Spinspired is a family business that continues the craft of hand carding and spinning from their home in rural Norfolk. The team of Anna and Keith produce hand carded fleece’s for spinning, felt making, hand spun and hand dyed yarns, together with a unique range of hand crafted textile items made from their own yarns.
Their enthusiasm and commitment to maintain traditional textile crafts has created a range of yarns that reflect the current trends in colour and finish, items that have achieved an enviable reputation for their quality as well as maintain the craft tradition.
So impressed were we by the range and the processes behind it we asked Anna to describe the process from “sheep to shawl”.
We are a husband and wife team who have a real enthusiasm for using locally sourced natural fibres, particularly rare breed fleece, and are very lucky to live in an area boasting a number of small flocks of various breeds of sheep including rare breeds. Some small holders specialise in one particular breed and others, particularly Melsop Rare Breeds Farm Park, have various breeds of sheep and are registered with RBST (Rare Breeds Survival Trust). Over the last couple of years we have been able to source a wide variety of raw fleeces, which we process by hand, literally ‘from sheep to shawl’
When processing a raw fleece, the starting point can be a bit daunting. There is so much of it! Even a lambs fleece when unrolled from the neat bundle it comes in, seems as if it could have covered an elephant. There is the very distinct smell. I don’t find it unpleasant. Healthy, well looked after sheep which have only been brought in from the field for shearing have, what my husband calls a ‘rustic’ smell and on a warm day, we tend to drive home with all the windows open when we have a boot full of fleece.
Anna picking over a fleece
prior to washing
Keith carding fleece from a Shetland ewe called Millie
Dyed yarn drying
The first step in the process is to ‘skirt’ the fleece. This means removing all the tatty bits around the edge, which are matted and stuck together (this can be added to your compost heap). After this the fleece needs to be picked over to remove as much vegetation as possible. Depending on where the sheep has been kept, this can be hay, straw, grass seeds, brambles, twigs, leaves etc. It is not unusual to find the odd beetle as well. It is also important at this stage to remove as many ‘double cuts’ as possible. These are little lumps of very short fleece, which occur where the shearer has cut over the same area twice, cutting close and then closer still (rather like the multi bladed razors). If left in, these double cuts will become annoying little lumps in the carded wool, which are a nuisance if you want to spin a nice smooth yarn.
After picking over, the fleece is hand washed. Care has to be taken when washing fleece not to felt it. Wool will felt if it is agitated too much or if it is subjected to rapid changes in temperature. I find that packing handfuls of wool into a net laundry bag ensures that it doesn’t move about too much, and I always use hand hot water. Once washed the fleece is spread out on a clothes airer to dry. It can’t be dried in the tumble drier as it would felt.
When it is clean and dry, the fleece is carded. A combing process, which removes any tangles and foreign bodies that have been missed by the picking over and washing. It also importantly places the individual fibres in a common direction. We like to card each fleece at least three times, twice through a drum carder with short, well-spaced teeth, and once through a drum carder with longer, more closely set teeth. The better a fleece is carded, the easier it is to spin.
The next step is spinning. Wool can be spun on its own or blended with other fibres. It can be spun in a wide variety of thicknesses and plied with any number of strands to make different weights of yarn, depending on the craft project it is intended for. I mainly knit lace weight items and therefore prefer to spin fine yarn.
Once spun, the yarn is wound into skeins and washed in order to ‘set’ the twist. Care has to be taken not to felt the yarn (unless a felted finish is required) so it is washed very gently in hand hot water, rolled in a towel to remove excess water, and then hung up to dry naturally.
Although I love the huge variety of natural colours that occur in the different breeds of sheep, I sometimes decide to dye fleece after it has been spun. I have experimented with natural dyes in the past but found that the preparation of plant dyes, time consuming and the resulting colours unpredictable. I was also a little daunted by the number of different mordents that were required to produce a satisfactory range of stable colours. I decided that, although I admire the skills shown by natural dyers, this method was not for me. I use a range of commercial dyes created for hand dying that are easy to mix if you want to create your own shades and provide colours that are stable. Varying depths of colour are achieved by leaving the spun yarn in the dye bath for different periods of time.
Some of the yarn I spin is sold and some I knit up into unique items I have designed myself. I love knitting lace, and enjoy the challenge of designing and knitting complex designs. I also use my hand spun yarn to knit Fair Isle and Aran designs, and make use of the inherent tendency of hand spun yarn to become felted to produce knitted and then felted bags.
Spinspired aspires to inspire and hope that our products enable other crafters to explore and enjoy traditional skills.
We have recently extended our range to include handmade tapestry frames and blending boards in order to offer a wider range of products to support textile crafts.