the spinning wheelHow to start....
Shearing the sheep!

Learning to spin should always begin with choosing the right fleece....First catch your sheep!

 Because in the end this is the most important component, and if you don't have decent fleece it will be very difficult to learn how to spin or to make beautiful yarn.

Do try to obtain a really good fleece for your first trial, this is really important because if you start with a bad fleece it will be difficult to spin, will make not particularly good yarn, and leave you feeling that the whole thing is too complicated!

The very best way is to buy a fleece from someone you know who keeps a few sheep rather than a big commercial farmer.

It is also possible to buy fleece over the Internet, but this is more of a chancy business and you really need to ask lots of questions before you part with your money. Beware buying a fleece blind in a wet year!

If you know nothing about fleece, take someone with you who does, ask to be allowed to handle a little piece of the fleece, and see if there are any breaks in it or if it is knoted together and impossible to pull apart… this sort of fleece is worse than useless and only any good for stuffing mattresses!

The fleece should have a nice natural greasiness about it, so that it pulls apart easily, and the colour should be even and not stained at the tips.

Sometimes it is quite usMy Ashford spinning wheeleful at the very beginning of your journey into spinning, to use some of the fleece that you can pull off barbed wire at the edges of fields, it may not be particularly good fleece, but it will be good enough to use with a spindle and to give you the ‘feel’ of a working with fleece. When you do, keep the skein of wool that it makes as a reference for the future!

It is always good when choosing your first fleece to take someone with you who knows what they're doing, although if you are living in an area where spinning is not popular this could be difficult. There are some very good books that give information on what good fleece should look like but apart from that, use your common sense! Buying a fleece after a very wet year is always a difficult business, because the weather conditions will show in the fleece and it may mean that there is a break in the staple... this can cause the finished yarn to be  unstable and weak.

If you are very new to spinning, then don't go for a fleece that has a very short staple. This is sometimes hard enough for an experienced spinner and pretty impossible to learn on. Go for a nice medium length staple probably from a Border Leicester or Jacob sheep.

It is quite important to really look at the fleece before you actually start, open it out somewhere where you can spread it out on an old sheet, and look at the various areas.

You will see that some of it is much Spinning a rollagbetter than other bits, and it's quite easy to workJoining on a rollagthis out from a book and discover

Joining on a rollag.which are the best bits for hand spinning... But don't waste the bits that aren't good enough, when clean they are wonderful for stuffing your home-made cushions! Pull a little piece of a staple out and open it out with your fingers, tease it apart...you will feel that it is probably quite greasy and slips very easily apart, I like to spin yarn from very raw fleece just like this, because of the natural grease that is in it and because to me it simply feels nicer than dry brittle over washed fleece!

Spend a little time messing about with bits of the fleece, twisting it in your fingers so you get the hang of what actually happens to it when you spin it.

If you don't have a spinning wheel to begin with, then buy a spindle, a good well weighted drop spindle, there is plenty of information on how to use these and this more than anything else will give you an idea of how fleece is twisted into yarn.

Then experiment with actually washing bits of the fleece, you will find that just leaving a lump of fleece in cold water overnight will remove much of the debris. Fleece should only ever be gently washed in natural soapy water, as this removes very little of the essential oils & grease and this is what makes the fleece waterproof.sheep & lamb

and spinners always  select the type of wool they need very carefully. There are many many breeds of sheep and each one has a very distinctive fleece, not all of it is suitable for spinning as some of it will felt (this of course is excellent for felting!) And some of it is simply too rough such as Blackface to be of any practical use as a garment. Some have very long staples, the Lincoln is superb  with a staple that is sometimes as long as 18 inches, although this in itself can be slightly difficult to spin and is often better for weaving, it is a lovely fleece to work with.

I prefer to spin natural wool in its own colour and have never really been very attracted to dyeing wool,Jaker prepares for a long sleep although I have done so in the past. I like to mix the colours by mixing fleece before I begin to spin, and for this you really need to be able to card the wool in some way to mix the fibres together. Shetland, Jacobs, Welsh Black, all mixed in with white in varying degrees can give you a beautiful range of shades from pale cream to almost black!  And if like me you like to use just the natural colours of the sheep there is great satisfaction to be had from doing this and Me and Jakecreating a gently shaded garment.

In the UK it is not so easy to buy really exciting 'tops' or rovings...that is wool that has been commercially prepared. In the USA they seem to have fabulous multi-coloured stuff just begging to be spun! If you can get hold of a mag called Spinn-off you will see what I mean, but even getting hold of this is a pain unless you see some back issues on eBay. and be prepared to pay some heavy postage! It is however worthwhile because you will learn things

Me and Jake and the bird/cat table!

about pre-drafting and Andean plying and of course Navajo Spindle Spinning! Things that are rarely heard of in the UK (Certainly not in the wilds of NE Scotland!)

When you look at your fleece you will see that it is crimpy.... In other words there is a crimp in the strand like very wavy hair has. It is this that gives the finish knitting wool it's lovely springy texture, so fleece without much crimp is not so good for knitting, but would be better for weaving.


 Take time to learn about the different varieties of sheep and what sort of fleece they offer, and if you do so you can be sure of success when you actually begin to spin with a spinning wheel to create your own yarn. Keep your own samples of all your experiments and a diary is also very useful of your successes and failures!

 Next page... Coming soon!