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.
What’s felt? Well you have probably felt felt. It’s a soft material. The definition is more like: take some raw wool and put it under pressure and rub; the fibers will lock and form a sheet of material. Or you may use a needle to lock the material into shapes. How about a giraffe, or a dragon, or a heron? Yup, she did all of that and more. It was enormous 9as in more then 15 feet in size) and she demurred on how long it took to do the giraffe. I’d have lost interest long before the neck ever got done. Hey, it’s art! My (felt) hat’s off to you.
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.
Hand weaving and spinning is a lost art. Wrong! There are many enthusiasts. It’s not too common. Your average person does not weave or spin. But the gatherings – so called festivals – draw thousands – of people, sheep not included. There is fiber on the hoof and fleece and finished product. Lots of money changes hands. There was a classic auction complete with rapid fire auctioneer. His job is to rev up the crowd and grow enthusiasm and drive the price ever higher. The tapestry loom he was standing in front went for $20. Really!? The wood was worth more ( a whole lot more). But there were other things that sold for a lot more. Last spring I bought a loom – sight unseen – for a mere bagatelle. This time around I stood pat. Yes, there are llamas – and alpacas – and sheep – and goats. A good time was had by all.
Fiber, it’s a new world for me. I’m following the process. The interim step is the spun fiber. It’s made into wondrous things – cloth. Pattern is a big part of the process. And this requires multicolored and multi-textured spun material. It’s a fascinating process. I like the graphical component. I like order. Some of the material seems ethereal. Try to focus. The woven products are myriad. Industrialization has made cloth inexpensive. We take it for granted in the everyday products we purchase for almost nothing. Synthetic and throw away it’s hard to believe that the craft is ages old. We value the handwoven and pay pennies for our everyday cloth. You shop Walmart for the price not the quality.
From hoof to finished product – I’ve been exposed to a new hobby. I only have a passing interest. But the photo ops led me to see different sheep and appreciate the natural fiber as it was processed from animal to point of sale. The Common Ground Country Fair is a must stop for crafts including fiber. This encompasses much but mostly it involves wool. But there are many different types of sheep which leads to different textures and softness.
The wool requires processing and spinning before it can be woven. I bet you knew that. I just took it for granted. It does not naturally occur in Technicolor.
And the final finished product – well , the yarn – is a long way from the initial raw locks that are shorn.