First, a disclaimer: I am a complete novice, and my only knowledge consists of what I have absorbed from the internet and various books.
I am in the planning process of a large-scale (year-long) project for school in which I purchase a sheep fleece, wash it, card it, spin it, dye it, weave it, and ultimately create a garment from it. I know there are a thousand details to figure out and samples to be done, but one of my biggest questions is what type of fleece I should buy that will allow me to spin a strong enough warp. I anticipate having a fairly long warp, and I know that handspun yarns can prove to be temperamental warps. I'm thinking that medium/crossbreed wools would be the best for me to use as a begginning handspinner, perhaps a Coopworth, Corriedale, or Romney? Once I decide on a sheep type I can buy some rovings to play around with before starting the project, and I can figure out whether I need to double-ply, or size it or spin it tightly.
Thanks for any help!
Any breed will do as long as you spin the warp consistent with the fleece. I just finished some very nice yardage with a fine Shetland single, spun quite softly.
All the warnings about how strong warp needs to be are overblown. If you get nervous before you warp your loom, soak the chain in laundry starch and that should protect it well.
Oh good! Thank you Sara!
Sara, the shetland singles you mentioned, were they something you spun yourself or are they something one can buy somewhere? I am always looking for good sources of wool singles!
I spun them myself. I've been spinning wool and linen singles for weaving for a long time - you're right, it is hard to find good commercial ones.
The breed you decide to use partly depends on the garment you have in mind. Merino and Jacob have very different properties, for example. That said, Shetland is often a lovely fleece. I have had good experience with shetland from Under the Son Farm in Indiana - lovely fleeces. Another breed that is suitable for a wide variety of projects is Blue-Faced Leicester. It is a breed I use when I teach spinning. It has a good length staple, a soft but not too soft feel, and nice drape. I've gotten some nice fleece samples from Cedar Fen Farm in Wisconsin. If you are a new spinner, I would suggest making a 2-ply yarn. Perhaps begin with a smaller amount and make a sample on a smaller loom.
Good luck with this project - let us know how you are doing!
A breed that has become one of my favorites is Romeldale. It's a rare breed. It has the softness and fineness of merino, but is an open fleece that is very easy to card and spin. I prefer spinning in the grease, which is difficult with many fine wools. Spinning merino in the grease is like spinning mud, but you can get wonderful yarns. Since you are making this into a garment, I assume that you will want a fine, soft wool. Something like Romney might work better for outerwear, but is very easy to spin.
I just finished a nice warp from prepared Polwarth, but don't know about fleece availability. Blue-faced Leicester is another favorite of mine. I'm currently spinning an English Leicester Longwool fleece for warp & weft, but it's outerwear only. The Shetland fleeces I've seen locally have been half-year clips and are on the short side for what I would consider good warp fiber, although the prepared Shetland I get on line is lovely stuff.
What kinds of sheep can you find locally, is it a full year's growth, and can you attend the shearing? Around here, alpaca is easily available and easily spun into good warp singles.
One thing I might suggest, at the risk of starting a controversy, is that I like to comb, not card, my warp and spin it worsted, not woolen fashion. I am not a purist in making all the tips point one direction and the shorn ends the other; however, because of the combing process, they seem to end up that way.
Brown sheep makes a decent singles warp, if you're looking for a yarn that really blooms.
Virginia, I'll have to give a presentation at the end of the project so I think I want it to be something dramatic I can wear when I present, like a dress or a jacket. Although honestly I'll probably make what makes the most sense with whatever fabric I end up with! I'll definitely be making samples on a smaller loom so I can get a feel for the processes. A couple people have mentioned Blue-faced Leicester so I will check that out for sure.
bigwhitesofadag, Romeldale sounds lovely! I wonder if I would be any good at finding them though, especially since I would love to be at the shearing if possible.
mneligh, no controversy about the combing, because I'm pretty sure that's how I want to prepare my yarn. Part of my project is that I want to make the tools I use (we have a good workshop at school) and I think I could make a pair of combs. I haven't done a lot of research into worsted vs. woolen, but it sounds like worsted is the way to go. As for what kind of sheep I can find, I'm at a bit of a loss how to go about that. I go to school in Pennsylvania but I spend the summer in Oregon, so I've been debating whether I should get my fleece here or there. I'm trying to figure out timing and reserving fleeces and how to attend (participate in?) the shearing and find the right farms and ask the right questions.
