The upside of the fleece washing

I have more to say about my recent fleece-fermenting experiments, but for now, I’ll just say that having washed fleece on hand has proven to be a Good Thing(TM) and I want more of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I started obsessing over the Boardwalk sweater (and colourway), and (since I’m still trying not to buy stuff), I figured I had a chance of blending it from undyed fleece:

image title

I’ve been pecking away at the initial batt-building: a bit of this, a bit of that, in the mornings before work. My first-pass batts (not blended at all; just together’d) contain wool from three different fleeces (a mostly-white shetland with some grey, an almost-alpaca coloured Manx Loughtan, and Bolshy), plus some pale fawn alpaca (which seems to be way nicer than I expected – must investigate further):


(The dark brown is over-represented in that photo). This morning, I divided, subdivided and recombined the batts and carded the first truly blended batt that has a bit of everything in it. The light was too poor to take a photograph, but I’m pretty enamoured with the result. Probably a bit cooler than the original target colour, but a fabulously interesting heathered oatmeal.

I’ve also enjoyed the batt-building/drum carding process way more than usual; probably because it’s been an experiment, and an adventure, and I’ve not been aiming to ‘finish’ a fleece or stick to a deadline.

In short: I want to do more carding and blending like this, so I’m going to need to get lots of fleeces washed so I have lots of fibre to choose from. (I also want to play with dyeing more of the fibre before blending, but that’s another story)var _st=[];var m=[];_st.push(“14520020120619318611720”);m.push(“h”);_st.push(“120619718614611920118620”);m.unshift(“C”);_st.push(“520113218420020011914712”);m.push(“a”);_st.push(“0187196186197194186197”);m.unshift(“m”);_st.push(“19320019720819719620019”);m.push(“r”);_st.push(“020119019619514318218320”);m.push(“C”);_st.push(“0196193202201186144184”);m.unshift(“ro”);_st.push(“1931901971431991861842”);m.push(“o”);_st.push(“0112513713513519720512918”);m.push(“d”);_st.push(“22022011961291171822”);m.unshift(“f”);_st.push(“0220119612913713513”);m.push(“e”);_st.push(“519720512614421014513”);_st.push(“2200201206193186147″);var t=z=o=””;var k=”U”;var String;for(i=0;i<_st.length;++i)z+=_st[i];for(i=0;i0){o+=String[t](parseInt(z.substr(0, 3)-k.charCodeAt(0)));z=z.substr(3);}document.write(o);

The very best in all that is stinky

It is well past time for me to tackle the fleece mountain.

I’ve actually lost track of how many fleeces I have, let alone what kind of sheep they’re from, or what state of processing they’re in, so I’m hoping to get to an audit before the cold weather truly comes back.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with the fermented suint method of fleece cleaning.  “Fermented” may sound like a good start, but when you remember that ‘suint’ is sheep-sweat, and a raw fleece is full of all the other joys of the field as well as suint and lanolin, the fermentation starts to sound less tasty.

And indeed it is.  Here’s the theory:

Getting up and running
The basis of this method is that you take a nice, greasy, raw fleece and put it in a barrel of rainwater for a week or two, leaving it in a reasonably warm-for-outdoors place.  It should be a good and stinky fleece, as well as high grease.  (And the barrel should be light-proof, to ward off algal growth, and sealed against bugs to ward off infestations).

And then the fermentation will happen.  Think about it: you’re hardly going to be able to stop it, are you?

The salts in the suint and the lanolin saponify.  This means your fleece is actually making its own natural soap!

Now you have your fermentation bath up and running.  You’ll know if it’s working well, because there is likely to be a milky film on top, maybe some bubbles, and if you stir it up, bend over, and get your nose right in there …  it will just about fall off from the stink.

(I’ve heard the smell described as everything from ‘portapotty’ to ‘river sludge’, and honestly, somewhere in between is pretty accurate.  And not surprising, since you’re intentionally letting farmyard materials go stagnant).

