IMG_5494After shearing our alpacas Fidel and Ernesto last summer, we wound up with 4 gigantic gar-bags of brown and white fleece. Despite fleckings of weed seeds, burrs, dust and a million little bits of last year’s dry grass, it was lovely soft stuff, and we knew a spinning day was in order if the fleece was to do anything other than sit on top of a wardrobe.

Fleece ready to spin

Fleece ready to spin

We called on my mum Angela, a spinner from way back who wanted to get back in the habit, a few friends interested in spinning, and asked our friend Mary to lead the day and share her extensive equipment, skills and enthusiasm for the fibre arts (see Local and Bespoke for more on her magical talents in that realm).

Prior to the day, myself and a few kind souls cleaned the wool as much as we could – combing and/or picking out the million flecks and then washing and drying it. If it wasn’t for the time-consuming nature of this job I think a lot more fleece would get spun in the world! Mary also shared some of her pre-dyed sheep fleece to blend with the alpaca wool.

Fidel's fleece prior to cleaning!

Fidel’s fleece prior to cleaning!

We carded the wool, learnt to spin on a variety of wheels, reminded ourselves that nothing is easy at first and all skills take time to learn and that’s what brings pride to the finished product, and finally Mary plied the spun yarn so most participants got to take home their own skein!

Carding machine

Carding machine processing clean fleece

Freshly carded fleece

Ernesto’s freshly carded fleece

Proud owner of a first spinning attempt

Proud owner of a first spinning attempt

In the meantime, we had a pot of Eucalyptus cinerea leaves on the boil, and dyed some of the white alpaca wool a beautiful deep shade of red, then left more white wool in the pot overnight which emerged an orange tone. So satisfying to dye wool with nothing but leaves from a local tree – a lot more of that kind of magic can be found on Mary’s blog.

E Cinerea leaves before boiling

E cinerea leaves before boiling

After boiling for a few hours

After boiling for a few hours

The finished hue

The finished hue of Ernesto’s dyed white fleece

I loved the whole experience, doing something that people have been doing for thousands of years around the world, with beautiful equipment that has little changed (in fact the spinning wheel was invented more than 1000 years ago). It certainly felt like something meant to be done with other people, socialising through the repetitive tasks and working together for a shared outcome.

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Now we just have to figure out what to do with the remaining 3.75 bags of fleece! We’re open to suggestions!

Many thanks to Mary for her teaching, Angela, Pru and Shani for cleaning fleece, and to the other spinners who came along.

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