Try to keep from overanalyzing this. Reserving "the right" fleece, when you've not had a lot of experience is perhaps not the best way to do this.
You need to compare fleeces available to you - that is best done at a fiber festival - there are listings out there to find one that you can attend. Usually you have the opportunity to look at fleeces of many types and make up your own mind. Personally, the condition of the fleece is as or more important than the breed - so many herds are crosses of various breeds that purebred wool is hard to find. You want clean, sound wool with nice staple and crimp - no staining or weak spots or tacky tips. You gain experience in selecting a good fleece by getting out and touching sheep and wool.
Also keep in mind that this is a learning experience and there is absolutely no way that someone learning a process will wind up automatically with stellar results - more than likely there will be frustrations, possibly changing the fleece in mid-stream, reworking parts of the project at various stages.
I wish you well, and hope your finished project is lovely and wearable - but you probably won't wind up in NYC at fashion week just yet.
I'm studying engineering, so overanalyzing is in my blood :) But don't worry, although I'm aiming high for my final product, I'm not expecting it to look good (I'll just be happy if it doesn't fall apart at a touch). It's really all about the process. I'd start with owning the sheep if I could, but that's a bit beyond my resources! I guess I've been thinking a lot about the fleece because ideally I would attend the shearing, and if I wait until summer I'm worried I'll miss the shearing times. I've been looking at the fiber festivals (which look like the best way to learn about everything) and the only one I would be able to go to is in June. Is it acceptable to just go to sheep farms during the spring and learn about the sheep and get a feel for their fleeces?
I started learning about sheep and fleeces by helping at shearing time - most farmers can use a dogsbody to fetch and carry things. Just contact sheep breeders and explain your situation - usually they are happy to share information.
However, as somebody who's had lots of experience with schools, sheep (I have my own), spinning and a bit with weaving I'd like to add a few things:
Have I understood correctly that you haven't yet worked with wool at all? No experience in preparing a fleece, spinning it, and weaving the yarn? What about sewing?
How will the project be graded? Is the grade important? (I. e. can you afford to indulge your fancy or do you have to bear the end result in mind?)
How much time can you actually devote to the project?
Because learning to spin a decent yarn (and warp yarn must be reasonably regular - more so if you will be using a rigid heddle loom), learning to prepare a fleece so that you can spin a decent yarn from it and learning to put a decent warp on the loom and weaving it off correctly are all rather time-consuming activities (not to mention dyeing - I'd recommend trying to find a coloured fleece, instead. Or, even better, a coloured one and a white one).
I really don't know whether it's realistic, when starting from zero, to expect to end up with a wearable garment (I'd aim for a poncho or ruana - nothing more tailored than that) within one year. (I was spinning for a few years before I got a RH loom and started weaving, and only after a few years on the RH have I upgraded to a floor loom, and after several months of learning to use it did I feel confident enough to put on enough warp for ponchos.)
Regarding the sheep breed: It doesn't matter all that much. If you can go to local farms and be there at shearing time, the best thing would be to pick beautiful fleeces then (beautiful with regard to wool quality and the amount of dirt in the fleece). Most sheep are not bred for their wool quality but for meat. That means wool quality can vary widely within a flock. I happen to think that Suffolk (one of the most popular meat breeds) is very much underrated as a spinner's fleece. If you can buy wool as a by-product, locally, it should cost you much less than when you buy a prize fleece at a fiber show. Just check out what's available. (That's again where the time factor comes in: Normally it's a process of years to learn to judge wool "on the hoof")
And as for "a fleece": Depending on what sort of garment you are planning, and how thick is it going to be, and how big your fleece will be - one fleece might not be enough for both warp and weft. And don't forget that you will waste some learning to do things. Therefore I'd rather recommend to get two or three nice fleeces (making the money aspect all the more important).
Oh, and you mentioned you wanted to buy some roving to check out the wool: It's hardly worth bothering. Industrially processed wool is very different from what you get when you process the wool yourself. And the ready-to-spin fibre doesn't tell you anything at all about how difficult the fibre is to process. Which is almost the most important consideration: I find all wools spinnable, once prepared. But some are so difficult to prepare that I'd rather not do it (late-shorn Ouessant, for example).
