First Fleece

Truthfully, there was never any intention of buying and washing fleece. Nope, no time for all that work. Please just hand me some lofty, clean top ready to spin.

Last summer I bought some beautifully card Shetland from a woman in my spinning group who raises Shetlands. It was great stuff to spin with just enough grease left in the wool to give it a soft, tactile feel. So, when she asked me this spring if I’d like to buy more there was no hesitation. Imagine my shock when I peeked into the plastic bag containing the wool, er, fleece! The 4th of July weekend was a scorcher, perfect for trying my hand at washing a fleece outside. Having very little clue as to how to go about it I spread it out and walked around it, planning the strategy. (Over the past couple of years I’ve read different methods for washing/handling fleeces and was mulling over various ideas. I’m one of those people who seems to learn best by diving in head-first and learn by process. Please don’t bother me with great detail in the beginning, as the hands, eyes and brain go about a new thing the bits and pieces will fall in place. After I’ve gotten some experience then my mind is ready to absorb more information.)

There was no doubt in Hank’s mind what should be done with it. He was enamored with Violet’s fleece.

Doesn’t that look appetizing? Months ago I’d read on a blog about a soaking process      extending over several days. I did a quick online search but without the proper name I couldn’t find it. Once the water had warmed up in the hot sun some Dawn soap was squirt in and swished it into bubbles, then the fleece gently submerged and an old screen door placed over the tub.

After the fifth day I removed the fleece, poured the water on the garden and filled the tub again. The fleece was still greasier and dirtier than felt right so more Dawn was added to the water along with a gallon of boiling water adding more heat to the sun-warmed water. It soaked for another day then left overnight in a clean rinse water which had warmed up in a plastic 50 gallon bin. The rinse water had very little dirt or debris so I spread the fleece out to dry on top of the screen. Once it dried I still didn’t like the feel, so back into the tub for another round, this time only a couple hours in the slightly soapy water followed by another rinse soak. Seven days total to take care of this fleece, and still there was the picking out the vm and figuring out the next step. For several evenings I sat in the evening sun and picked out vm, occasionally hand-carding a bit, running other handfuls through a sort of comb purchased at Oregon Flock & Fiber 2 years ago by a person who uses them for his cashmere goats. I finally stuffed the lot into a pillow case and rubber banded it closed, with a bag of lavender inside, and put it away in my fiber closet.

Fast forward to the second week of August when a friend called to ask if I’d like some of the black/brown fleece a farmer up the road had just gifted her. She’d waited until I got there to unroll the tarp Mr H had put it in. We both stood in awe at the impressive amount of wool spread out. I came home with a grocery bag full. With the second hot spell of the summer forecast for the next few days the washtub and plastic bin were filled again so the water would be warm for the series of baths and rinses. This time the process only took two wash baths and two rinses before spreading it out to dry.

Locks before wash:

On a roll I grabbed the piece of cormo fleece my cousin Faith had given me last October and cleaned that too. It was such lovely stuff that I’d been reluctant to wash it and perhaps ruin it. I’m not real happy with the end results of the three batches but it was a great learning experience and I have high hopes that once I manage to either comb or card them they will be very nice to spin.

Enter tomorrow! Dana stopped by our booth at BSG and showed us a spindle she’d bought at a marketplace in Greece years ago. (More about that in another post!) Dana has invited me to come play with wool at her house tomorrow. She has a fiber studio set up in her basement with equipment to process fleeces, dye and spin. 🙂 It’ll be good to have help with the next step and someone knowledgeable about which process would be best for each fleece.  I’ll be taking along a couple of spindles and the wheel, just in case.

A random reading of a usually ignored newsletter set the stage for attending a bluegrass festival last weekend.  It was Thursday when I asked Ed about going but he felt he had to stay home and work, perhaps Hope would like to go. A quick phone call, discussion of logistics followed by a flurry of activity wrapping up work that needed to be finished, and a trip to town for a few food supplies. Ed dug out the tent and air mattresses and loaded the car and by early afternoon on Friday Hope and I were headed back over the Cascades, through the town of Sisters (had to resist the urge to stop and stroll!) to the camping area set up on pastures of a large private farm. We had a wonderful time listening to bands, doing a bit of jamming, working out a tune during the Saturday morning workshops and overall relaxing big time! It was all quite rustic but there was a coffee truck for our morning caffeine habits. We packed easy to eat finger food and took plenty of water. The highlights of the trip was waking up in the dark of early morning to coyotes yip-yipping and joyfully howling near our tent, then crawling out of the sleeping bag before almost everyone else, (except the coffee people, bless them for their long hours!) and spending a quiet hour alone on the dock watching the sun come up, a duck paddling quietly while drinking coffee and knitting on the sleeves of Ed’s sweater. (Sadly I only managed to knit halfway up the sleeves by Ed’s birthday. Doing two on a set of circulars so they’ll both be finished at the same time.)


Author: Wanda J

I never dreamed my life would be entangled with fiber and the tools used to produce fibery items. When I bought a boat shuttle used in weaving Ed looked at it, decided to make a better one and the rest is history. For a decade he made shuttles, crochet hooks, knitting needles, until his spindles became so popular that he had to devote his time to making them, as well as Walking Wheels. Free time is spent reading, trying to coax food from the ground, and playing in the creek near our place. I love long walks and camping far from crowds. Playing a fiddle beside a stream or with good friends brings sweetness to my soul. Sundays are set aside for worshiping God with our small Quaker meeting.

4 thoughts on “First Fleece”

  1. Washing fleece outside in water warmed up by the sun – what a great idea! I’m looking forward to seeing the processed fiber.

    That festival sounds like a lot of fun. Impromptu trips like these are simply the best!

  2. What more could you want than a seat by the water, with a duck paddling nearby and knitting in your hands? On my cottage lake, it’s more likely to be a loon family, with the fluffy babies riding on their parents’ backs. I have been using my needles from Ed a lot this summer. They are by far the best needles I own. Thanks, Ed!

  3. Lovely, ah lovely fleeces!
    Doncha just love ’em!
    Hang in there…it took me about
    8 years to discover “just the right way” to
    wash them so that they were perfect for my
    favorite way of spinning! Whee!
    Thanks for sharing!

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