Tag Archives: fleece

Black Sheep Gathering 2011

We took off down south today to pay a visit to the annual Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, OR. Oh my was it lovely! It was the largest fiber festival/gathering I’ve ever been to. There was a large range of goats and sheep in pens and I really appreciated the opportunity to finally see some of the breeds I’ve been reading about in person. However. I must say that I like the roving for sale at Vermont’s Sheep and Wool festival better. That being said, we went to the fleece sale and I was blown away with the sheer number of fleeces mounding up on tables (I even… gasp… bought one! More on that later…). For now, here are some of the handsome devils we gazed at today…

And now it must surely be time to contemplate the fleece I mentioned earlier. After much mulling, hemming and hawing over the bags and bags of wonderful fleeces I finally picked a very nice white Romney fleece from Ramifications (oh yes, I know, isn’t it great?!). At nine dollars a pound, it’s really quite wonderful wool.

And wouldn’t you believe that I ran right home and washed it ALL in the tub?! But of course I did. This is the first time in two years that I’ve had access to a bathtub to do my wooly washing craziness in (as opposed to a kitchen sink) and I can’t believe how much easier it is to do it all in one go instead of teeny batches.

First, I filled up a bath tub with water that is good and hot… so hot that I could only just stand to put my hands in it. Then I added about 1/8-1/4 cup concentrated Dawn dish detergent and swish that all around. Last, carefully add your 8.39 lb fleece to the sudsy bath and gently push all the fibers under water.

I let it sit until the water was warm. Now, the tricky part was getting all the wool out of the way while I emptied the tub and refill with clean water. I used an old laundry hamper on top of a step stool. That allowed me to fish out the wool into the basket, let the water drain from the wool as it waited and kept everything neat and tidy while I was refilling the tub.

This fleece is the cleanest fleece I have ever worked with and the water was still really grubby after the first rinse.

But you can see how much cleaner everything is already!

Repeat the scalding hot water + dish detergent again (and again and again if you’re working with a truly filthy fleece) until the water is clear when you lift the wool out. I only had to do two really soapy washes, one slightly soapy wash and one clear rinse before I was pretty satisfied about the level of cleanliness.

Once the wool/water is satisfactorily clean, fill the bath tub 1/2 way with warm water. I keep all my clean, slightly soapy wool in the bin and take a handful of wool at a time. I gently submerge the handful of wool in the water to rinse the soap out, gently squeeze the wool to get most of the moisture out and place it in a bin next to the tub. Repeat until the dry bin is full…

And lay all the wool to dry in the sun!

So nice and clean…

Wool Gatherings

Less than a week ago I went to Bonnieview with some folks to shear sheep. Since then I’ve been steadily working my way through two rather large garbage bags of wool. I have three kinds/colors of fleece: a dark, dark brown that spins up black as night, a marbled fleece which spins up either grey or with stripes of color (depending upon how you card it), and a very very white fleece. I’ve processed half of the deep, dark brown and most of the marbled fleece. Now I’m out of soap to wash it with so I thought I’d take a break from the sink and the spinning wheel to show you some pictures.

This is a picture of the same fleece in three different stages. On the left is the fleece as it is straight off of the sheep. It’s chunky, full of lanolin and has bits of hay and other less desirable things in it. In the middle is the same wool from that fleece after it has been washed, dried and carded. It’s much fluffier and almost free of debris. On the far right is wool from the same fleece that has been spun. I wanted a variety of colors to come through in the final yarn, so I purposely separated the various shades in the original fleece for the greatest contrast. This will be a single-ply yarn (which means that I won’t be twisting two pieces of yarn together to make a sturdier, thicker version) and I’m going to try to knit some socks out of it. Try is the operative word here.

Raw wool, straight from the sheep.

Washed and carded.

Spun!

