The recently washed fleece that kept catching my eye has finally got hold of me (but I’m still knitting the soon-to-be raglan jumper). So, back to teasing out the wool and carding into rolags……well, it just needs to be spun. It’s the first of the coloured Ryeland fleece that I have from an ENORMOUS batch of mostly white Ryeland that I bought last year.

Why so enormous? Well, I was a green, newbie spinner. I decided to buy some fleece for myself, but also was bearing in mind that I would like to run a session on spinning with a local Young Archaeologists Club (adding in some history with the spinning) and had no idea how much fleece I might get through. I saw on Ebay that a smallholder in Wales was selling the fleece from her flock of Ryelands, so I put in a bid and won the goods – 15 fleeces. When I told my partner (I shall him Mr L.), he who was brought up on a livestock farm, said ‘What! you think you’ll get all that in the car?’  I had no idea. Off I went. When I arrived and saw them I thought ‘Uh oh’. Helen, the smallholder and I managed to squeeze them all into the car with some effort, with some in the passenger seat.

I drove back from Wales with the window open, only because it was a warm sunny day, not because they stank (as I thought they might). Not at all. They had a warm cosy smell – quite pleasant really.

I’m still washing it and spinning it (slowly): there’s a surprise, but have some local willing recipients to take some fleece off me or do some swapsies.

By now I have learnt something about it’s qualities and have much good to say about it. It really is very soft with not a hint of itchiness. It is a short staple fleece (short fibred) and ideally needs to be carded into rolags and then woollen spun, so it takes some preparation.

Ryelands have been appreciated for a long time now. If you Google it you’ll find that the medieval monks of Leominster Priory in Herefordshire were breeding Ryeland sheep in the heart of the Marches area, and did very well out of it apparently. They must have done a good job because of all English wool Ryeland fleece commanded a very high price, higher than Cotswold fleece of which it is said ‘ In Europe the best wool is English, in England the best wool is Cotswold’ (from a popular Flemish weavers song). Cotswold wool was going for nearly £15 a sack in 1499, but Ryeland wool fetched £25 a sack: taken from Sheep in the Cotswolds: the medieval wool trade by Derek Hurst. So prized was this stuff that it in medieval times it was called ‘Lemster Ore’ after the Herefordshire town, Leominster. An early fan, Queen Elizabeth I was apparently given some ‘Lemster’ wool stockings and thereafter insisted only on Lemster wool. I don’t know where that comes from, but perhaps this happened when she visited Worcester in 1575….’a little gift ma’am from the provinces’. I’d happily knit a pair of stockings myself. Another item on the To Do list.

The coloured fleece seems even softer than the white fleece – I know not why. Here’s one of the sheep that gave its fleece:

coloured-ryeland
I’m a softie

The fleece spun into rolags looks like something that came out of the hoover, but spun and plied, I think it will make a nice subtle marled grey.

ryeland-rolags
Coloured Ryeland rolags
Ryeland-woolen-spun
Woollen spun Ryeland

The white wool also seems to take up dyes very well, giving some good solid, bold colours (more on that another time) but it probably isn’t the best for ‘dyeing in the wool’ – it takes some work teasing out such short staple wool once it has been through the dye pot, well, compared to Cotswold fleece anyway.

The mounds of washed grey fleece are building up……