What is handle and how is it determined? What fleece characteristics are important to selecting a good fleece for your project? Train your eyes and hands to pick the best possible fleece for your project with this simple exercise.
Handle is the term to describe how the yarn or garment feels to the touch. As spinners, we want our items to be durable, but not burlap. This is where the balancing act of handle comes in. Find the fiber that suits your project not the other way around.
If you have ever had the chance to walk through a raw fiber sale, it can be overwhelming. Which fleece do you choose? I have actually seen buyers select the most expensive fleeces because they assume they must be the best ones. This may work in some cases, but if you are like me and spin the fiber to create a product for sale, that is not the way to turn out a quality product with low cost. Instead, look at the fiber. Examine it for cleanliness and crimp. Also look for an airiness in the fleece. If the locks are all smushed together, it is probably not a fresh fleece. Does the fiber look wispy or wiry?
Some more experienced farmers will include a card that may show a picture of the animal and the micron count of the fiber. They may also include lock samples or a yarn sample. Feel free to examine them to aid you in your decision.
The staple length of the fiber will also affect the handle of the finished project. If the yarn is to be spun thick, it is best done with a short fiber to prevent it from feeling like a rope.
The best advice is still to get your hands on the fiber. I start by picking a top few just by reaching into the bags and deciding if the fiber has a pleasant feel to it. Once you have it narrowed down to just a few, ask if you can have a sample lock. Hold the tip end of the sample lock and tug gently from the shorn end until you have a foot or two of crude roving. Twist it between your fingers until it has an approximate number of twists per inch that you would put into a single ply of yarn. Then permit it to ply back upon itself. This will give you a sample that you can then use as a tool to decide if the fiber is correct for your project.