Waysides and Urban Fibres

March 6, 2015

Thank you all for your unbridled enthusiasm and encouragement for the Waysides project Annie Cholewa and I are undertaking.

I was so thrilled by your response, I wrote back to all your comments equally enthusiastically. Then watched them all bounce back to me! The server that hosts my blog experienced some drama that resulted in lots of undeliverable mail. Another resend resulted in more boomerangs. The problem is resolved now but some of you have received two replies and some have received none and I am too overwhelmed by the resultant mess in my inbox to work out which is which.

So…thank you very much my dear regular readers and thank you to all the visitors from Annie’s blog. I am sorry I was not able to respond in kind. Please do drop by again as I really enjoy replying to your comments.

IMG_0101In the mean time, I am been spinning up a storm in order to get all my yarn ready for some Waysides dyeing. I was really keen to use some local fibres in this project but that is a tricky business as I live in an urban area. However, just by accident, I stumbled across something that is just perfect.

Late last year, Our Dear Girl and I visited the Collingwood Children’s Farm, an urban farm situated on the banks of the Yarra. It is about six kilometers away.  It is a car drive but connected to our neighbourhood by a waterway. If we put a canoe into our neighbourhood creek and paddled downstream quite a ways, we would eventually join up with Yarra and then find ourselves at the farm. This is easier to say than do, so we will keep using the car for now.

IMG_4961The Collingwood Children’s Farm has chickens and geese and cows and goats and sheep, mostly heritage breeds that are used in demonstrations for children. They have a regular Farmers Market and a big bonfire for Winter Solstice.  I was keen to see the English Leicester sheep they have there, lovely animals with long ringlets for fleece. We were about to leave after our wander when one of the farmers asked if we had managed to find the sheep we were looking for as they had recently been shorn and wouldn’t look much like English Leicesters. We got chatting about the shearing and their fleeces and then the farmer asked if I wanted any fleeces…for free!

I beg your pardon? Doesn’t the Guild take your fleeces? That’s what it is says on your website.

Oh well, the fleeces are quite dirty and no one really wants them.  We have a big pile of them in the barn.

But aren’t they very special fleeces?

Yes, they are beautiful fleeces. You can take as many as you want.

I took two. And came back the next week for a couple more for me and a friend.

That actually happened. That is a true story and it happened to me!

IMG_5085These fleeces are very dirty and stinky. That is true. But they are also beautiful fleeces. Apparently, the breeding program at Collingwood Children’s Farm is overseen by English Leicester breeder Ethel Stephenson who runs her own flock in Benalla. She often uses her own rams improve the CCF flock. Her sheep have won countless ribbons at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show.

IMG_5197I skirted them and sorted them into piles to wash. I didn’t sort according to quality but a friend has lent me a marvelous book called Your Handspinning by Elise Davenport (1971) that details how to sort a fleece by quality/position on the sheep. I can try this next time.

IMG_4979Washing the fleeces was an extraordinary process of transformation. I soaked them for a few days first, outside in buckets in the sun and then poured dirty water off onto the garden. I knew this was safe to do because of how the sheep are managed at CCF. I then scoured them in hot water and Unicorn Power Scour using Deb Robson’s method of twenty minutes for each soak to keep the temperature up.

IMG_6133After a couple of rinses and a spin in the washing machine to get all the water out, a beautiful clean fleece was drying on the children’s trampoline. They are getting used to the trampoline being used to dry fleece and woollens now and with some eye rolling, generally indulge me.

The dry fleece was then bagged securely in a pillow case and labelled and only then is it allowed in our house. I never store raw fleece in the house as it too delicious to moths.

After various experiments with preparation and spinning English Leicester this is what I am doing now:

Picking out the locks, laying them end to end and spraying with spinning oil to reduce static. I am using the recipe from Beth Smith’s Spinner’s Book of Fleece (2014): 1 part rubbing alcohol, 2 parts mineral oil and 7 parts water.  I had tried using olive oil but it went rancid and sticky.


Using small combs rather than a flick carder to align the fibres and remove any vegetable matter. I now clamp the combs to the table which is easier on my hands. I load the combs with the locks anchored at their base. Three passes of the combs, puts the fibres in the right direction to diz.


Dizzing into roving. I dizzed the fibre off the comb using a plastic yogurt lid that I pierced with a hot metal needle.  Using roving enables me to draft very quickly and smoothly in worsted draw to keep that twist low.

IMG_0065After dizzing, beginning with the end I just dizzed, I wound the roving around my hand, twisting the last little bit to indicate the start.

IMG_0053Spinning on my lowest whorl which has a 5:1 ratio (5 twists for every revolution of the wheel) and drafting with a worsted short forward draw at a rate of three inches per treadle to try and achieve about two twists per inch.

IMG_0104My sample was lovely, a two ply sportsweight that was lustrous and drapey and silky smooth. I figure this would be a very useful weight for the Waysides project.

IMG_0112Now if you are a Melbourne reader and you are a spinner, do go and visit the Collingwood Children’s Farm and go get yourself an English Leicester fleece. Wash it and let it sing. Tell other spinners to go get some too. Blog about it, put it up on Ravelry or post pics on Instagram tagged with #urbanfibres.  We are so very lucky to have such precious urban fibres available to us.

Remember you can catch up with Annie’s progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.

Back to spinning!