If at first you don’t succeed – don’t panic!

It’s been a hectic few weeks, ferrying offspring around to exams, job interviews etc. And I had a Guild challenge looming, and everything that possibly could go wrong with it, did.

Last summer, I took on the challenge of a 200g bag of Polworth fleece, “do with it what you will!” The person distributing it said when I took it, “It’s  the last bag; I’m afraid it’s a bit ropey, but I’m sure you’ll do something interesting with it…” which made me want to do something exceptionally fine with it! Knowing that Polworth is a very, very fine fleece, I thought I’d be very, very gentle with it, then spin some delicate laceweight, crochet something floaty but functional and let the fleece speak for itself. But I didn’t have time to tackle it until about November, when I popped it into a rainwater bath, as recommended by some older Guild members, outside in the garden. You can imagine my horror when I checked it about a month later and found it had gone green…

“Fermented Suint” as this method of cleaning fleece is called, needs warmth, and it wasn’t warm. You also need to exclude light (I’d used a glass lid) or algae will develop. Oooops.

So I washed it in nice, gentle washing liquid, rinsed it three times, the last time in rainwater, and left it to dry before carding it, whereupon luckily the green tips mostly broke right off.  But then I discovered it was full of neps, tiny short bits of wool, that leave bumps in your yarn if you don’t get them out. I’d been given some money for my birthday & Christmas, so I decided to invest in a set of woolcombs, which are the only real way of getting debris out of your fleece. But sadly they are only available made to order, and the winter was very cold, so the maker was unable to get out into his workshop, and I didn’t get the combs until the beginning of May – too late for the challenge fleece.

In the meantime, the fleece had somehow become horribly sticky. I now know that sometimes it takes more than one wash to clear lanolin out of a fleece that’s been stored for some time, as I gather this one had been. But I didn’t then; what to do with this horrible, sticky, lumpy mess? I decided, what the heck, go with the flow, and ordered some more neps, multicoloured ones, to card into it and make a novelty yarn. With great difficulty and a lot of swearing, I eventually produced a lumpy, chunky yarn that I then “wrapped” with some thin commercial multi-coloured machine-knitting yarn to hold it all together. I only had a week left… but when I washed the yarn to felt it slightly and set the twist, some of the stickiness dissolved. So I washed it a second time, and ended up with something soft enough that I felt I could actually work with. Almost enough to make a scarf, perhaps?

After an interlude of spinning up some midnight-black Hebridean to team it with, then finding that as it was the last of last year’s it wasn’t soft enough to wear around my neck, I picked some soft brown yarn I’d spun for a weaving project that had turned out a tad too chunky. Out with my trusty giant double-ended crochet hooks, which are a wonderfully fast way of making things, and a day later I have a finished, wearable scarf, with a whole 48 hours to spare… I even quite like it, and will wear it with pride!

When it all went wrong, I just wanted to throw the fleece away and forget all about it. But I felt I couldn’t, and now I’m glad, because I have learnt several lessons on the way. Which is what challenges are all about, I suppose!

6' scarf made with Guild challenge fleece - eventually!

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