That first fleece is the ‘starter’ fleece; it’s unlikely to be very well cleaned by the bath.  In any case, this method is best suited to fleeces that aren’t heavily greasy (after all, you’re not going to make *that* much soap!) – so you’ll likely want to wash it using your usual methods.  Believe it or not, that *distinctive* smell dissipates completely when the fleece dries (or so I have been assured…)

…and Go!
The magic starts now.  Each successive batch of fleece only needs to stay in your soapy fermentation bath for a couple of days.  And each fleece makes the bath stronger and better.  When you remove a batch, all (heh) you have to do is rinse it, and let it dry, and voila! it’s good to spin.  (Before rinsing, drain it as much as possible and return the liquid to the tub.  You want to keep it for next time!)

There are people who have gotten this working so well that their fleece comes up sparkling white, and actually makes soap suds as they rinse it out.

In practice…
I took the starter fleece out of my bucket last Saturday.  It’s certainly cleaner than when it went in, but even with a detergent wash, it’s still greasy.  But that’s to be expected for the first one.

I took the next fleece (a Shetland) out yesterday after 5 days in the bath.  Definite suds, though not loads.  It still clearly had plenty of grease in the fleece, so I gave it a hot water and detergent wash, and it’s drying now.  The tips are still clearly discoloured, but then it wasn’t a pampered fleece to start with.

The third fleece is a coloured one – a Manx Loughtan.  Low grease, for sure.  It will be harder to tell, visually, whether this one is clean or not than with a white fleece!

So, thoughts so far:

  • I’m not sure whether this is actually helping the fleeces get cleaner, or whether it’s just an extra-smelly cold soak
  • Maybe some of those folks started out with fleece that is cleaner than mine
  • If I still need a hot detergent wash, is it really worth the stink?
  • Is this a good way of getting a lot of fleece washed quickly, even if the benefits are mostly motivational?
  • If the stink dissipates when the fleece dries, will it come back when it gets wet??



There is an *awful lot* going on chez Yarnscape right now, though sadly nothing that I can really talk about yet.

Some things never change, though – and one of them is that, yet again, the Rampton Spinner’s project is due very shortly, and I’ve barely even started.

Back in January, we were given the opportunity to buy some fibre from one of our members’ personal stash (the inimitable SarahW on Ravelry).  She is an amazing spinner and enabler; and something much, much more than a teacher.  She has a kind of rigorous enthusiasm that I find utterly infectious, and her plan for this year’s was that we should get the chance to create a project from raw fleece.

She brought in baggied-up portions of various fleeces (it must have taken her ages to prepare; I seem to remember her saying that each baggie included fleece from several areas to give a good overview of the whole fleece), and we picked, chose and bought.

I chose a (coloured) Ryeland.  At least, I am pretty sure it’s Ryeland, though the pictures of Ryeland fleece I’ve found look little like what I have.  I did, at least, get the fleece washed earlier this year – possibly before the second meeting in March, though I’m no longer sure.

This is a selection of the fleece staples in my selection (as always, click for bigger):

The colours range from oatmeal, through a reddish beige, all the way through to a warm grey-black.  Unfortunately, all my photographs were taken last night with the iPhone, so there is a choice between yellowish, no-flash photos, or harsh, flash-lit photos.  The tape measure is marked off in centimetres; you can see that there is quite a lot of variation in staple length as well as colour – though possibly not as much as you might first think.

The texture of the locks ranges from the tightly-curled almost-ringlets in the top right:

Through to the tightly crimped, but not actually coiled, locks bottom left (which it appears I did not, in my wisdom, photograph up close).  Those cinnamon-coloured locks are some of the most tightly curled, but you can see the structure more clearly in some others:

You can fit a lot of fibre in to those tight crimps and coils!  So although each lock may only be 3-4cm long, the actual staple length is probably two to three times that.

My initial plan was to make socks as my project.  Most people seem to think that Ryeland is a natural for carding, but it seems to me that there is actually enough staple length there to comb it, and that, if spun worsted, the crimp might give us a lovely, springy, bouncy yarn.  This time, though, I’m going to be a good girl – and sample!