By the way, do you have a loom? And a spinning wheel? Or are you
planning on using a spindle (for a student that should be a very good option -
I'm thinking about commutes and waiting time before the teacher arrives,
and breaks - lots of possibilities to fill otherwise wasted time).
Knitting your garment (instead of weaving) isn't an option? I think it would be easier (certainly knitting needles are cheaper than looms).
Last but not least: There is a fibre-producing animal that can be kept as a pet in an apartment - the angora rabbit. On the other hand, angora is not the easiest fibre to spin and not the easiest to use as warp yarn (no problem as weft, however).
Whatever you decide - good luck!
So many questions! I'll try to answer them in order :)
As of now I have absolutely zero skills in preparing a fleece, spinning it, or weaving yarn. I have some rudimentary skills in sewing but nothing complex.
The project isn't for a class, it's part of a scholars program that I'm in at my school. In my junior and senior year I have to complete a large-scale thesis project. It doesn't have to have anything to do with my majors, and we're encouraged to think outside the box. The grading is fairly lax and mostly based on putting in enough effort, so the quality of the final product won't have any effect on the grade. I can do whatever I want, as long as I take a thorough enough approach!
The project is due in May of 2014, so I have a bit less than a year and a half to complete the project. I get school credits for my work, anywhere between 2 and 10 credits per semester depending on how much I want to work on it. So I have a lot of time to devote to it. Also, the program is funded so I have a decent budget!
I know each of the steps are going to be extremely time-consuming, but I think I'm ready, even allowing for a very big learning curve at each stage. I can't skip the dyeing stage because the whole goal of the project is to go through the entire process from sheep to garment. Even if my lack of skills ruin some of the steps, the purity of the project is more important than the quality of the final result.
I'm definitely going to need two fleeces, and I'm considering three because at each stage I'm going to lose a lot of the fleece due to learning the process and messing up.
It's helpful to know that industrially processed wool is different from what I would be making. I think I'll still order some and do a mini-project over the next few weeks with about 8 oz of roving, just to get a general feel for the whole process. But I definitely won't base my expectations on it!
As for the equipment, I have access to a good woodshop at school. So I'll make a drop spindle and a pair of combs for the preparing and spinning. The hardest part will be the loom, which I will also be making (I had to put some engineering in the project somehow!). It might be as standard as a rigid heddle loom, but it also might be cross-breed of third-world looms and my own problem solving. That's all part of the fun. (Although I won't risk my own yarn on it until I've tested it with cheap store-bought yarn)
I considered knitting, and that was actually my original plan. But my advisor for the project didn't think it was on a large enough scale, ambition-wise. And I like the look of weaving better anyway (although my project probably won't even make amateur status), and I figure out the mechanics of the loom.
And last, bunnies sound cute but I don't think my roomates would approve!
Hope this gives you a better idea of my project!
There is excellent information that you will need in a book called "Hand Woolcombing and spinning' by Peter Teal. He recommends a staple length of between 5 1/2 and 7 inches. Please consider that fleece needs to be scoured ans dyed before combing. I think perhaps you tutor underestimates the scope of your task. Just mastering woolcombing and spinning is a big undertaking in itself, especially if you make your own combs.
When you say Peter Teal recommends a stable length of between 5 1/2 and 7 inches, is that specific to yarns intended for warp (this thread's come a long way since my original question so I wasn't sure if you were referring back to it)? I'd been hoping to use a medium length wool instead since I gather they're easier to spin.
And that's another thing I've been trying to figure out: at what stage do I dye. It seems it can be done to a clean fleece, a roving, or the yarn, but I don't know the advantages of one over the other yet. I am interested to see how the "scouring" goes, I dont want to accidentally felt it or otherwise ruin it.
As for scope, although my tutor may underestimate the scope of the task, I'm keenly aware of how massive an undertaking this is for me :) But it's something I've wanted to do since I was little and I have an infinite patience for tedious and repetitive tasks, so I think I'm ready!
I agree with combing your fleece; you might take a look at Viking combs as models for your combs - they're easier to make and use than worsted combs. Indigo Hound carried them. I think 5-7 inches is a long staple to start with, a medium staple is easier to work with. I have gotten several lovely Romney fleeces in Oregon. It's a medium staple, 2-4", nice open fleece, often in colors. I usually spin right out of the bag without combing or carding. It is a little coarser in texture, suitable for a jacket or heavy sweater.
