How I scour and prepare fine wool fleeces

cropped-sueslambonhill

The real title of this post is: What’s the story behind Kelle’s baby sweater?  But since most of the new visitors to my blog seem to arrive looking for SPINNING information, I thought it might be nice to oblige and make it easy to find.  The photo above is of a baby cormo lamb, from the finest flock of white and colored cormos in the US.  My spinning time is limited, so I decided long ago that I was only going to spend that limited time on the very nicest, vey finest fleece available.  Also, as much as I like dyeing, I love natural wool colors, and Sue’s flock has the best.

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My fleece processing methods aren’t for everybody.  Some people want to be able to dump a 6 pound bag of dirty sheep’s wool into a washing machine and have something spinnable at the end.  Because the ultra fine wools I love are so prone to felting, and because I want to spin and ply smooth, nep-free yarn, I take my time, add a few extra steps to make it failure-proof, and end up with truly heavenly results.  Besides, I really like the process, so it’s not like rushing through it would ADD to the joys… I’m not in a hurry, if I rushed it would get all used up too fast!  But anyway, the photo above is dirty raw fleece, some cormo and some shetland.

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So first, look at these two locks.  Both from the same sheep, unscoured, looking pretty clean and nice.  But watch what happens when you wash one… leaving the other one untouched for comparison:

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Isn’t that amazing!  Poof!  And it’s so unbelievably soft!  So how do you get from a nice clean intact lock to a perfect ready to spin puff of perfection?

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I sit out on my front steps, with a basket of locks chosen from a good fleece, and flick card the ends.  This opens up any tangles and lets lots of dirt just fall out before we even get to the washing part.  When the ends are opened up, it’s easier for the detergent and water to get to every ultra-fine fiber, and get it perfectly clean without any squishing or squashing that might cause felting.

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It’s amazing to me how much dirt falls out when the fleece looked so clean at first!  Plus, these sheep wear coats to protect their wool, so compared to many fleeces, they are immaculate.  But still, it’s an outside job, not to be done while eating, and you need to wash your hands well afterwards.  It’s the perfect task for while children small enough to need supervision are playing in the yard….

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Another reason to flick card every single lock – even the best shearer can get a few “second cuts” which are these little short bits that happen when the shearer needs to go over the same area twice.  When you are spinning superfine wool, those odd pieces just mean trouble.  They get all balled up into neps and are so annoying.  Flicking each and every lock gets rid of all of the second cuts before they have a chance to mess up your perfect yarn.

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This is where I really go the extra mile for perfection.  Once you get started, it really doesn’t add much time, but it eliminates all the risk of messing up your precious locks.  I put each flicked lock into a separate section of a mesh bag to protect it while scouring.  You’ll be able to see it better in the next photo.

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I make my bags out of big rolls of 6 to 8 inch wide bridal tulle bought with my 40 % off coupon on my phone at the craft store.  I sew one long end together, maybe 6 feet long, and then sew seams perpendicular every few inches.  These make pockets for the flicked locks.  If I am careful cutting the scoured fleece out after washing, I can use the strips of bags many, many times.

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Then when all the pockets are filled, I sew the open edge closed, right at the edge, not to waste a millimeter of tulle, so I can re-use it.

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Then the strips go into a washtub with VERY hot water (hot tap water with a kettle of boiling water poured in) with a huge bunch of Dawn dish liquid mixed in.  I just dump the tulle-encased wool locks into the washtub and let the hot water melt the lanolin and the detergent emulsify everything and the dirt falls out.  But look at that water!  This was from fundamentally clean fleece, hand selected perfect locks, that I thoroughly flick carded.  Ick!  Lanolin melts at about 100 degrees, but you want your water to start out far hotter than that, because it still needs to be well over 100 degrees after it’s been sitting and soaking, or the lanolin will get all stuck back on, this time with dirt AND soap and you will have a mess.  So make the water as hot as you can.  And how much soap/detergent?  LOTS.  Just pour a bunch in.

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When the water from the first tub is pretty gross, fill another tub with hot water, and use tongs to pick up your strips of pockets of fleece, let most of the icky water drain off of them (try to avoid squeezing or wringing unless you want felt rather than fluff) and set them into the clean water.  Look how much nicer they look already!   I repeat this rinse process a few times, until it seems like there’s not even a hint of bubbles.  I keep the water hot out of habit, but there’s not a lot of lanolin left to redeposit, and changing to merely warm water probably wouldn’t shock and felt the fleece, but I just keep it hot out of habit….