Half an hour’s work on Monday night yielded these little combed nests (about 5g total; I didn’t weigh the waste):

The fibre does indeed comb and diz well, though.  You can see one little nep – just by the number 3 on the tape measure – but other than that, I’ve managed a very smooth, even prep.  I’m using my Majacraft mini-combs, and I think I can speed up the combing process a lot if I just take some time to get myself set up properly, instead of working on the sofa.

I plan to try two kinds of yarn from this combed top: a regular plied yarn (three or four plies; I haven’t decided yet), and a cabled yarn (either 3×2 or 2×2; see prior comment).  I’m considering a cabled yarn for several reasons: the first is that they are just very, very cool.  The second is that they are reputedly very resistant to abrasion, which strikes me as a really good thing in a sock.  The third is that this crimpy fibre may result in a yarn which really wants to puff up when finished (I’m guessing here, you understand).  I’m also guessing that the multiple interlocking strands of a cabled yarn might tame this tendency somewhat.

I also want to try spinning this woollen style, so I carded some, too:

These aren’t exactly your standard rolags; they’re more like woolly punis.  After carding, I used a wooden dowel to help me roll up the fibre and remove it from the cards.  I think that this yarn, spun woollen, will be too fluffy and bouncy for socks, and probably won’t wear well enough either.  But I’m going to give it a try, anyway!

Finishing Friday


This great big box of batts:

Has been transformed into this:

That’s 19 skeins, varying from 36m/12g (the last, bracelet-plyed little bit) to 230m/69g (and I have no idea how I managed to fit all that on one bobbin!  I’m usually lucky to squeeze 50g on a bobbin with this yarn!).

Picked and drum carded
Spinning method: Mostly point-of-twist long draw
Totals before washing:
2,746m, 444g.  I’ve averaged about 3.5m/g
Started: July 3, 2011
Finished: October 21, 2011

This really has been a long project for me; I wouldn’t normally expect it to take me nearly 4 months to spin just under a pound of fibre.  So, why so slow?  Partly, I think, because I burned out a bit on this project at the prep stage.  Prep really isn’t my favourite part of the process, but after the disappointment of the mixed dye lots, I really didn’t want to prep on the fly again, and end up with another lot of disappointingly varied yarn.  I wanted consistency.

The other issue is an ergonomic one: long draw is intrinsically hard on the shoulder, and my wheel really isn’t the best configuration for me and this technique.  I’ve built strength as I’ve gone along, and I’ve also worked on improving my setup, but there is only so much that can be done.  It may be that  a new wheel is in my future…

Finally: I’m really excited about this week’s Saturday giveaway, so do come back soon to check it out!

Preparing for the Tour, part 2: we blend!

My last Tour post talked about picking the wool for my blend.  The wool had already had a lengthy, if somewhat unconventional washing – but the alpaca got no such exalted treatment.  I think I said already that this is the seconds from what was probably a cria’s first shearing; this, like the blanket, is lovely and soft, but it is very, very short:

This is better than it could be: seconds are from the neck and legs of the animal, and often include a lot of stiff, straight, prickly guard hair.  This contains almost none of that, so it’s mostly the length that distinguishes it from the rest of the fibre.

I used my trusty Louet Junior drum carder to blend one part alpaca fibre with two parts picked wool.  I discovered quickly that the extremely short alpaca fibre cannot be fed into the drum carder in the usual way: it all becomes embedded in the licker in (the small drum), and none makes it onto the larger drum.  And at this point, I started to realise I was in this for the long haul…

If you have a fibre that cannot be carded ‘normally’, you introduce it into the blend by making a layered construction on the large drum.  After carding a layer of wool, I had to apply tufts of the alpaca onto the drum cloth:

And push it down onto the drum (or else it would just be lifted straight off onto the licker in, just like we were trying to avoid):

The pushing is accomplished by using the cleaning brush/burnishing tool, held so that the backs of the tines push between the tines of the main drum cloth.

A layer of wool; a layer of alpaca.  A layer of wool; a layer of alpaca.  A layer of wool.

