We buy fleece. Sheep shearing is an art. The fleece can be dirty. Very. Or, clean. We get average, pretty dirty fleece. It has lanolin (grease) – a lot, grass, dirt, and poop. TMI. It has to be processed. A lot of times it is stored in old pillow cases… till washed. Our cats? They love to wallow in the fiber. It’s not ideal to do so. The fleece could get felted. Ha! I swear, we’d have sheep grazing outside the house if only the homeowners association would allow. Do you wallow? Willow wallows.
We are officially full – in this house. Carol makes fun how much “stuff” we accumulate. We are gonna need a bigger car – this thought occurred to me more than once during our trip. So, I/we shipped home three big boxes. Fleece and fiber compress. You can’t keep it compressed forever. Like a fart, it expands to fill the room it is released into. And the beer! It rode in the car. I don’t drink. Ha ha. The cats were happy to see us once again. Nutley settled into a basket of yarn. Spice got into a bin, too small, next to the beer. The living room shows a partial series of spinning wheels. How many does one spinner need? Another fleece(s)? Bags and bags covered the table. OMG. Good and rare one and all, we have a collection of fiber you don’t go and find easily, if at all. I suppose I will have to start spinning again… and drinking beer…. for the team.
We have been on an extended road trip. I chased fall color and cover bridges. Colleen chased fiber. Fiber? As in wool and fleece from sheep. Sheep? Yes, there are a myriad of rare sheep with fleeces she covets. ?? Polworth? Teeswater? It’s an endangered breed in the US. TMI!! We made it to the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Fair. It went on as scheduled despite Covid. Yes, we got big rain. There were prizes at the auction – another spinning wheel! Ha ha. (I/Colleen won one.) There was the fleece barn, Colleen’s candy store. Llama, pajama, an interloper! Yarn?! Tons. It was more knitter’s fair than weaver/spinner. There was a line (out the door!!!) to purchase this year’s (yarn) color. There was the one room school (revisited). We – Colleen and I – almost went to one. We did sit in this style school desk in elementary school. So, why not – recreate the image of where we met. Again. And, yes, it is my regret – I wish she’d have grabbed on and held me close those many years ago. What a difference fate could have dealt. Such a good time, too many pictures, wistful, and hoping for a do over – life.
In NYC, a man with who walks with his nose in the air ends up with dog poop on his shoe. In the country, well, you know how it goes. We went to visit the sheep. Colleen arranged the visit. She had bought fleece from this farm and wanted to meet the source (sheep). Soay? Long wool Leicester? Familiar sheep breed names? How about Edwourd? French sheep, and didn’t know it! A sheep is still a sheep even if it is one or two. Soay sheep are shy. Soay (of course!!) originated in Scotland. Teddy the standard poodle stole the attention. A visit to the sheep farm cannot be complete without fleece. Yes, Colleen helped herself to … I might add that the shawl is felting over a lace curtain. That’s art!
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.