For my Spinning For a Sweater Project, I chose English Shetland wool for my fiber. Why, when I could have chosen Merino or Blue Faced Leister, two of (possibly) the most widely spun (and knitted) wool fibers in the hand spinning world? As a spinner one cannot help but get curious about all the other breeds of sheep in existence, and how their unique characteristics can make for a unique spin. These differences also translate into unique knitting experiences as well as different end products. Merino sweaters tend to be luxuriously soft, drapey and delicate; they also have a tendency to pill easily. BFL garments wear better, are very soft but not as soft as Merino, and have a bit of a luster to them.
The Shetland sheep have called the Shetland Islands, an archipelago of a hundred-and-some islands off the northern tip of Britain, their home for more than a thousand years. As various breeds of sheep moved from south to north across the British Isles over the centuries, the gene pool of the Shetland sheep grew diverse. As a result, Shetland wool comes in a wide variety of colors and textures. Fleeces can either be extremely soft and fine with a well-defined crimp or they can be more coarse and less crimpy. Some claim that the softest Shetland wool ranks among the finest wool grown by any sheep breed in the British Isles. So fine, in fact, that a large lace shawl spun from the finest Shetland wool can be easily pulled through a wedding ring. To say that Shetland wool is scratchy is a gross generalization. Some Shetland wool is indeed coarse and scratchy; Shetland wool from other fleeces can be super soft. Yarn spun from the softer Shetland fleeces makes great sweaters that are lightweight, warm and sturdy.
Shetland is a wonderfully ‘wooly’ fiber and is great fun to spin. It loves to be spun in the woolen method but because I have combed top, I’m spinning it from the fold using a long draw. By the time I’ve completed this project I’ll (hopefully) be an expert at spinning from the fold! I’m much better at “short-forward draw”, which yields a smooth worsted-spun yarn, but it has shortcomings. Short-forward draw uses more fiber (because the fiber is compressed during spinning) as well as it being a slowish process. By utilizing the long draw, I hope to maximize the yardage I get from 24 oz of fiber. It will also yield a lightweight yarn due to the air that gets trapped within the spun fibers. Finally, and most importantly, long draw is a relatively speedy spinning method: one experienced spinning expert claims that she spins up to 7 times faster using long draw vs. short forward draw.
Here I am holding the fiber while spinning from the fold. Unlike others, I prefer not to wrap the fiber over my index finger. This feels more natural:
Here is another view:
I’m enjoying spinning this Shetland top immensely. It feels lively, springy, and a little bit more toothy than Merino or BFL. I don’t expect the garment to be quite as soft but then again this will not be worn against the skin.
Next time: a 3 ply yarn emerges!