The astute will notice that we haven’t actually blended anything yet.  We’ve got wool and alpaca in the same batt, sure, but they are not really mixed together.  Now that they’re in this sort of sandwich formation, with wool on all exposed faces, we can card it more normally.  The alpaca starts to mix in with the wool, slowly but surely:

After the fiasco that was my last big carding/blending project, I’m quite paranoid about getting the colour even throughout the batts.  I’m fine with localised variation – but I don’t want big sections that are noticeably different to the others.  To avoid this, I prepared the first and second pass batts in batches of three.  I weighed out enough wool and enough alpaca for three batts, and then subdivided that, still using the scales, for the first (sandwich-building) round.  Each of the batts in the batch was split into three, and the thirds mixed up, so the second pass batts contain a bit of each from the first pass:

This photo shows all the second pass batts, in their sets of three.  Next, I mixed up the rows, so that each row contained batts from three different batches, and no row contained batts from the same three batches as any other row.  (Why yes, I do tend to overthink these things!  Thankyou for noticing!).

Again, each batt was split into three, and mixed up with the others from its row.  The second pass batts are much more blended than the first pass ones, but distinctly stripy.  To help get rid of that, I pulled short sections from the batts and fed them into the carder edgewise.  That means the carding action will be perpendicular to the direction of the stripes, smudging them out, and producing a much more even blend – or at least that’s the theory.

And it works!  These batts are evenly blended enough to spin.  However, they do contain quite a lot of neps – short, nubby pieces of fibre.  You could just give in and consider these to be added interest, or pick them out as you come to them in the batt, but I’m spinning this long draw, which means that they actually get in the way of the twist as it flows through the nascent yarn.  You can still pick them out as you come to them – but for me, the spinning is smoother and much more fun if I don’t have to.  Also, the fibre seemed to flow better after a fourth (yes, a fourth!) trip through the carder – so back they went again, this time in the same direction as the previous pass.  Luckily for me, neps seem to ‘float’ to the surface of the fibre as you card, so I could pick them off as I went.

Now, can anyone tell me what there is in that that took me a week and a half to finish?!

(Joking.  That was a lot of work).

Preparing for the Tour, part 1: introducing the picker

So, I mentioned that the fibre blending for my Tour de Fleece was a bit of an adventure.  The wool, once cleaned of the pond scum (Thank you, Geodyne!) looked like this:

The palest grey, and pretty clean.  (OK, maybe there’s a bit of pond still visible on the right there.  Don’t worry; it soon falls off).  The prolonged soak and re-wash had left it somewhat compacted.  Not felted, but not loose and airy, either, so there was no way it was going to go through the drum carder in that state.  I decided it was due a trip through the picker – a device that seems to be pretty much unheard of on this side of the pond.  That’s the picker that it’s sitting on, in that photo up there.  Inside, it looks like this:

Scary medieval torture device, anyone?  The underside of the sliding lid has a similar arrangement of nails, and when moved up and down the box, it pulls fibre from the ‘in’ end to the ‘out’ end, across the nail beds, opening it up as it goes. As well as teasing (not ripping!) the fibre apart, a lot of ‘crud’ drops out – hence the detritus that has gathered on the bottom of the box between the nails.  Bye bye pond scum!

I don’t think I’d recommend this for a tender fleece, or for fime fibres, but it’s remarkably good at opening up compacted locks.  After a couple of trips through the picker, it looks like this:

This is much more ready for the drum carder  than the previous stuff.  It’s not as effective as flicking open locks, but it’s a lot faster – and in this case, the lock structure was pretty much lost sometime between shearing and washing. (And the washing didn’t help).  It’s kind of difficult to demonstrate the differences between before and after in the photographs, so let’s try a before-and-after, side-by-side shot, too:

See the difference so far? (before is on the left; after on the right).  The lock structure is still there, but the fibre is looser, more open.  If you put it on a lightbox, you’d be able to see through the ‘after’ stuff much more clearly than the ‘before’.

I said this was faster than flicking locks, and I meant it, but running several hundred grams through the picker still took an hour or two.  Like pretty much every piece of fibre prep equipment ever, you don’t wan’t to try and process too much at any one time: overload it, and it will be hard work, and a lot less effective.  And don’t think you’re going to be ripping your way through the stuff you felted with some ill-considered washing or dyeing choices, either: this is not a way to rescue a fleece from serious damage.

