Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It's Not a Nep, It's a Feature

Not too long after I bought my spinning wheel, I bought a few raw sheep fleeces on eBay. From this, I learned lots of things. First, if you buy raw fleece through the mail, you pay postage on a lot of grease, weeds, and sheep manure. (Most of the fleeces I have washed and cleaned myself have decreased in weight by more than half.) Second, people selling fleeces online have very different ideas of what "clean" and "good quality" mean.

It was a worthwhile learning experience, though. I bought some Rambouillet sheep fleeces. If you read the fascinating breed account at the Oklahoma State website, you'll learn that Rambouillet fleeces are soft and fine as Merino. The fleeces I bought were of fair to good quality, and I cleaned, dyed, and carded some, and began to spin. I found the yarn soft and pretty, but it was full of little balls of fiber, "neps," which made spinning really, really slow. Also, the yarn was lumpy. What was I doing wrong?

I read some books which suggested that the fiber was defective. I read through hand spinners' Web sites, discussion groups, and weblogs looking for advice. I found the general consensus is that Rambouillet sheep make neppy fiber, and that the best thing to do with it is to throw it away.

Now, that is not the way I operate. I paid for it, washed it, carded it, dyed it, and by golly, I'm going to find something to do with it. Besides, it was soooo soft, and I could spin it so fine that I could ply it and still knit it at 6 or 7 stitches to the inch. But it's lumpy. I decided if I couldn't change it, I would learn to love it.

It's not a bug, it's a feature, eh? We will consider the little neps to be "garnets," there to add texture and interest. Thus has Diane Varney's book, Spinning Designer Yarns, paid for itself. (And to think I considered it an "eye-candy" book I was irresponsible to buy!) So, here's a hat I knitted from the first skein I spun from the Rambouillet lamb's fleece, neps--I mean--garnets and all. It's very soft and warm.

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