Having spun with a lot of less-than-ideal fiber in my life, largely because of when and where I began exploring the craft and partly because of my interest in rare breeds (where survival takes a higher priority position than fleece quality, I find there are things I know how to do that I'm not at all aware of.
Take, for example, one of the fleeces I've been working with.
It's from a breed that is raised primarily for meat—one of the Down breeds. The fleece is nearly a throwaway, not because it's inherently bad—not at all—but because the current dominant market does not value it. The wool is fine enough to be worn next to the skin (wild guess: 25 microns, possibly finer, and yes, that's the skinny end of the range for a Down wool; it's potentially exquisite) and exceptionally springy, with crimp I wish I had the equipment to photograph.
The sample I have is not great handspinning fiber, and that's neither the sheep's nor the grower's fault. The sheep had nothing to say about the way it was shorn, and the grower probably can't sell the wool for enough to pay for the shearing.
The jumbled, indistinct staples obscure the presence of second cuts and neps. I can catch a few of the second cuts and pull them out as I pick the fiber, but because of the wool's springiness and crimp the short bits hang on stubbornly, or drag out good wool along with stumpy stuff. There are a whole lot of small bits: only frustrating to try to eliminate. The fiber lengths vary between 1 and 2.75 inches (2.5 and 7cm). That's a very wide range, attributable to the shearing.
The only reasonable way to prepare this wool is by carding, because it's soft, short, and irregular in length. Softness directs me to the fine-toothed carders. My nine rolags aren't pretty, but I can pick out a few more second cuts as I prepare them.
And then I spin.
Ideally, a fiber like this would make a perfect woolen yarn: bouncy, full of air, resilient. In this case, a woolen draft would be an exercise in discovering new types of unprintable vocabulary. The preparation isn't, and can't be, even enough to draft out smoothly. So I use a short forward draw, a worsted technique. I'm sacrificing some of the fiber's inherent qualities to compensate for the shearing-related drawbacks in this particular sample.
A huge advantage to the worsted technique is the amount of control it gives me. I stretch out the fibers as I'm drafting, which also lets me thin out, and securely incorporate in the twist, many of the tiny neppy areas and all of the shorter fibers, which might otherwise clump up into loose slubs.
Most of the second cuts arrive at the drafting zone looking (and feeling) like small elephants. If I were spinning a thicker yarn with less control, they'd simply hide in the fiber mass, get caught in the twist, and turn into lumps that would look like huge pills. They'd also make twist build up on either side of them, producing harsh, wiry stretches of yarn.
As it is, I can feel them before I see them, then pluck them away from the main fibers, which are stretched under a bit of tension now and so are okay with letting go. The surrounding fibers get messed up a little, but in the grand scheme of this yarn the resulting irregularity is a non-issue.
By the time I finish my nine rolags, I've eliminated quite a few potential bumps.
For this much yarn (singles):
Obviously, there's still a lot of unevenness, but the strand is solid and as good as it's likely to get, considering.
The plied yarn:
It's far, far from perfect, but it's serviceable. It tells me I'd be delighted to see more wool from this sheep, or its cousins, in another year.
Any contemporary book talking about how to handle a fleece like this would recommend woolen processing. What I know about spinning is this: how to choose each step based on the one that came before. As I moved through the process and my options, this fleece became a puzzle to solve: which steps would let it be the best yarn possible, despite its shortcomings?
I didn't know that I knew that. I take it for granted.
And here's a view of the sun porch I'm working on, taken by one of the writers I'm sharing the cabin with when she went out for a late afternoon walk:
I was spinning the yarn described here. Pretty mellow, despite the challenges.
(Photo of me copyright Judy Fort Brenneman.)