Sheep and wool fairs always have a place where they sell fleece. It would be fleece that is sheared from the sheep and sold in large plastic bags at $/pound. It’s less expensive than yarn ready to weave. But there is a lot of processing. Are all fleeces equal. Hardly. Picking fleece is an art. I’m learning. I used to go by feel. That would be too simple. As we picked and chose, a volunteer came up and “squoze” my bag. Huh? She recognized her fleece and was checking. Yup, it was from her sheep. A mother always knows. Neat! If you wander into the fleece barn… you get fleece. I/we must be good pickers. A couple people admired our choices and told us they’d take the bag if we changed our mind.
I’ve been processing raw fleece, the kind just fresh off the sheep. ? These pictures are ones only a spinner or weaver would really appreciate. Well, the process begins with pasture and feeding. If your sheep lies in straw, there will be lots of shit and straw and bits in the fleece. Have you noticed that wool is very curly stuff. Imagine the tangles you have without cream rinse in your hair? Some folks raise their sheep in grass and there’s nothing (debris) in the wool. Even better, keep your sheep in a coat. Then there’s little extraneous stuff at all. As you can imagine the price rises with each step of caution. Some fleece will sell upwards of $20 per pound. A finished spun ounce ready to knit or weave can cost around $8 and up. If you lose 50% of a fleece to waste, you are still ahead of the game. It’s all complicated in the processing. I won’t bore you. If you have read to this point, keep in mind that there is a lot of washing and that there is much that can go wrong to ruin an entire batch. Just skip ahead and use the end product.
In many ways it’s like photography. You can press the button and press “print” and you are all done. Don’t bother with the process. I started “cheap” and “on a severe budget.” Load your own film, develop your own film, and print your own images. Black and white, and later, color, it’s economical. Or you can look at it that you controlled your own process. The big driver for me was the $.
The fleece you see starts as locks. You know, Goldilocks. And it needs to be separated, cleaned, and washed. This stuff was a dream. It washed up pure white and fluffy as a cloud. Amazing stuff!! I’ve been washing a lot of fleece lately. It’s got a lot of lanolin. It’s got lots of “bits.” This stuff washed up like a dream. Lucky! Funny, it wasn’t that expensive to purchase. Lucky again! Trust me, we felted, and tossed out lots of other fleece. That’s built-in waste. When you get stuff this good and easy, it’s so tempting to turn to going the easy path. Nope, I’m still cleaning. No more film, no more darkroom, I’m processing fleece by hand. There’s satisfaction in it. If you read all the way to the end – congratulations, you know how to process a fleece. Otherwise, just go to the store and get your stuff off the rack. We do both now. Options are good.
In order to get yarn you start with a sheared fleece. The fleece is washed. It’s turned into roving. Then, it’s spun. After that you knit or weave. If you skip the spinning, you can felt. Felt? The would be pressing the fibers together until they form a sheet of fiber all on their own. Like art, this is the raw material for creating a myriad of things. I’m more interested in the process than in creating art. People like came to buy the raw materials. Sometimes it’s the journey more than the destination. It’s all here. If you know fiber – ie spin and weave or knit – then you recognized the various states I mention. Otherwise, enjoy the patterns and color.
It becomes felt when you lie on it exerting heat, pressure, and rubbing. Willow was just visiting and rolling in the fleece. Plan? Washing and processing to make spun yarn. After that we will turn it over to a weaver. No felt please. Go back. Can you tell the difference between Willow and Patch? …not me.