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I was recently asked whether I had ever finished the sweater I was knitting out of Cambridge’s fleece.

I thought I had posted these photos! The Kingscot cardigan is finished!

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Here it is, on a “photo shoot” with the ewe herself. I love this photo not only because it’s kind of cool that I’m holding the sheep that gave me the beautiful fleece, but because of the onlookers in the background. Makes me laugh every time!

I saw Cambridge recently, and she is very busy growing my next fleece. You can already see, I think from above, but it’s looking a bit lighter in color. She is just CRANKING out the fleece, after a bit of a tough start I’m guessing because of the harsh winter, and I would not be surprised if her fleece was close to 10 pounds. (…of platinum to grey and GORGEOUS. Can’t wait.)

Yes, hawk-eyed friends, that IS a double pointed needle holding the cardigan shut.

Since then, I purchased some buttons made out of deer antler (as an homage to Lucy’s Great Adventure).

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The sweater is softer than I imagined it could ever be — Cambridge’s fleece has been a big surprise on that front, I must say — and it almost looks shiny because the fibers are so lustrous.

I still have another big batch of her fleece left, which was just washed recently —

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— and I am contemplating what I should be making with this fiber. I’m wondering if I can engineer a zipped vest with pockets that will take the place of the felted merino vest that I wear all the time to walk my dogs….to the drawing board….

I had fun processing Cambridge’s fleece. (My first full raw fleece!)

I had fun spinning Cambridge’s fleece.

I had fun making Cambridge fleece into a delicate wisp of a shawl.

How is Cambridge coming along as a sweater, you ask?

Well, splendidly. (I think; so far, etc. with all the caveats.)

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The dark bits of Cambridge that I processed and spun into the grey yarn of a million shades, I was convinced, needed to be a swingy cardigan. I didn’t spin the yarn with too much twist, mostly because her fleece didn’t need it, but also because I wanted to try to make the yarn as airy as possible…there’s nothing worse to me than a sweater that is so heavy in weight that it hangs like a sack from the shoulder seams no matter what you do…and I didn’t think the long wool would be best served spun woolen. (Which I actually may change my mind about, see the P.S. below.)

I wanted a pattern that had a bit more going on than just a plain stockinette sweater, and I made up my mind that Norah Gaughan’s Kingscot (which appeared in Twist Collective Winter 2008) was just the thing. It’s got a very pretty cable and bobble pattern on the front in a diamond pattern, and while the shape was swingy, the back was ribbing which I thought would provide a better fit.

I knew somewhere deep in my brain that the stitch pattern may not show as well with this yarn, and if I wanted the cardigan to be all about the cabling motif, I was better served using a crisper yarn with tighter twist.

Of course I ignored this instinct because I wanted to make this cardigan with this yarn. “Want” in this case totally trumped the logic.

I’m not sure if I am right, or if, ultimately I’m going to be not so right. Not yet, anyway.

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I have a vision for what I want this sweater to be. My gauge was wildly different though, and as this was handspun, so I knew it wasn’t going to be as consistent in gauge as much as a commercial yarn would be. And, I wanted to make sure that while I kept the major design points of the garment, I wanted it to fit me well. This all meant some big modifications. Don’t be scared! This can be done.

So…what were the important things about this sweater for me?

1. The A-line of the body of the sweater. This shape, in my opinion, can be really difficult. I have seen the fly away cardigan that is too tight on a body, and that is not very flattering (unless you are pregnant. I love fly away cardi’s on pregnant women). I needed enough fabric in the front so that even if there were only 3 buttons on the top that it would not gape open in the middle. I trusted that Norah, who has designed gazillion sweaters, had this in mind and that there was a reason that the back was ribbed….so I kept the ribbing pattern in the back.

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2. I did modify the stockinette to ribbing ratio all over the sweater. I could see how, with a tighter twist yarn that you’d need the dramatic decreasing between the ribbing and the stockinette, but I didn’t think I needed quite so much with my yarn. (And I tested this with swatching.)

3. I loved the design on the front of the cardigan. While I toyed with changing the size of the bobbles (to something a bit more pronounced), but in the end stuck with the instructions as written. I’m not sure why I thought I needed to fool with this.

This is where I am now. I couldn’t “see” the sweater as it came off the needles, so I ended up blocking it to the schematic for my size to see how the fabric looked.

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I think I am cautiously optimistic.

Some people, I think, would be bothered by what appears to be subtle color blocking within the garment. I actually am not bothered by it much, because Cambridge is pretty spotty and I love that one sheep can produce so many shades of grey. The sweater is so…HER! So much so that if Cambridge were a human, I’d give her this cardigan.

I am knitting the sleeves now, and I don’t envision any changes except that I may have to do some math to make sure the sleeve cap fits properly…not a big deal. Knit fabric is really flexible!

I also envision changing the button band from as written. While the knitted then sewn on button band is a beautiful, elongating detail on the sample sweater, my seamstress hands (or lack there of) started twitching so I will most likely be picking up the button band along the edge of the sweater and keeping that in a 2×2 rib as the most of the ribbing on the cardigan. And, don’t be surprised if I change the 1×1 twisted rib on the neckline to a 2×2 rib as well for consistency.

Hopefully, the next Cambridge update will be about a finished cardigan!

P.S. As many of you know, hand combing takes out all the short fibers out of the fleece as you create top (the ice cream fluff in the first link at the top of the post). We did take what was left over and put it through a drum carder to create rolags, which I spun woolen and 3-plied into an aran weight yarn.

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It was really soft, and really airy. Soft enough for a pair of wristlets, which has been keeping Cambridge’s Shepherdess warm this past winter.

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You know, this is all to make sure that Cambridge was always on Lee’s mind so she got some good grain this winter! And, it looks like she’s getting a bit lighter so I will be looking forward to what her fleece looks like come shearing in November! (Of course I will be peeking a lot sooner than November!)

Of course I have a photo:

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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.

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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