Backstrap looms are nice and don't involve a lot of carpentry. I like them more than rigid heddle. If you're a carpenter, then consider counterbalance. Do you have to make the reed?
I agree that this is a very ambitious project. My first spinning became a coat, which I knitted. It certainly wouldn't have worked as warp! How about a stole-type shawl?
Your local agricultural extension office should be able to help you find sheep breeders. If they're anything like ours, they will know which ones will have wool of the type you need (annual shearing, as opposed to semi-annual, perhaps) and will be helpful. I'd visit a few of them close to you. Our local ones will give a free fleece to people helping at shearings, so cost is not an issue.
You can dye at any stage.
Finally, contact your local guilds! If you can't find them, go on Ravelry.com.
I'm referring to the process and purpose of wool combing for spinning. It could be for warp, of course. The purpose of wool combing is to produce sliver for worsted spinning. This should give you a smooth, lustrous yarn, which is ideal for weaving. Teal maintains that a longer staple is easier to use in this process. It really is a book you should consult before you begin. All the advice is there, including plans to make your own combs. I almost went that far myself, some years ago, but thought better of it and bought some prepared Border Leicester fleece instead.
Presented like this your project looks doable - you will certainly put huge amounts of effort into it! ;)
Peter Teal's aforementioned book is definitely very useful for building woolcombs. However, take it with a grain of salt - there are simpler ways of combing (Rita Buchanan shows them in her spinning video - from Interweave - and there is an Interweave video specifically on wool combing). You probably won't need to produce perfect worsted yarn...
"The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook" by Deb Robson (Storey Publishing) will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about different sheep breeds and their wool. Or, alternatively, "In Sheep's Clothing" by Nola Fournier (it's older, and deals only with wool. But it has a practical part on fleece selection, scouring and spinning which is missing from the Sourcebook, I believe - best check out both from the library).
I learnt spinning from Lee Raven's "Hands On Spinning" (Interweave), it has good instructions for spindle spinning. Normally I would recommend Patsy Zawistoski's "Spinning Wool - Basics and Beyond", but it only deals with wheel spinning (lots of information about wool, though). Mabel Ross's "Handspinning, Advanced Techniques" has instructions for spindle spinning with the park-and-draft method (both videos are from Victorian Video Productions). Abby Franquemont has written a book "Respect the Spindle" (Interweave) which has come out too late in my spinning career, so I have no way of saying how useful it would be to a beginner (I was disappointed). I believe it now comes with a DVD - definitely worth checking out.
For learning the basic principles of weaving, and about primitive looms: Rachel Brown, The Weaving, Spinning Dyeing Book. It starts from absolute zero and helped me understand what weaving actually is and how to go about it. And it contains a number of possibilities for weaving without building a loom (you could always engineer a spinning wheel instead!) I'm not sure about how useful the spinning part is, but her method for chemical dyeing (re-using the exhausted bath) works very well.
By the way, dyeing is NOT a necessary step - you could just as well work with natural fleece colours. But if you WANT to dye, here's my thoughts on it: Yes, you can dye fleece (clean is better, but not essential), ready-to-spin fibre, or yarn (or finished fabric).
You run the least risk of something going wrong and ruining everything by dyeing fleece (put the wool locks into moskito netting or an old mesh curtain, etc.): If you don't like the resulting colour, you can mix with another one at the combing stage and still get a nice result. Also colours obtained by blending differently-coloured fibres together are more interesting than what you get by mixing the colour in the dyepot. AND you can get large amounts of reasonably uniformly dyed spinning fibre without having a gigantic pot (the fibre should be able to swim freely in the dyepot so the dye can get everywhere. You probably won't have a pot big enough for 1 kg of fibre - but you'll find one for 200 g and you can mix the 5 batches of fibre. It's extremely difficult to obtain exactly the same shade in conscutive baths which is why industry writes the number of the dyelot on a ball of yarn and knitters are advised to check that all the balls come from the same dyelot).
