So this was interesting. Our July Guild meeting was held on a gorgeous farm in South Oxfordshire containing a workshop run by Alan, who taught us the basics of spinning fibre extracted from stinging nettles.
Alan is behind the nettle spinning movement and star of the below video, in which he takes you on the journey of collecting, preparing and harvesting the fire for spinning. Under his guidance and watchful eye, he had us picking nettles and extracting fibre, ready to spin, there and then- take a look below…
Dried and starting to separate into separate fibres ready to be spun.
Alan’s drop spindling of nettle fibre after carding- needless to say this was far better than my attempts!
In conclusion, this was a really interesting exploration of a historical material that has been spun for generations. It is probably safe to assume that I am not an easy convert due to the time differences involved with wool and other animal and plant fibres, but I am not ruling it our completely, especially as it grows freely (as well as rampantly), in my garden…
The finished cloth that Alan showed us was an exquisite surprise, and I can well understand how nettle fibre gained the name “Silk of the North” in its heyday.
So this is the second part of my breed study. In my first post ( https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/inglenook.org/13 ), I introduced the project that the Oxford Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers was conducting, and as part of this, I am spinning and getting to know the qualities of the rare sheep breed- Oxford Down. This is a fantastic breed to learn to spin with, as it is very forgiving with your tension and drafting, so a really good way to boost your experience and confidence at your wheel. Plus it is lovely to know that by buying the wool from this endangered rare breed, you are helping to keep their numbers going and helping raise awareness of their fantastic fleece!
As this was only a 50g batch it has spun up really quickly, and really easily. It was already nicely cleaned and good quality, so all I had to do was card it and get spinning, which was a dream.
I woollen spun this using my wheel onto two bobbins, then plyed it together. I took it off the bobbin I had plyed it onto with a swift and have twisted it into a hank.
This was a treat to spin, especially as I am relatively new to spinning (this would be my second attempt at a skein of woollen spun yarn), so would recommend this to anyone looking to get started. My first batch of fluff was a bit of a mystery, as my Mum gave it to me to get started on and have a go. This was a wool and silk mix of some concoction and contained silk nubs. If you are trying to get as thin and even a spin as possible, nubs are not your friend. But I didn’t really know this at the time, so was painstakingly trying to combine them into an even bit of thread…and not getting very far. This isn’t using them to their full potential as they are wonderful to create bobbles of fluff for more of an art yarn effect, which is really how they would perform best. So to go from this to the Oxford Down wool was a real shock, as the latter was wonderfully easy to draft and create an even strand of wool with.
In terms of knitting up an item to use, I would consider it for outer garments or useful objects, as it could feel quite coarse for some. I know that I am more lenient with rustic yarns next to skin, as 1) I love them, so doggedly put up with any scratching, and 2) don’t seem to be as bothered as others anyway by the feel of a rustic piece of knitwear. I do believe the look of a finished piece, especially if they hold a cable or textured stitch well, often outstrips any sense of skin delicacy for me, particularly as this can just serve as an excuse to purchase yet another ethically-sourced merino vest for under a jumper, or some fine knit fingered gloves to go under some chunky finger-less wrist warmers.
So this is the finished skein, which I am really happy with! Just need to think of a good swatch pattern to show it off (maybe including cables?) This will go into the Guild’s archive of breed studies with a detailed description of how it was spun. I could always do some cables and knitting bobbles on my swatch to show it off a bit…but thinking on it, may have gone off these and anything uneven in my yarn for now…
Exploring the spinning and knitting qualities of this rare breed.
This Breed Study focuses on the Oxford Down sheep breed, which currently sits on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s 2019-2020 watch list. Published in summer 2019, this list encapsulates the most vulnerable and at risk breeds and estimates only 1,500- 3,000 adult breeding females left producing pure-bred lambs in the UK.
As part of the Breed Study series, I am processing a sample of Oxford Down fleece from raw to knitted article to see what this fantastic breed fleece can be turned into on my needles!
I will upload photos and descriptions of the process as I go, and am looking forward to taking this mini project from start to finish in a relatively short time (I only have 50 grams). This is part of something we are doing at the Oxford Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers, where I am a member, so I am feeling the pressure to actually finish something for once…and despite being probably the least experienced of the group, I have a nagging feeling my fairly strong competitive streak is starting to come to the fore, which may not end up all that well for me…