Sheep’s Clothing

So. I unpacked my funky wool package and sorted the baddies from the goodies. If you’re going to start sorting wool, why not start right after you wake up? Preferably while you’re still in your jammies? No reason not to. So the baddies are in the trash can to my right and the good bits are piled into the TWO trash cans to my left. I tried to wash a fleece in the bathtub upstairs yesterday… turns out it’s very hard and it never really get clean… just wet and soggy. So, that being said, I called a lady at From Barn to Yarn over in Boring who specializes in cleaning wool fleeces. Lucky day! I can take it to her and in 8-10 weeks (I know, that’s a hella long time to wait) I get it back clean, carded and ready to be spun. It would probably take me an entire year to do all of that by hand and it’s only $8 a pound to have her do the heavy, dirty work. Unfortunately I have about 40 pounds of wool that I’ll be taking in. Sigh… that’s quite a dent in the teeny tiny bit of money I have scrooged away. I think I can sell whatever I don’t want for enough to make that back, so that’s good.
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By the time I was finished sorting and picking the bottoms of my feet were black (shoes would have been a good idea.. but really, who has time for shoes?) and my hands were covered in oily lanolin. It’s a very good thing I don’t mind that smell.

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Have you ever smelled unwashed fleece? It’s a tangy, musky, fetid smell… especially when they’re as dirty as these are. The guy who owns the sheep isn’t doing it for the wool, so they’re not very clean. That’s where the $8 a pound comes in. The fleeces have been airing out on the porch all day, hopefully they’re a little dryer and a little less smelly. Now I’m going to stuff them back into their trashcans for the night.

Piles of Wonderful

My neighbor Andy had a friend with sheep, but no reason to keep the wool. The lady he usually gives his fleece to didn’t want it this time. This all came up in casual conversation and I almost passed out when I realized that maybe, just maybe I could get my hands on this fleece. A month went by before I saw Andy again to ask him about it and when I finally did he said he’d look into it and bring them to me if his friend still had it. There were a lot of ifs and maybes so I didn’t get my hopes up. A whole fleece could fetch $30 or more raw and much more if it’s been processed into something you could spin right away so you can probably understand why I got a little excited.

I went on a camping trip this weekend on the coast, had fun and came home dirty and tired. My first stop was Monty’s cage (which has been relegated to the back deck now that the weather is nice). I had to step around this big blue tarp squatting on the deck to get to his cage and I thought “Well now, that’s a lot of disgusting insulation… I wonder how long THAT’S going to be here. Hurumph…” and didn’t think about it again until Mom and Dad came home. “Oh, so did you see your fleece out there?” Dad asked when they walked in the door. What I thought was a pile of nasty insulation was, in fact, a pile of skanky wool. Six fleeces, to be exact.

Now, I’ve never carded or washed a fleece before… and all I have is a little hand spindle for spinning it. I walked up to the tumorous mound very very carefully… I didn’t want to startle it in case it was really some sort of dead mountain beast hanging out on the porch. I opened the tarp and started picking through the pile, trying to determine where one fleece started and where the next ended. I couldn’t really, so I just pulled a large hank out onto the table. Underneath the… stuff… is some really really nice wool! I did a little research to figure out how exactly to go about making that huge pile into a nice, clean pile, and I found a nice little description on Fuzzy Galore. I went around the edges, pulling off the especially nasty bits and stuff about four pounds of fleece into a mesh laundry bag. Now I’ve got it soaking in the upstairs bathtub and hopefully, it’ll turn out well enough to card, spin, knit and then wear! How COOL would that be!? For free!

I don’t know what kind of sheep they are, or how much is here, but it’s probably just under 50 pounds.

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I swear, it’s not a tumor.

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This is where you can see the part of the wool that was closest to the sheep’s skin (the whiter half) and the part that was exposed to the elements and… other things less pleasant (the darker portion).fleece_17
Look how crimpy the fibers are! So cool. Everything is covered in lanolin and a little bit damp but after I’m done washing it all (which will take all darn summer if I do it in the tub like I am now) it will be a big fluffy cloud of wonderful. Oh I’m so happy!