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After I’ve hung the strips of pockets out on my front steps to dry, I cut open just the edge of the bags, saving as much length as possible to reuse them.    And now, for this wool, we turned to the drum carder.  Wool processed in locks so carefully is perfect for combing, but the baby sweater in my plans needed to be woolen, not worsted, carded, not combed…..

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After feeding a few pulled-apart locks very slowly into the carder, I was getting so excited to see how this fleece was going to spin up… Here’s a time NOT to rush, though.  If you feed big chunks into the carder, or try to go too fast, you are going to pull and tear and tangle and nep your fleece.  The bits going in should be as translucent as dandelion fuzz, no thicker.  And you should turn so slowly that you don’t feel any pulling at all.  Because the end result is worth it, and besides, it’s a process thing.  If you wanted a product thing, you could have bought commercially prepared fiber and be spinning already.

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Here comes the fluff!  Oh how I wish you could feel this, perfect, clean, the ultimate softness, and so light… truly like a cloud.  It feels like nothing.

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And here are all the natural colors for Kelle’s baby sweater…..  I sent her a box with unspun fleece in it early in her pregnancy, just to show her the amazing softness…. with a note reminding her that her son was going to be even softer 🙂

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The rest of the story you know.  Spin (Lendrum DT) with longer color runs for collar and body, shorter color runs for sleeves….

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Then run into troubles with the knitting, dropping stitches at the edge of the work…  and get rescued by Kelly Mustian on facebook, who found a knitting you tube video exactly explaining how to fix it 🙂

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Then wait and wait and wait for three of our sock sisters to arrive, so they can each do a row or two…

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And now it’s finally a sweater.  Officially 6 months size, but I think it will fit fine right now.  When Dash is 6 months old in Florida, he will NOT need a long sleeved shawl collared wool cardigan.  So now you know the story of this particular sweater AND how I scour fine wools.

Meanwhile, to update from Danny and violin, Mr. Adrian Anantawan called us on the phone just the day after I posted.  He was wonderfully kind and knowledgable, and we have a good plan with several of his friends to help Danny.  I am so grateful.

 

10 thoughts on “How I scour and prepare fine wool fleeces

  1. Oh! How I wish I had been there with Sock Sisters to knit with you!
    But:
    A – I probably wouldn’t have been able to stop after a row or two and someone woukd have had to wrest it from my hands in order to take a turn,

    And

    B – You’d all now have the Barf Bug, The Head Cold from Kindergarten or both. And that woukd be bad, Bad, BAD.

    Hooray for Mr. Adrian A.! Keep us posted.

  2. As you know I haven’t learned to knit, but you make every process look fascinating. I know he’s going to be one snuggly baby wearing his sweet sweater!
    So happy for Danny too!

    Love and Prayers

  3. That is absolutely incredible, Elizabeth! I’m so glad you took the time to document the process. You know, sometimes I wonder if you wear a cape—like a superhero? And that cape would be made of the finest, softest, spun wool.

  4. very interesting and beautifully written. You make me want to do this and I don’t even knit.

    So glad you got the phone call! Looking forward to hearing how things work out for Danny.

    Love to you my dear friend, Genn

  5. Just this would be enough to make you one of the most amazing people I know. I had no notion of all that went into a sweater like this. Here’s hoping for the perfect violin support for Danny. So good to be reminded that there are wonderful people like Mr. Anantawan in this world. (And you’re so sweet. I only Googled with good intent.)

  6. I know nothing about spinnng, well now I do, but am glad you are back to posting! How about a cancer update soon? 🙂 I have finished my treatments and have an oopharectomy scheduled for May 3rd.

    Blessings from East Jordan!
    Melanie

  7. Pingback: Victoria and the Badger Face Fleece: Part 1 | The Naked Skein

  8. Auch 枚kologische Aspekte zieht Intervall mitein, und somit sind alle Fl眉ssigwaschmittel phosphatfrei. Auch auf umweltsch盲dliche Konservierungsstoffe wurde verzichtet. Stattdessen verwenden sie Konservierungsstoffe die vom kotest empfohlen werden. Desweiteren ist die Pflegeserie von Intervall vollst盲ndig biologisch abbaubar. Deshalb wurde Intervall 1993 vom kotest als empfehlenswert eingestuft.

  9. I bought a beautiful brown finnsheep fleece and have been flick carding the locks a little at a time. I won’t have my drum carder for another month, so I am taking my sweet time with this and loving every bit of this process; the smell, the feel of the lanolin, the luster of the flicked locks. So pretty, I don’t want to wash them (yes, I will). After reading this, I am reassured I’m not nuts for doing this. Thank you so much!

    Laurie

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