We sheared our small flock on the first really hot day this year. All the rams were sold last Autumn and the ewes are feistier than ever this year having had a rest from lambing. Being part Wensleydale, they usually look bony when the fleece comes off but this year they are hugely round, lying in the sun like basking seals.
The fleece is good this year too. Most will go to Cornwall for spinning at the Natural Fibre Company. The older fleeces are washed at home – soaked in cold water overnight then lifted out to drain and washed in the dyeing boilers (heat turned off at 50 degrees), rinsed, spun and laid out in the sun to dry.
I keep the dry fleece, sorted by colour, in polypropylene woven bags which so far appear to be moth resistant.
The washed fleece may have felted into bundles. Separate the locks (staples) starting at the tip, and stretch them out by about an inch so they are thinner but still fairly even. I store them in a shallow cardboard box so I can see the colour variation. You can just sort the locks as you go.
An easy first project is a soft rug for a bedroom. You will need a length of rug canvas with approx. 3 squares per 1″ /2.5cm, strong yarn, scissors and a locker hook which is basically a crochet hook with an eye at one end. This rug won’t need backing or the sides bound with tape: simply fold over the raw edges of the cut canvas and, using the locker hook, whip them with a strong Aran weight yarn. Start at a corner. The selvedge will not need turning over- just bind it as it is. There is no need to mitre the corners. When you reach the last corner leave a length of about a metre still threaded through the hook before you cut the yarn.
If right handed, you will work from right to left. Start with your yarn attached at the bottom right corner. To begin with it’s easy to spread the fabric on a table and draw the working edge onto your lap. A towel will stop it slipping and catch the bits which fall out of the fleece. Hold the fleece under the mesh and the hook on top, pulling the fleece through. Work along the row then turn the fabric so you always work from right to left.
To start a new staple fold the tip over your index finger and hook through this loop. It will be a thin loop but the next one will be thicker (being double) and will compensate. If the staple seems a bit thin wind it twice round the hook. Pass the hook right through the raised loop of fleece, locking it with the yarn. ( On another project using thick wool or strips of fabric it would be possible to pull up several loops before passing the yarn through). The under surface becomes the wrong side.
I began this project by working stripes along both lengths, leaving a space in the middle then I started working stripes across the space in a balanced pattern. Eventually I was left with the central rectangle. I decided to fill it with colour blocks. If you happen to have a rigid heddle loom it’s useful to spread the rug on it at this point.
Otherwise work in a good light with the empty part of the canvas off the edge of a table.
There are lots of different rug styles – an internet search for kilims and wool rugs will provide ideas for patterns and colours ad infinitum. Pieces of canvas are easily joined by overlapping edges to make runners – or even a narrow stair carpet for wooden cottage stairs. Small items like trivets, table mats and coasters make good gifts. Make these from washable fabric and bind with tape. Mild warning: craft writers may suggest items of clothing. Mmm… could be grotesque.
At the Black Sheep shop we stock hooks, one type of rug canvas and books by Theresa Pulido and Jenni Stewart Anderson. You can drop in any Saturday afternoon and see work in progress or have a go yourself- there’s no charge. We can supply washed or washed and carded fleece by arrangement. Please phone to find out – 01974 299105 (10 till 5, not Sundays)
If you are generally interested in recycling and rag rug making we have an excellent tutor locally: visit Sue Clow’s website www.ragart.co.uk. Sue teaches at the National Wool Museum of Wales and her work can be seen at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Corris, Wales.