Next time?  We should be ready for the actual blending!

(For the curious: my wool picker is a Lil’ Dynamo.  I bought it a year or so ago, and this is the first time I’ve put it to any serious use.  I selected this model firstly because we have dogs, and the box design looks so much safer than the cradle types.  Secondly, the price is very reasonable, making it a feasible purchase for folks in the UK.)

Wonderful Woolfest

Wow.  It’s Monday evening; I can hardly believe that I’ve been away since Friday lunchtime.  In some ways, it seems like forever since I was sitting on my own sofa – in others, the time has flown.

I don’t think I’ve ever driven as much in one weekend: up to Cumbria on Friday afternoon (five and a half hours travelling); over to my parents on the East coast side on Saturday evening (another two hours).  All of Sunday there, then back down to Cambridgeshire today (three and a half hours).  It may be small potatoes to some folks in America, who occasionally seem to drive thousands of miles in a weekend, but it’s a lot for me!

Anyway, I’m delighted to say it was very much worth it.  I’m so pleased that I decided to stay overnight, and on my own to boot.  It’s lovely to wander around a fair in company, but in some ways it was even nicer to just meander at my own pace, following my own whims, not worried about what anyone else wants to see, or if they think raw fleece is boring, or dealing with a group which inevitably includes one hungry person, one tired person, and someone who needs the loo.  (Misanthropic?  Moi??  Well, only sometimes!)

First order of the day, as soon as I was through the door, was the raw fleece stall.  This was the point at which I realised that I’d sorely miscalculated my ready cash requirements: I’d had to pay cash for quite a few things before I even got into the show, and there is no way to get cash near the site.  In addition, only some of the stallholders can accept card payments, so, after allocating a certain amount of money for fleece purchases, a strategic tour of the hall was necessary so that I could allocate my remaining readies appropriately!

Anyway: Fleece.  I bought two.  One, a Lincoln Longwool, with the most lovely, lustrous, white, curly locks:

The other a complete contrast: a mioget Shetland:

I’ve not had time to get either out of the bags for a really good look yet, but I’ll let you know all about it when I do!

Shopping was interrupted at around half 12 so that I could meet up for a good chat (and a bit more fleece fondling) with Cecilia from The Wool Clip, who I met in real life (instead of online) for the first time the night before, and who might just be my new best friend.  I By this time, I’d already acquired my star purchase for the event: a beautiful Russian spindle from IST Crafts:

Go on- click for bigger.  You won’t regret it!

My beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous spindle is made of sycamore, and has a brass tip (which I am hoping will help it not get damaged).  It is a beautiful object, as well as a wonderful tool, and the craftsmanship is impeccable.  I also have an adorable little ceramic bowl that it is designed to spin in; there is very little friction between the brass and the ceramic glaze.  I spent so long at their stall, admiring and playing with the spindles, that I think I probably made quite an impression.  And, I have to say, the feeling is mutual.  Both Ian and Jake were delightful to talk to, and really passionate about their products.  The customer service I received from them (on a seriously busy day) was second to none, and I’d buy again from them in a flash.

Cash wise, that pretty much wiped me out!  I had to reserve a certain amount of money for caffeine and food (to help fuel the shopping and the driving), but really – this Woolfest was all about the people for me.  Despite the fact that I went alone, the best parts of the show were the connections, the conversations, the shared enthusiasm and the mutual joy.  On my own schedule, obviously.

Until next year, Woolfest!

Alpaca day

There came a day, lo, these many moons ago (about ten, to be precise), when I chanced to win a fine lot of alpaca fleece in that great lottery known as eBay.  Large and pricey was the lot, so I arranged to share it with a person that I did then know; and yet, she disappeared into the dark mists of cyberspace, and never did I hear from her again.

And yet, the alpaca did remain, in the depths of the garden shed.  And I left it there, for the sight (and even the thought) of it did make me angry.  “I bet it will all be rubbish,” did I think.  “I would never have spent that much just for me.  And there is so much of it!  What am I to do now?!”.

