Bowmont Challenge: the first installment

As I believe I mentioned before, I’ve gotten myself involved with a workshop/challenge that centres around the ultra-fine wool of the Bowmont sheep.  The Bowmont was apparently bred to produce a sheep with a premium, fine wool that was hardy enough to withstand the British climate and which had a lower grease/wax load than some of the other fine wool breeds (e.g. Merino).  The Bowmont is a cross between the Saxon Merino and the Shetland sheep, and the wool really is ultra-fine, and with a very, very fine crimp (more info here, the website of the lady who owns the sheep we’re working with! – and also here – Leigh is also participating in the workshop, and has done a far more thorough piece on the breed characteristics than I will!)

For this challenge/workshop, we each got a pack of fleece – adult Bowmont, Bowmont lamb and dehaired cashmere.  Those of us within the E.U. got the fleece ‘raw’ though the cashmere is cleaned and combed to dehair it; those outside the E.U. sadly had to forego the pleasures of washing this stuff – which is an adventure in itself!  I will be washing, prepping and spinning my fibre; others will be felting theirs (intentionally or otherwise, I guess) and whatever else it is that us wacky fibre folks do when they get their hands on new goods.

This workshop, by the way, is a venture of the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers – of which I am a fledgling member!  This is the first workshop I’ve been able to join in with, and the first time I’ve washed or prepped any fleece that wasn’t just ‘gleaned’ from the hedgerows.  I’m starting to think that this wasn’t necessarily the simplest place to start…

My primary aim with this workshop was to wash, prepare and spin the fleece – just to get my hands on the end-to-end process for the first time.  I’m also intrigued by the thought of this ultra-fine wool and just wanted to *play* with it!  Besides wanting to just *do* wool prep, I thought this would be a good time to get my hands on some tools that I’ve not used before and to compare prep methods.  Admittedly, as I’m a beginner with this stuff, it’ll be a comparison of a beginner’s execution of all three four methods, but then, I might as well compare like with like!

Prior to starting this workshop, I owned one pair of hand carders.  To further my aims, I’ve bought another set with a finer carding cloth and have a set of Majacraft mini-combs (complete with clamp and diz) on their way to me.  I want to compare:

  • a regular, woollen preparation using hand carders
  • a ‘semi-worsted’ preparation using hand carders but rolling the rolag so that fibres are parallel to its axis
  • a true worsted preparaion using wool combs
  • spinning directly from the washed lock (added later at Lesley’s recommendation).

Then, of course, there is the cashmere.  I’ve never spun with a true down fibre before, so I don’t know if I’ll use this in conjunction with the Bowmont or not.  As it is, there will not be oodles of fibre to play with in each method; I may just see what I have left when I’ve completed my primary goal and decide what to do with it then.

Although this workshop officially started at the beginning of April, I didn’t really get around to starting till last weekend – partly due to other stuff happening on the weekends (like visits from friends and family) and partly because I was downright scared of washing the wool.  I needn’t have been – though it did take *hours*.  I was going to post all about it right now – but this post is quite long enough as it is, so I think you’ll have to wait for a future installment…

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