There really is no getting past this. Sheep are dirty. And they like straw, lots of it. All over themselves. Did I mention they also stink? Why am I so focused on the aroma of sheep today? Well it is washing day of course! Yay. (enthusiasm slightly faked at this point) Ok so I am not really complaining, I could buy roving already processed and simply spin and dye it. Or I could skip forward even more and buy yarn and just dye that. So why am I subjecting myself to smelly, dirty fleece? Well, because I want the most natural product I can produce. To do that I need to control the entire process. Except for the water I heat there is absolutely no electricity in my process. (And no I am not counting the light I need to work or the cooking shows that keep me company while I do.) Also because I am a glutton for punishment I think. I enjoy the process of taking something filthy and (after hours of soaking and flicking) transforming it into something I can use. It is extremely satisfying work.
So today, while I wait during a soak cycle, I thought I’d walk you through the entire process. From fleece to yarn. We will leave the dye off for another day, another blog.
Meet Spot. Well part of Spot anyway, about a pound of dirty Spot fleece. (I do not wash real sheep that would be too noisy) Spot is a very nice Shetland sheep who I had the pleasure of meeting at a local fiber farm store. Spot is a very dirt ewe. I am ready to start separating Spot into manageable bits to place into lingerie bags. Supposedly this keeps the fleece from disappearing in the washing machine. I certainly hope so otherwise my husband might kill me, his support can only go so far right? Today I am doing two processes but have only the pictures for stovetop.
After boiling two and a half gallons of water in an old canning pot I turn the stove off and added about 1/4lb fiber to the water. Oh and soap lots of soap. The first wash always looks like mud. After one or two rinses the sheep starts to run clean. You have to be very, very careful not to aggravate the fleece during this whole process. (Sheep are very sensitive critters) If you do, you get felt, and not the “I meant to do that” kind. No, you get the “great I can’t do anything with that except give it to the dog as a chew toy” kind of felt. So we very carefully move the fleece from process to process.
At this point (first shot) this bit has been washed and rinsed one time each. I will rinse this again before spreading it out to dry on the racks.
Once it is completely dry, about two days, I take a giant horse brush (It was a good deal cheaper than a flicker) and comb it out. At this point I am trying to remove anything the wash cycle didn’t get. Affectionately termed VM or vegetable matter by sheepish fiber enthusiasts. (No pun intended really) this can be straw, burrs, the ocassional dead beetle (you laugh but I found one once), and poop. Whatever dust my combs can’t get out my drum carder will.
Aww look my very expensive baby!
Ahem moving on.
Whew! At this point I can head to my spinning wheel! My favorite part! I use an Ashford Traveler, but you can use any wheel or a drop spindle. A drop spindle is basically a stick with a wheel on top that you spin by hand. I am not that talented so I use a wheel. After about 45 minutes (I am slow!) I have my finished product!
This is a single ply of a merino fleece I washed, flicked, carded and spun the other night. I met her also she is a barn-mate of Spot, her name is Merlot. So here we are at the end. Thank you for taking this trip with me. I hope you enjoyed the process!
Perfect timing my fleece is ready to move to the next step!