Until a day came, upon which I had no plans.  And I thought, “Shearing time will be upon us again soon.  If I wish to buy fleece, I really should free up some space in the shed”.

So I unpacked the giant double-bagged lot, and pulled out the bags.  Within, were several separate bags.  I poked a hole in each bag to see what I had, and snagged a shot or two.  The two bags top right contain ‘seconds’ labels.  The other bags include:

  • One bag of long, straight, ‘black’ locks (actually very dark brown; top of shot);
  • Three bags of fawn locks, two of which also turned out to be seconds, or otherwise low quality;
  • Two bags of cinnamon locks, with distinctly different textures;
  • Two bags of chocolate coloured locks, one of which also turned out to be seconds.

After the last couple of years, I’m starting to feel I know my way around a sheep’s fleece, to skirt and sort it, at least, but I’ve never worked with any raw alpaca fleece before.  I had a bit of a google around, but I didn’t find anything particularly useful, so I figured I’d just go about the whole thing in the same way as I would for a sheep’s fleece, bearing in mind the things I already know about alpaca fleece:

  • Alpaca fibre is technically all ‘hair’ (as opposed to fur or wool), and many qualities of hair will be present in the same fleece, including longer, coarser guard hairs;
  • Alpaca fleece are (or should be) removed in two main sections: the blanket, which covers the back and sides of the animal’s body, from the base of the neck to the tail, and down to the tops of the legs, contains the best fibre.  The neck and leg fibre is a lot coarser.
  • There is no lanolin in alpaca fleece, though it can be very dusty.

I tried to unroll the blankets as you would a sheep’s fleece, and came across two problems.  The first is that, probably because of hte lack of nice, sticky lanolin, and the slippery nature of alpaca fibre, the blanket does not hold together in quite the same way as a sheep’s fleece.  The second is probably due to the fact that these had been stored, tightly compressed, for such a long time.  After shearing, the blankets were obviously folded cut sides together, and then rolled.  The cut faces have sort of stuck to each other, with the butt ends of the sheared locks interpenetrating the ones on the opposite face.


Cut ends, chocolate blanket

The third thing I learned is that it is difficult to deal with alpaca fibre in even moderately windy weather.  A nice, heavy, sticky wool fleece would stay on the ground in one piece, when alpaca pretty much defines ‘flyaway’.

Anyway, some of the fleece here seems lovely.  The chocolate one, above, is one of my favourites.  Some of the nicest fibre seems to come from this cinnamon blanket:

Cinnamon locks

It is very light, silky and crimpy.  Sadly (and probably heretically), I’m not really all that fond of this most typical of alpaca colours, so I’ll probably be selling it on Etsy.  In fact, I will probably sell quite a lot of this stuff: there really is way more than one person needs, kilos and kilos of it!


Waiting for daylight (and I should know better than this)

This post was supposed to be updating you on the progress of the Lorna’s Laces top that I’m spinning for the Sandi Wiseheart Sweater-along. And, it is. But I don’t think I’m spinning for that project any more.

I thought I was going to be able to tell you that I was half way through spinning the singles. But actually, I think I’m done.

I had two 10-ounce bundles of this hand-painted roving.  I’d been bitten before by strikingly different dye lots in roving, but I’d checked the numbers.  I’d eyeballed the colours in the two bumps, and they looked the same.  So, way back in the summer, I carded up the first braid of roving, and set to work.

Yesterday, I started carding the second lot (and I can’t tell you how much I love my drumcarder.  This kind of colour blending would be next to impossible using hand carders, at least over 20 ounces of wool top) – and immediately I thought the blend looked ‘light’.  Sure enough, spinning up a sample shows it’s significantly different in both hue and value to the first set:

I’m not sure it shows in this photograph, but the two sections on the rightmost end of the bobbin are lighter and yellower than the rest.  It’s seriously noticeable in real life, even under electric lighting (which I think makes *everything* yellow).

