Sometimes the most treasured things are crafted into life slowly...
Way back in 2010, my family and I were at the North Somerset Agricultural Show on May Bank Holiday Monday. We go every year, and every year we find something new to see and enjoy. This year, we were checking out the sheep (OK we do that every year...) and I spotted a gorgeous ewe with long, luscious ringlets...
A chat with her owner, Dr Margaret Rutherford, revealed the ewe's name to be Florence, one of Margaret's Christon Flock of Black Leicester Longwools.
Florence wasn't due for shearing for a while but Margaret offered to let me know when it happened and to put the fleece aside for me. Many months went by but one day I received the email - Florence had been busy, travelling around the country winning one award after another for her luscious locks, culminating in Fleece Competition Champion at the National Sheep Association Sheep 2010 competition
To my mind, longwools are the most difficult of fleeces, consuming vast amounts of preparation time as every long, wavy lock has to be flicked, combed or teased individually, and every time I finish one longwool fleece,I think it has to be my last. But they are also the most rewarding; prepare and spin them right and you are rewarded with gorgeous, shiny yarn that still holds the bounce and ringlet appearance of the original fleece.
I spin mostly from fleece, rather than commercially prepared fibres, and I rarely start with a plan of what I am going to do with the fleece or the final yarn. Instead I try to let the fleece be what I feel it wants to be, and Florence's fleece wanted to be a thin, lightly spun yarn that retained a lot of the original curl. If i had prep'ed it more, it would have been even finer and smoother but that would have been less "Florence" to me.
Becasue it was a big fleece and I spun it quite finely, the final yarn took many months to spin, ply, wind into hanks, wash and wind into balls.
When finished, the yarn measured 15wpi (wraps per inch), making it a double knit yarn, though it feels thinner than that to me. I haven't tried knitting any of it yet to test that out, as it has always seemed to me to want to be a woven yarn.
And last week, 3.5 years after finding Florence in the show field, I finally finished my scarf woven with her fleece.
I don't often follow patterns but I knew I wanted a wave in the weave to accentuate the wave of the original fleece and so I chose a scarf pattern from Handwoven magazine - its the one on the front cover here: http://www.weavingtoday.com/blogs/handwoven-issues/archive/2012/12/05/handwoven-january-february-2013.aspx.
The other yarns I used were my handspun chocolate-brown icelandic/wensleydale yarn, handspun browny-yellow yarn (can't remember what that was..) and two vintage commercial yarns from my stash - a grey wool and a bright yellow for a bit of zing.
When I finished the scarf, it still felt a little bit rough but after a machine wool wash (I wash all my woollens in the machine these days), it has bloomed into a lovely soft comforter for chilly winter days.
It's been a slow make but that doesn't matter at all and I will enjoy wearing it for even more years than it took me to make it.
Thanks Florence x