While I get my photos together (finally!) from the Forks trip and gather materials for this year's Tour de Fleece (starts tomorrow...whooohoo!), I thought I'd post a little about prepping & drafting, what I like to call yarngineering. Because everything needs a silly made-up word attached to it. Yes.
A friend of mine who is a newbie-ish spinner asked me how I'd recommend she prep and spin a lovely CVM (California Varigated Mutant) fleece she purchased at Estes Park Wool Market. Loaded question! But definitely worth a thoughtful answer. She was worried she'd do it "wrong" and ruin her fleece. Pshaw! We don't have wrong in spinning...we have it depends. ;)
You can prep any fleece any way you want to, but working with your fleece and listening to what it wants to do can really enhance your final yarn. Here are some options:
Carded fiber, long draw: best with fiber that is under 3 or so inches in length. This is because it's just easier to card and spin if it's short. Gives a soft, woolen yarn, fuzzy and lightweight, with lots of air, so it's super warm. Downside: pills easily.
Carded fiber, short draw: I do this one all the time, usually with one leg flung up on the couch and my eyes on the TV or a book, because I'm lazy. Just do a short draw, but let the twist go between your fingers. Best with fibers shorter than 3" due to the reasons above. Gives a woolen yarn with the above characteristics, but usually with more twist than long draw yarns.
Combed fiber, long or short woolen draw: Generally not recommended unless you're working with hand-combed top. Commercial top is usually too compacted for this method to work easily, so you'll find yourself fighting the fiber. Gives what's called a semi-woolen yarn.
Combed fiber, short worsted draw: good all-around method for commercial combed top. No twist is in the drafting triangle (between your hands/fingers). Also great for long wools, whether commercial prep or hand-combed...it emphasizes shine and drape. Gives a worsted yarn that results in defined stitches and durable fabric. Downside: heavy, and not as much warmth as woolen yarn.
Carded fiber, short **worsted** draw: One of my favorite ways to spin. It seems to enhance the good points of both woolen and worsted spinning and somehow minimizes the downsides of each method. Gives what's called a semi-worsted yarn, which is light and fluffy, yet more defined & more durable than a usual woolen yarn. Again, this method is better with shorter wools under 3", due to having to be carded first. Long wools are tough to card.
Other wacky ways to spin:
Over-the-fold: This works well with ridiculously short or down fibers. You basically wrap the lock or tuft of roving over the first finger of your hand and spin off the tip of your finger. This gives a woolen-ish yarn, though each fiber is basically folded in half as you spin, so you generally end up with a bit of a halo in your yarn. If you're trying to play up a halo (like with angora bunny yarn), this is a great method. This method is also nice for slippery fibers (i.e. soysilk)...it tends to keep the slipperiness in check.
From the lock: Also great for very short or fine fibers (say, a fiber that's too short to comb and too fragile to card, like a superfine 1 1/2 inch-stapled Rambouillet lamb fleece...ask me how I know...). Most superfine fleeces nep up while being carded, and this is one way to avoid neps. Take each lock, give it a twist in the middle to keep it under control, and comb out each end with a flicker brush or dog comb. Then spin straight from either fluffed end. This gives a semi-worsted yarn. Downside: time-consuming.
Carded fiber (usually rolags), double-draft longdraw: This is really hard to master. Or do at all, in my case. It involves ramping up the ratio on your wheel, treadling quickly, drafting back very VERY quickly, then kind of walking your hand back up the yarn to even out the larger lumps to make a low-twist, fluffy yarn. Hard. Hard. Hard. In my opinion, of course.
So! With, say, a lovely CVM fleece such as my friend Danielle's, you might want to start at the end, so to speak. Do you have a project in mind? Do you want a higher or lower twist yarn? Generally speaking, a lower-twist yarn is great for lace knitting and for weaving delicate projects. Low-twist yarn drapes beautifully in lacework and "sits" well in weaving. Higher twist yarns are perfect for socks, rug warp or weft, and for giving a yarn extra strength and durability.
CVM fleeces tend to be on the shorter side, staple-length-wise...this is due to their Merino blood (all fine wool breeds have some merino blood somewhere). So I personally would card this fleece. Hand-combed top is luscious and wonderful to spin, but you would have a ton of waste with a shorter-staple fleece. Mini-combs with multiple rows of tines set close together would be a good choice if you decided to go the combed route. From the lock would be nice, but takes SO. MUCH. TIME. So carded might work out best, unless you have specialized equipment. Use carding cloth (either hand cards or drum carder) that has a higher number of TPI (tines per inch) so that the fine fibers are captured by the cloth and well-carded. Card slowly...CVM can be delicate and needs a light touch. Otherwise you'll be picking neps out of your batt or rolags as you spin.
Okay, so you have carded fleece. Now how to spin?? Just look over the above methods and decide what you want to emphasize in the yarn. Keep in mind that CVM is very crimpy, so the yarn will poof up a little when you're setting the twist and will also have great elasticity.
There are many, many ways to go about yarngineering. This post only touched on a few of the basics. Do you have a favorite way to prep and draft that isn't covered? Feel free to post it in the comments section! :)