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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.

I did some dying on the weekend.

I did some dying on the weekend.

I needed to dye some orange wool to make a flower for a customer so if I am going to get the dye pot out I might as well do a bunch of dying. You can never have enough dyed wool. I dye on the side burner of my BBQ outside when the weather is above freezing. Now it’s not much above freezing, it was only about 10c/50f  but that’s good enough for me.

I made a bunch of 100gram/3.5oz balls of merino top.  I heat up the big dye pot of water with some vinegar.  I Unwind a ball and soak it in warm slightly soapy water. I mix my dye and add it to the pot. I gently squeeze the water out of the soaked wool and pop it into the dye pot. I let it go from 20-40 min. If the waters clear I take it out early, if it’s not I leave it for the 40 min. While it’s cooking I start the next wool soaking and mix the dye. My water is very hard and it effects the dye process. I don’t think I have ever managed to get an even dye job. that is one of the reasons I usually recard most of my wool.  Dyeing with rain water is on my list for this summer. My rain water comes of a metal roof so I don’t know how much difference it will make but its worth a try .

This is the result of Saturday and Sunday.  The wind was not cooperating so excuse the sloppy display. I was just happy they stayed on the back of the chairs long enough to get  a picture.

whole group

Here they all are in groups

purplesI couldn’t get the colours one right no matter how I fiddled. There are 5 colours there. The middle 3 all look the same. Two are very close but one is purple and turquoise.

oranges This one is pretty close to true.

greensThis is very close to true.  The pale green is from an MX or fibre reactive dye used as an acid dye. Its called sage leaf. The one next to it, fourth  from the top is supposed to be olive drab but is more like sage leaf.  The yellow and green one is the exhaust batch after the greens and I quite like it. I think I will recard it to blend the small spots of green in to it. The blue is the exhaust after the purples.

While these where in the pot I added some yarns too. These are all form when I was learning to spin. I didn’t like the colours.

blue and brown yarn This was a natural brown plied with a white. It went into the bright blue dye bath.

brown and green yarn purple yarnThe purple one was white. The one on the right was natural grey plied with white. It went in the sage bath.. The one on the left was another brown and white and it went in the olive drab dye bath.  You can see the purple and the gray have gone all curly with not being plied properly. They are not balanced yarns. I think they will be fine to use for decoration on felt. It will add interest.

purple and blue yarn The one on the right is a commercial ladder yarn that was a horrible pale green. I had no idea what it was made off except it wasn’t natural. I tossed it into the bright blue bath to see what would happen. It came out great.  The top one went into one of the purple baths. It was a purple I mixed myself with turquoise and red. It spit into turquoise and purple. The others were ones that I bought mixed but they split too.  One of them started out pink but I can’t figure out which one now.

All in all a good weekend I didn’t even felt them badly like I usually do.




Doing some Dyeing

Doing some Dyeing

I realised I was running out of brighter colours.  I got the dye pot out from under the snow drift it had become to fix the problem. . I like to dye outside but it much to cold so It was in the kitchen. I was nice and used citric acid instead of vinegar in my dye water. I am not a pro at this. I do not measure as I don’t care if I can get the exact colour again. I like that my dye jobs are many times not an eve solid colour. I will recard it and it will have more life and not be so flat.

I started with yellow. I wanted a nice bright sunny yellow. It bled a lot when it was done.

yellow bleeding

After many rinses it was still bleeding. So I recooked it with more acid, that worked.

Here is some purple in the pot and you can see the dye take up was good.


and this is all the wool done, some nice bright spring colours.

dyed wool

I have finally taken my own advice and got some PH strips. I always tell people having trouble with dye take up or bleeding to make sure the PH is right. Now I just need to find some tome to do some more dyeing so I can try them out.

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