Back at the beginning of the Century, when I was a fairly new member of the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners & Dyers, and an enthusiastic entrant for challenges, the Association of Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers (referred to by older members as “National”) via it’s quarterly magazine “The Journal” decided to run a Rare Breed Challenge.
National would provide a quantity of raw (unprocessed) fleece to any member of a Guild who entered with the intention that the member would process the fleece and send in a report for publication in the Journal. I thought that I should have a go.
The piece of fleece that arrived in October 2001 weighed 5¼ oz (145 gr.) before washing. The staple was 4” long with a pronounced crimp, and it was quite oily.
I placed the whole sample in my “patent fleece washer” (about which more sometime in the future) and left it to soak in plain rainwater for two days. The garden benefitted from the mucky water afterwards.
The fleece was drained but not dried, and then given two further long soaks in rainwater and Fairy liquid. A final overnight soak in rainwater and Woolite was followed by two rinses in rainwater (it must have been a wet autumn). The fleece was drained again and then spread out on a rack in the airing cupboard to finish drying.
I was surprised to find that almost all of the lanoline had been removed from the fleece, despite the fact that the rainwater had not been heated at any time. However, as this was the first time that I had washed fleece, I should possibly have expected this result. Because the fleece was so dry, I added a smidgin of Johnson’s Baby Oil as I carded it. At least to begin with – until I got fed up with the smell and added some lavender oil.
I decided to make a shawl or stole, because the fibres felt a little too scratchy for a scarf or anything which would be close to the skin. I did not think that there would be sufficient yarn to make a garment to be worn on top of other clothes. I felt that a fine yarn to make into a lacy article would be best – it would go further than a thicker yarn and, with care, be “light and airy”.
I wanted to spin much more finely than I have done in the past and had read somewhere that thin rolags would be better for fine spinning. So when carding, I separated each bat into two layers (one from one carder and one from the other) and formed the rolags round a knitting needle to make long thin rolags.
I had also heard that it would be easier to spin finely if I padded out my bobbins. (You can tell that I’m mainly self taught from watching others spin or reading books, as I don’t know the mechanics behind these theories – but I’m was learning.) I used foam pipe insulation around the spindle of my bobbins and this worked very well.
It appeared to be quite easy to spin finely, at least for the first two bobbins. After that I was using the rolags from the bottom of the pile. They had suffered from compression and were more difficult to spin without too many slubs appearing. I plied the first two bobbins and took off the resulting two-ply yarn onto my niddy noddy. This is a very handy size. It was made for me by my brother-in-law and each full round measures a yard. I was therefore easily able to calculate that the length of my first skein was 118 yards. I set the ply by dipping the skein in cold (tap) water and Fairy liquid.
When it had dried I found that, despite having been spun semi-worsted, the yarn was quite fluffy. I felt that this would result in a blurring of most pattern stitches and decided therefore to try Broomstick crochet. I made a sample (a very rare occurrence for me) and found that, if I combined Broomstick with Tunisian crochet, I could make quite an attractive triangular shawl.
In case you are not conversant with Tunisian Crochet, let me give you a brief lesson. The hook used for these stitches is crossed between a knitting needle and a standard crochet hook – i.e. a knitting needle with a hook at the opposite end to the knob. (It is also possible to get a double (hooked) ended Tunisian hook for more complicated work). Each row is worked in two halves – a forward and a return row. Tunisian Simple stitch forward row is in fact unfinished Double (Single in US) Crochet. The final loop of each stitch is left on the hook so that at the end of the row you have a hook full of stitches, as in knitting. The return row is made by chaining off the stitches so that you end up with just one loop on the hook and are ready to start the next row.
According to Muriel Kent (author of Exciting Crochet – a Course in Broomstick & Tunisian Crochet) Tunisian Crochet is known as Afghan Crochet in North America and has also been called Russian Stitch. She reports that it is a very old craft, older than both knitting and ordinary crochet, and that an example had been found in an Egyptian tomb.
Broomstick crochet (or Witchcraft Lace!) is thought to have originated in North America, the principle being to make loops of a regular size by placing them onto a Broomstick – or very thick knitting needle – and to remove them in regular groups with double (single) crochet.
As I had not yet spun up all the prepared fleece, I had no idea how much yarn I would have in total. Also as time was now getting on, I thought I had better start on the shawl straight away, rather than wait until I had completed the spinning and plying. The safest way to cope with not knowing how much yarn I would finish up with was to start at the point and to increase at either end of the rows as I went along. Then, if I started to run out of yarn, I could avoid more easily ending up with an odd shape.
In the end the stitches I used were not quite those in the sample. I have used “Tunisian Broomstick” rather than Tunisian and Broomstick. After forming the Broomstick loops on a 20 mm Broomstick pin, I took them off in groups of six using a 4½ mm Tunisian crochet hook. Instead of finishing each double crochet in the usual way, I left the last loop on the hook, Tunisian fashion, and then chained them all off. The next row was Tunisian treble (double treble?) stitch, and the increase was carried out at each end of this row – doubling the 12 stitches above the first and last “fan” of Broomstick stitches. This was done by passing he hook through the stitch on the previous row for one stitch, and then between that stitch and the next on the previous row for the new stitch, six times, increasing the stitches on the hook by twelve in total. These three rows form the pattern and give a right angled triangle.
I did not get the shawl finished before I had to send in the report, so there was no photo of it, but I note that I did enter it in our Guild Special Exhibition in 2002 which formed part of the Dorset Arts & Crafts Exhibition that year.