo by Lee Langstaff).

314422_168064710014149_1251301220_nI met her not long after this. In fact, I met her as she prepped to go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in May 2013 as a lamb.

Isn’t she cute in her pretty flower show coat??? (The sheep wear the coat to keep the fleece clean and to keep the sun from bleaching the fleece.)

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I know what you are thinking….”OMG she’s done it. She’s bought a sheep to keep in her NYC apartment.”

Don’t worry, Cambridge still lives at Shepherd’s Hey Farm with her brethren of beautiful natural colored long wool sheep. She was bred for her fleece, though. So no…. while I did not bring home sheep for Finn and Lucy I was lusting after her fleece! Anyone who knows me can probably guess why I fell in love with Cambridge and wanted the fleece this little girl was going to produce, right? Not only was she darling, she was every single shade of grey known under the sun.

I begged to please let me be the one to process and make something out of Cambridge’s fleece. Sure, I had just begun spinning, but I thought that I could improve enough by the time she was to be sheared to do her fleece proud.

And on November 22, Emily The Shearer came to The Farm, and sheared 21 sheep. And Cambridge was one of them.

Cambridge did a very good job growing her fleece. It was thick and luxurious. She looked like she was very dark on the outside. But as Emily worked (and she was FAST)….all the grey in all the different glorious shades emerged.

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Say it with me. “Ooooooooooooooo”.

Cambridge is 42% Romney, 19% Border Leicester, 16% Corriedale, 12% Lincoln, 7% Romeldale, 2% Rambouillet and 2% Wensleydale. I’ve actually linked to the fleece characteristics for all these breeds for you so if you are really curious, you can go look. The conclusion you will draw, I think, is that her fleece is probably “not soft” (think cashmere). It is true that as yarn, Cambridge’s fleece will likely not be next to the skin soft. That is not what she has been bred for.

What she has been bred for is this:

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Long locks, bouncy, silky, even crimp (see the light grey locks in the foreground on this picture), oh and the COLOR. It is absolutely gorgeous. And the fleece felt good to the touch, what spinners may call “a great hand”…it’s not “soft” the way most people would think, but it feels good to the touch.

I was THRILLED. And since a picture is worth a thousand words….

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After shearing, Cambridge was given worming medication, put back into a coat (a size smaller because….well, look, she was all fleece!!) and given lots of good food so she can keep warm…and grow some fleece for me next year!

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Now the question was….what to do with this gorgeous bundle? Her fleece weighed nearly 8 pounds before skirting. I pulled out 10.75 ounces (this is not a magic number, I just pulled out what I wanted and then weighed what I pulled out) and got help processing her fleece.

Small amounts of fleece are hand washed carefully…

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Dried….

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and as she is a long wool, we decided to hand comb locks and put it through a diz to create a “top”.

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I decided to keep the colors as separate as I could because her very light grey was incredible and the depth on the charcoal was insane. Think I like her fleece?

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Don’t you? Hand combing produces these coiled fluffs of the fleece with all the fibers aligned. This is going to be a breeze to spin. In fact….here she is on my bobbin! This is the light colored bit….it is literally silver!

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Remember that box that came home with me from Seattle? I finally cracked it open.

I wanted to make sure that I had spun and knit off of my spinning wheel before my first spinning seminar at Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, upcoming next week.

IMG_1574The first yarn I made was a 2ply yarn from a BFL top. My singles were underspun in places, and overspun in places. and plying was a bit uneven. It’s still tough for me to see the smaller flaws in the skein, particularly as I was plying. I’m glad I knit with it, though, because I could certainly feel the imperfections and how I would have preferred to have the yarn after I knit it into a pair of fingerless mitts.

 

IMG_8911(The bit of orange is some Hedgehog aran that I had in my basket!)

IMG_8909Of course, I needed to try to make a 3 ply yarn. I like rounder yarns, and….well, why not?

This time, I started with a beautifully dyed braid of 85% BFL and 15% from JulieSpins. And while the spinning and plying certainly was far from perfect, I was able to make a yarn that was a bit more presentable….and a bit easier to knit.

IMG_8908It’s now a cowl, with a little bit of indian cross stitch on the ends (great pattern, it’s Elis by Reiko Kuwamura). I didn’t mean to, do this on purpose (because I am very far away from spinning with a purpose!) but the cowl is nicely graduated in ocean colors and goes from deep blue to a green.

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I clearly have a lot to learn and have a massive list of questions for Maggie Casey next week!! I’m so excited!