I am making a swatch for a would-be wedding veil or shawl for my upcoming wedding with Matt. (We've set a date! Oct 2, 2004) This is hopefully the last swatch in a series of swatches, but it is already apparent that I have insufficient yarn to complete my sample. The yarn is made of a handspun single (50% wool, 50% cashmere), plied with a commercially spun thread of gossamer bombyx silk (120/2).
The wool I originally used for my sample has been packed away in anticipation of my move to MA, but I had some superfine Merino which was easily accessible. I washed some of that and began to prepare it for combining with the cashmere. I typically precard the locks by dragging it through a handcard. This gets out any vm, straightens out the fibers, removes some of the smaller pieces, and so forth. I precard both before combing or carding with my drum carder.
Anyway, I found that the superfine wool had a break in it, and I thought I would present it here to let you see what happens.
A not-so-brief digression – when you consider purchasing a fleece, you should examine the locks to make sure they are strong and sound. Take a lock, grasp it by the tip and butt, and stretch it out very rapidly right next to your ear. If done properly, you should get a kind of pinging sound. If the wool has a weak spot, you will hear it tear. If it tears, it usually tears very evenly across the lock. I am no shepherd, but I understand that weakness is usually the result of the sheep getting sick. If the animal falls ill or undergoes some other stress (starvation, giving birth, etc.), the follicles behave differently than when the animal is healthy. This results in a uniform weakness throughout the fleece. This is why many shepherds shear their pregnant ewes just before their delivery date. If the fleece growth suffers when the ewe has lambs, the weakness will be right at the tip of the lock. When a break happens in the middle of a lock, it can turn your luxurious 4" fleece into 2" pieces.
When I precarded these locks, I found that I was getting a ridiculously high percentage of waste (on the order of 40%). A closer examination led me to conclude that the wool was in fact coming off the tip of the lock. In this picture, I have pulled gently on both ends of the lock, and I am holding it in a "mid-pull" position.
The lock is beginning to tear at the point of weakness
After I am finished separating the tip, you can see how evenly the wool broke across the lock. The remainder of the lock is about 2 or 2 1/2 inches long when stretched out.
The lock is 1/3 to 1/2 shorter than the original length
I can still prepare what remains of the locks and blend it, as the cashmere fibers for blending are about 2" long. I pull off the tips and then precard what is left.
Snow white piles of fluff
While I am a little disappointed with the fleece, it is still usable for my project. The color is very very good, and the softness is unbelievable. I never thought wool could feel like this, it is not unlike sinking your hands into a bowl of flour. I have about 4+ pounds of this wool, but I feel my losses will exceed 50%. I will drop a note to the shepherd, but I think it was probably my fault for not examining the fleece when I purchased it.