From start to finished yarn – that icky fleece

From start to finished yarn – that icky fleece

Generally, when I wash a fleece I skirt it heavily. (The one exception is for suint cleaning, everything must go into that bath.) I am of the opinion in my senior years, that I have less time than money, and sheep will grow more wool next year; on the other hand, I may not be here. This year I was fortunate enough to buy from a friend who is brilliant at spotting excellent fleece and equally brilliant at cleaning them. I trust her implicitly and with reason.

Once the heavy lifting of selecting, skirting, and washing is done the wool is ready for processing. It can be spun from locks, dyed, carded either on the drum or hand carders, combed, or left to be stroked endlessly if it’s a particularly nice specimen.

This year I was going gang busters with dyeing. I had so much lovely wool to play with, so many different types, it was glorious, but every once in a while I’ll spend too much time with a fleece. I was processing lots of lovely locks and grabbed a bag just brimming full of the little lovelies. So much of the wool was amazing, just shimmering with light and reflecting the colours like petals on flowers.

In the bottom of the larger bag was a small sealed bag that I did not check for quality. This was dyed alone and produced a lovely orange/red. The locks are soft and lusterous, compact and have a great texture. The experiment for this dye bath was to treat the final rinse with a hair conditioner.  I could feel that the wool had been stripped and would produce static during processing.  I laid the wool in the sink, rubbed hair conditioner on my hands and patted it all over the wool, pushed this down in the water and watched in shock and awe as sand, debris, vegetable matter fell out of the fleece.  However, it’s full of second cuts, and cotted spots and these also started to separate from the longer locks. I suspect this was a gifted bag. My pride is saying I can salvage this…but what a sorry site, so many second cuts, so much wastage.

The locks looked fine, but these held some disappointing surprises

In a saner moment I would have set it aside, or thrown it out, but ego took over and I needed to prove to myself that I could make something out of this mess. So I started teasing out the waste material, carded the results and did a test spin.

The waste is significant, approximately 20% of the original product, including VM and sand. The fiber is half as long as the other locks from the original dye baths.

This is the wastage from the second cuts, severely cotted wool and VM

When carded, the staple length of the fiber was too short and too lofty to shape into rolags without fighting the fiber, so I left them as small batts and stacked them for woollen spinning. They are holding together extremely well and spin like a dream using long draw.

The test spin is a perfectly gorgeous, fluffy, strong woolen yarn. I couldn’t be more pleased with the final result, I would use this as a weft, or for knitting something that needs a lot of warmth. I’m not sure it could withstand abrasion. I have no idea what the breed is, so wouldn’t know if felting is an option. The staple on these batts is only 1.5 – 2 inches. The crimp is very large, hence the loft. It does shed so that might be a problem down the road.

Lofty woolen, warm results from experiment, small sample.

So, I learned a few things from this. Hair conditioner is great stuff for spinners. There is now a bottle in my tool kit, cheap stuff, but it works. And maybe I should slow down on judging a fleece as not worth the effort. This one really was worth the little bit of extra work. It’s a pleasure to card, so easy to spin and the final result is wonderful. I would have missed that. My friend knew what she was doing keeping this little bit of wool aside for special care.

18 thoughts on “From start to finished yarn – that icky fleece

    1. I was really impressed with how effective the hair conditioner trick worked. It helped a lot with keeping the static under control as well. Once everything is finished it will all just wash out.

  1. I know you’re right with regard to less time and I’ve made it my mission in 2021 to try to get through my enormous stash of fleeces that I’ve collected over the years. The time has come for me to remember why I started collecting fleece in the first place. That mission was to sample all the British breeds and determine which ones I would work with and to note which ones would be good for which project. I feel I now have sufficient knowledge so this year I will only be buying the odd one from sources I have developed over the years.
    I can also attest to buying fleeces that don’t necessarily make it to the mark. I have always just carried on trying to get the best out of them. However, this year as I don’t have a lot of time, the fleeces that I have will have to be done carefully to ensure I get rid of (composting on my allotment) or decide to use. Lots of work and not a lot of time.
    Thank you for telling us of the benefit of perseverance!

    1. I am so envious of your proximity to some of the worlds most luxurious fleece. I have a few pounds of Wensleydale and a few pounds of Teeswater that I smile at but am just too cautious to start processing. I know sheep will grow more, but these are such expensive fleece to acquire I would hate not optimizing their best qualities!

  2. From what breed of sheep did your wool come? Is it Lincoln or Romney?

    I have been getting into Romney for weaving rugs and hopefully soon for tapestry, cardweaving, and inkleweaving. I have been combing scoured and dyed locks from Romney for a few years now and I am having so much fun coming up with combinations of colors. With combing the yarns are smoother so I hope my weaving will show the wonderful luster and color of the fibers.

    1. Sheila, the longer locks look and feel like Cotswold and it is one of my favourite breeds. The purple locks are extremely long, easily 8 to 10 inches or 20 to 25 cm. The orange locks are a mystery wool and just don’t feel like Cotswold at all. The fiber of this fleece is extremely short some only 1 inch or 2 cm. I prefer blending colours to get my final result as you do because it gives a greater depth of colour.

  3. We’re always learning, and sometimes it’s the “unworthy” fleeces that have the most to say 🙂 The batt looks like candy floss!

    1. Leonor, couldn’t agree with you more. Fiber arts keep teaching me every time I try anything new, it’s one of the great pleasures of this craft!

  4. Beautiful colors Bernadette! I have pretty much decided that I don’t have enough time to buy fleeces, wash and process. I totally agree that I have less time than money so I buy already processed. I do dye my own colors which is always great fun.

    I also agree that perseverance pays off most of the time. Even when you think something is going to be a failure, if you keep going, you will find that there is some worth to the project. So, yes, push on and get some really lovely results!

    1. I agree that dyeing is really great fun, bordering on alchemy some times. But I still need to learn when to pull the plug. There is such a fine line between perseverance and obstinance. Sometimes it’s hard to see clearly where one stops and the other begins.

  5. Your perseverance paid off and your carded wool just begs to be gently felt and appreciated. Babies test everything in their mouths but no longer being that side of the age spectrum I test everything by touch.

    Last year I finally washed all but 2 fleeces….they now just need carding! Maybe that is this year’s project. All this has put me firmly into ‘I’m not buying any more fleeces – the money v time equation has now flipped’ category. So reading this post, I’m so glad to learn I’m definitely not alone in this regard.

    And the colours….just gorgeous.

    1. How many fleece did you wash when you say ‘all but two’? That sounds a bit daunting. I enjoy the meditative process of picking, sorting, carding, dyeing, spinning and now weaving fiber. I may have to get into felting, or maybe not. Thank you for the compliment on the colours. I love bright saturated colours.

  6. Your colours and fiber batts are always exquisite!! and your combing wast works well for felting!!! You may be a fleece whisperer!, you always seem to bring out the best from the fleece your working with. i am looking foreword to seeing your fiber in person, one day!

    1. Thank you Jan, I’m building a stock pile of combings that will work for you. We’ll get together one of these days, for real, in person. If not in person, then I’ll have to do a porch drop, or get a bigger house.

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