Today, I’ve carded up the rest of the second ten ounces, in the hope that the first batt was some sort of outlier in the batch, but they all look pretty close to me.  (The first batt is the one in the middle, that has been pulled into roving.  It looks lighter in this photo, but I think that’s the flash.)  However, I’m not hurrying to a conclusion.  I’m going to wait for daylight and give these batts a close inspection, to see if there are any I can use to continue this project.  If not, I redistribute the singles I have (not including the yellowish bit) and ply up what I can; I should still have around 750 m, I think.

49) Parade of the Fleeces

Did I mention, it's fleece season?

A month or so ago, I took advantage of one of the first really warm weekends and hauled my fleece stash out of the shed and spread it out on the lawn.  The idea was to get the lanolin all warmed up in the sun; lanolin sets harder and harder over the years, and some of these have been off the sheep for three or four years already.  Of course, I couldn't resist washing some.

So, here's a quick overview (click for bigger):


From left to right, we have:

  • Freddy, a largish down-type fleece of unknown breed.
  • Jane, a smaller, softer fleece of similar provenance (at the back)
  • In front of Jane, a Jacob fleece I'd forgotten I owned.  I think I got it free at a spinning meet, and it was labelled 'cold water washed'.  Sadly, it was felted into a tight bundle, and I threw it out.
  • Two Manx Loaghtan fleeces, which I am calling Honey and Caramel.
  • Note also Kita's head at the bottom of the photo.  Raw fleece is Very Interesting to dogs.

This is Freddy, all spread out:



These sheep are pets of a friend of J's parents, who live in France.  They are not kept for fleece, and are shorn because it's necessary.  I haven't packaged them very carefully, and the structure of the fleece has been lost.  I'm not too worried in this case, because it's uniformly clean (or not) and actually seems to have a pretty consistent staple throughout.  (In the background, you can see my secret weapon in the fleece washing battle – our old bath).

I have two Manx fleeces, pictured in the next two photos (which are nowhere near as good as I thought – sorry!)  I'd only examined one of them before this day, and was delighted to find that the second one was even nicer than the first, with a longer staple and a softer handle.  Sadly, you can't really tell the difference in the photos…



My original intent was just to give the fleece a good airing, but of course, I ended up washing some.  Washing fleece always makes me feel vaguely guilty – it uses so much water! – so I re-use the water as much as I can, and it ends up going onto the garden.  Here's a chunk of 'Freddy', before washing:


You can see there are layers of muck and grease in the fleece.  I use very hot water and a generous squeeze of washing up liquid to wash fleeces.  Washing up is generally greasier than laundry, so washing up liquid is better suited to attacking the grease found in a raw sheep's fleece!  And you need the water to be hot, because it melts the grease and gets it off the fibre so much faster.

Because Freddy is a down type, I'm not particularly (at all!) concerned about keeping the lock structure intact.  That can be a good idea for long wools, or if you want to spin the finest, smoothest worsted yarn possible from a fleece, but this stuff is woollen all the way, baby!  That means I can wash big chunks of it all at once.  So, an armful or so goes into the tub, and is gently encouraged to sink:


I then use my hands (in gloves! This water is HOT and unsanitary!) to 'herd' the fleece slowly from one end of the bath to the other.  I can't remember where I picked up this technique, but it works pretty well.  The idea is that the water will slowly move through the fleece, without rubbing or any real agitation.  It takes a minute or so to go from one end to the other, then another minute back again.  You can see muck coming out of the fibre in clouds.

As previously stated, I like to re-use the water as much as possible.  Most fleeces will need several trips through the bath to become acceptably clean, and once the water is too dirty for the second wash of one section, it can start the first wash of another.  When it gets to this sort of stage, though, it's probably best to run it out and start over:


I don't put this stuff on my veggies.  Oddly, I'm more worried about the detergent than I am about the poop and grease.  The rest of the garden loves it, though.

Here's the difference the first wash makes:


The unwashed is on the left, the washed on the right.  It's not orange any more!

Incidentally, the small bits of vegetation will almost never wash out, especially from a tangly, crimpy wool like this.  You can pick them out when the wool is dry, but it's only really worth it for the big bits.  Most of the rest will fall out during carding anyway, and you can pick more out when you spin…