If you dye roving or sliver, top or carded batts, the resulting fibre will probably be not as nice to spin as it was before. So you might have to repeat the preparation. And you have the problem with fitting all the fibre into a pot. I think dyeing ready-to-spin fibre is only a good idea if you want to achieve some special effects you can't get otherwise or if you don't prepare your own fleece (most of it is probably done by artisans who buy combed top in huge amounts, dye it and re-sell to spinners).
Dyeing yarn is certainly a traditional and proven method, the problem being mainly that dyeing mistakes are not as easy to rectify as at earlier stages. And of course, pot size. On the other hand, you can get effects you can't get any other way - check out warp painting and Ikat.
Finally, you can throw the woven fabric into a pot (if the pot is big enough), or paint on it. But you'd better be sure of your result...
As you can probably guess, I do most of my dyeing on washed fleece (in one go with the washing which saves on drying time).
Last but not least, do try to find spinners/weavers/dyers in your area. Life is so much easier if you have somebody to show you the ropes. And of course there's Ravelry, where you will probably find more information about fibre preparation and spinning than here (I apologize in advance if I am wrong, but I get the impression that most weavers are too busy weaving to spin the yarn they need for it).
doesn't know the first thing about wool, I'm sorry to say. Careers have been built and libraries written around each of the steps involved in your project!
And as for bunnies - they are certainly NOT cute! The best portrait I've ever seen was in Monthy Python and the Holy Grail ;)
But I really wanted to add another useful book to the list: Paula Simmons: Spinning and Weaving with Wool. As far as I remember it contains plans for building a loom. It's out of print, but you should get it through your school's library.
You have certainly gotten terrific advice here! Just a little note of caution: wool combs need to be made very carefully! If one of the tines should break off while you are combing, it could become a very pointy projectile. Commercially-made combs use metal designed and processed so they will not shatter (hopefully). That said, combining is a wonderful way to process your fleece.
The advice to consider something that will not be too complicated to sew is good to consider, both practically, and psychologically: cutting into your lovely cloth once it is finished can take nerves of steel! :) Have you considered making your dramatic statement with colour more than construction?
Good luck, this sounds really exciting!
Rachael Brown's book is an excellent source for starter projects. She has construction details on primitive looms. Also, R.A. Innes' Non-European Looms depicts some very interesting looms that would be easy to make.
With no forge capabilities and only mediocre woodworking tools the main items that would cause pain would be the reed and the brakes. Otherwise, a counterbalance loom is well within normal woodworking talents. With a really good shop they might pose no problem.
Check out the ReedGuy's posts here on Weavo. He makes these things -- the problematic ones like reeds and brakes.
You might also visit The Mannings (a weaving school) in south central PA.
As to the big dye pot issue, if you want complete control over the colors then you need a non-reactive pot. However, if dyeing fleece using plants then consider pot-as-mordant dyeing. Ham boilders (usually copper), old iron pots, stock tanks (aluminum) and aluminum bushels can all be heated -- the latter two outdoors over a fire. Just be aware they affect your color. Try onion skins or walunt in the aluminum bushel outside in the sun for a couple of weeks. It's gross, but it gets the job done.
Sorry for this super long post, if you posted a reply there’s
something here for you you’ll just have to scroll :)
Bigwhitesofadog, I can’t find any information on these
worsted combs so I guess I was always intending to make something based on the Viking
combs! (Although I didn’t know that’s what they were called). I found a lot of
sheep breeders with Romney sheep near my Oregon home so maybe that will work
Mneligh, I was looking at the backstrap looms too! My mom
just got back from Guatemala and brought me pictures of people weaving with it.
It would definitely make a lot of sense to make a loom like that. I feel like
since you control the tension with your body there is less chance of
over-warping (not the right terminology I’m sure) and breaking threads. And it
would be less expensive. If I did a more typical loom I’d have to decide about
the reeds, those are the only items I might buy instead of make. A stole shawl
could look really cool and would put more emphasis on the fabric which I’d
like. I probably wouldn’t have to plan for it, because anything I weave could
be turned into a stole shawl. Thanks for the tip on the agricultural office and
the guilds, it’s been hard trying to locate real-life information sources
because I didn’t know what to search for.
