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Author: heirloom51

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.

Pleased to meet you, I love fibre

Pleased to meet you, I love fibre

Thank you Ruth and Ann for the invitation to the group. My name is Bernadette and fibre has been part of my life for a very long time. I started spinning and weaving in my late teens at the University of Regina. Since the pandemic there has been a lot of time available to really enjoy more indepth experiments with fiber.

There must always be purple! It’s my favourite colour and how I start every dye session.






I searched my stash and found loads of unwashed fleeces from so many different vendors and shepherds. There was mohair and silk, cotton, alpaca, linen, the list is pretty complete. Wool alone has so many breeds. They fascinate me with the variability of colour, texture, and spin characteristics within a breed and even within a single fleece. These past months allowed me or rather forced me to wash, sort, and dye several fleece from my stash. So with hand on heart I made the solemn promise that “I will not buy another fleece until these are all done”. I lied.

This rambouillett comes from Hutterite colonies in Alberta. These are extremely good farmers and the fleece shows it.

So I washed, dried, and dyed as many fleece as possible over the summer, Then as the weather cooled down, the wool has been either left in locks or hand processed into roving from wool combs, hand carders or from the drum carder. I’m starting to experiment with blending wool and other fibre. Over the summer I joined Jan and several other guild members in the Flax Project. Friends and family were worried there would not be enough raw material available for me and gave me fleeces, or sent me information on great resources for interesting materials. It was a gong show to say the least. I will be sharing the final results of the pandemic experience as the year progresses.

Writing and sharing my experiences is very new for me, so I hope over the next eleven months I can show you what my near geekery looks like. Being called a fiber geek no longer bothers me, its who I am. If there is any one thing that specifically interests you please let me know and I’ll do my best to help you.



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