Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spin Journal #9: Mr. Stinky

Sometimes my senses get ahead of my brain, and I get into trouble. I managed to do it again at Black Sheep, the big fiber festival. I cruised through the "non-show" fleece room on Saturday morning, just to check out what was for sale, and found a fleece that had real possibilities: nice color, good length, incredibly soft, and nice crimp. A good fleece; it was small (just under 3 1/2 pounds), but I wasn't looking for anything too large, so I bought it and dragged it back to the camp.

I should have looked closer.

My "find" was full of grass, bits of alfalfa, a few dung tags, and lots of tiny ladybird beetles. Worse, it stank--phew! I don't know what that sheep had been rolling in, but it was certainly fragrant. Oy vey--what had I gotten myself into? I wasn't really too sure, but I took a chance, pulled a random lock out of the bag, and trotted over to the ladies' room to give it a test wash with some of my shampoo. Hmmm.....the lock came clean, and when it dried, it was very soft, with a moderate amount of wavy crimp, and the same color as my own hair. The softness intrigued me--Romneys and Coopworths aren't really soft, but this was baby-fine, rather like llama. Could this be a hogget? Was there hope for this little fleece? I decided to take a chance on this stinky little fleece, packed it into the duffle bag with my beautiful black merino, and brought it home.

When I got home (and recovered from the train trip back to the Bay Area), I fired off an e-mail to the previous owner of this little fleece, Anna Harvey of Harvey Farms in Calpine. Specifically, I wanted to know what the sheep was that produced this fleece. While I waited for a return e-mail, I set about washing "Mr. Stinky." I normally don't pre-soak my fleeces--I buy almost exclusively from coated handspinning flocks, so there isn't that much dirt in the fleece. However, I don't think this sheep had even heard the word "coat," much less worn one. separated the fleece into three large mesh bags, filled the washer with cold water, and submerged the bags. The water turned black! I just shuddered and shut the lid on the washer to let them soak overnight.

The next morning, I drained and spun the mesh bags, and looked to see what was going on. The awful stench was gone, so I prepared for the next step: scouring. I use the directions given to me by Paula Shull last year, and they really work well for longwool fleece. I had cranked up the heat in the water heater to the highest setting, so I knew the water was hot enough for washing fleece. I filled the washer with hot water and 1 cup of Dawn dishwashing detergent, turned the washer off, and submerged the mesh bags full of fleece. Then I closed the lid and let it set for 40 minutes. I spun the water out, lifted the bags out, and refilled the washer with hot water again, then turned it off, and resubmerged the bags. After another 40-minute soak, I spun the water out a second time and took the bags out again. Once again, I filled the washer with hot water, this time adding a couple "glugs" of plain distilled "white" vinegar. Back into the water went the bags for their last 40-minute soak. After a ride through the spin cycle for the last time, I gently emptied the bags onto my drying racks.

To my amazement, it worked! The fleece was clean, soft, and beautiful. Most of the lock structure was still intact (important, as I'm combing this fleece), and I was able to shake out a lot of the vegetative matter (and lots of dead baby ladybird beetles). There's still a little VM left, but it's coming out as I comb.

The final treat was getting an e-mail answer back from Anna Harvey. It seems that Mr. Stinky is a ewe lamb named Vicky. So it turns out that Mr. Stinky is Miss Vicky, and Miss Vicky is actually a pretty nice hogget. Not bad for taking a chance and a day's work.