The Rachael Brown book looks fantastic and comprehensive, I’ll
probably buy it if I can’t find it at the library. I’ll certainly look into the
counterbalance loom, although I’m most likely going to do a plain weave so
maybe I don’t need a loom that accomodates multiple heddles. Although now that
I think about it, I might actually have access to a metal shop, depending on
whether my school requires me to take a class to use it. ReedGuy looks really
informative for if I end up making those parts! I’m not too fussed about
controlling the color, because I’ll be getting it mostly from kitchen
waste/supplies and plants I can gather near me. It would probably be a good
thing to get extra color excitement from the pots I use! I don’t think the
onion skins or walnut idea is gross, although my roommates may disagree haha.
Yvonne, the Peter Teal book looks interesting, hopefully my
library has it! Especially if it’s got plans for making my own combs :)
Kade1301, I can’t wait to check out all the books you
recommend! Especially the Rachael Brown book, since I’ve got two
recommendations for it. I could definitely do the project without dyeing, but I
guess I just got so excited when I realized I could use natural sources from my
kitchen and backyard that I couldn’t imagine the project without it. I hadn’t
heard of the combing together different colors technique, that sounds really
neat. I’m not too concerned about having consistent shades, because I want to
try a lot of different dyes, so my final product will have a lot of different
colors anyway. And it’s better this way because then I don’t have to find so
much of one particular dye source. Hopefully I can create a nice color palette,
but we’ll see what happens. Your dye advice is giving me a lot to think about,
like whether to dye some at the fleece stage and some at the yarn stage. But I
think I can say for sure that I won’t be throwing woven fabric into a dye pot
(shudder), I don’t think I’d have the nerves for that! And it sounds like I won’t
be dyeing my rovings, since I don’t fancy having to redo any steps. The warp
painting looks amazing and so tempting, but I think I’d have to sacrifice my
commitment obtaining everything from scratch (You would need the strength of chemical
dyes for it to work, right?). I’m starting to understand how many possibilities
there are and getting really excited about it!
My next step is going to be finding the
weavers/spinners/dyers near me, assuming I can find them through a yarn shop.
And I’ve had a couple people telling me to explore Ravelry so that’ll happen
too. As for finding more information about fibre prep, I came here for advice
on warping, and was intending to go to spinning forums for my spinning
questions and dyeing forums for my dyeing questions but of course everyone is
so interconnected and knowledgeable that I’ve been getting lovely advice on all
aspects of my project! And you’re right about my advisor, they really don’t
know much about the process, but I’m just glad they appreciated the field
enough to allow it. I was really worried they would make me choose something
more traditionally “academic.”
Weavingholiday, you are certainly right about all the
terrific advice! I’ve been amazed at how interested and helpful everyone is :)
I didn’t realize wool combing could be so dangerous haha, so I’ll be extra
careful in my construction. For the cutting of the cloth I’ll probably use some
interfacing strips to hold it together while I sew so it doesn’t fall apart.
And it’s definitely going to have to be something that isn’t too complicated to
sew. Anything too complex would be beyond my sewing skills, not to mention the
ability of my fabric to hold together (although I will try to make it the best
I can, the final cloth will not be the most professional/well-crafted).
Whatever I do, I’ll practice on some cheap cloth first to make sure it’s
I'm a novice been spinning for four weeks I started on a handmade spindle. I jumped from using a prepared top to buying a raw coopworth fleece and prepping it myself. It is so true about the commercial preps being total different creatures to fleece prepared yourself. For one, I only washed my fleece twice, not to remove all of the lanolin. It is much easier to spin with a little grease, not too much. I am going to spin myself a warp for a backstrap loom, and I am intending to hand paint it once it is on the warping pegs. Dyed my own fleece with red onions and vinegar, every time I spin it my DH asks me what am I cooking! But my point is it is a bit more, wiry and harder to spin than just the washed fleece. But u get a nice heathery effect to the yarn when you dye it in the wool before spinning. I have trouble with spinning very consistent yarn though, using a long draw with fleece prepped using my old hairbrush, just holding th locks tight and combing out the ends, mostly keeping the locks intact.
One thing I noted from laver new backstrap weaving site is the string heddles and shed stick and loop. Still haven't figured them out properly though! Have you put any progress pics up somewhere?
So I know it's been a couple years since this posting, but the project is finished! You all were wonderfully helpful and I incorporated a lot of your advice into the project :)
I haven't looked up the usual format for sharing projects, but I will just post my Imgur link that has an album:
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