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.
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.
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.
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.