Spin Journal #10: So--What Do You Do With A Ten Pound Fleece?
One of my big splurges this year at Black Sheep was fleece--I came home with no less than three. The hogget I already described. The second, a beautiful black Merino from Nebo-Rock, was packed off to Morro Fleece Works to be professionally scoured, carded, and turned into pin-draft roving (I don't have experience working with fine wools, and I'm not going to start with a blue-ribbon fleece). The third was a big, drop-dead gorgeous white fleece, shorn from the back of a Border Leicester / Corriedale / Merino cross-breed (aka, "the BLX") owned by Elizabeth Hubbard of Hub Corriedales in Bonanza, Oregon. Ms. Hubbard has a knack for raising amazing sheep--a Border Leicester fleece she entered in the Wool Show at Black Sheep last year was the Grand Champion fleece, and this year's fleeces seemed even better. I had to have that BLX, and through some terrific teamwork, the fleece not only ended up in my pile, but finally ended up back at my house a week after I got back from Black Sheep.
This fleece is big, tipping the scales at just over 10 pounds. It also has great lock structure, something necessary if you're going to spin from the lock, which I wanted to do with this fleece. However, this sheep is a heavy lanolin producer, and I've gotten away from spinning in the grease, so the fleece has to be scoured. But how to maintain the lock structure and get the fleece clean? I decided to do something different--separate the individual locks, wrap them in nylon net, and wash them that way. I trotted off to JoAnn's to buy a mile of nylon netting.
At first, I thought I could do all this washing prep outside in the backyard. It was a lovely summer day, so I took the fleece out and dumped it onto the 48" patio table. It completely covered the table, and I didn't have any place to work, so I carried all the TV trays out to the patio to create a horizontal work surface. Next problem--the breeze. The wonderful westerly breeze that keeps us cool was making it impossible for me to work outside: it blew the nylon onto the patio, blew the locks onto the patio, and (worst of all) blew leaves and twigs from the overhanging birch tree onto the fleece. Dang! So where is the next largest horizontal surface that I can use for this? Simple: the kitchen island, eight feet of uninterrupted, tiled, perfect height for working, space. So what if it means we can't use the island for a couple days? I need to get this fleece washed. Everything got bundled back up, carried back into the house, and I spread out on the island and got to work.
The nylon netting is 72" wide, so I cut it into 24" lengths. That's enough to allow 2 rows of locks, or 4 to 5 ounces (washed weight), and still have enough space to completely enclose the locks in netting. Once the packages were finished, I gently rolled each into a cylinder (a wool "cake" if you will), pinned it, and put it into one of the large mesh laundry bags I normally use for washing. Each bag holds 6 rolls; the washer holds 2 bags. Then I just did my usual scouring. Once the bags were done, I spread out the rolls on the kitchen counter (which had been scrubbed down by this time) to dry. Over the course of two days, I washed 4 bags (24 rolls) of wool.
Some lovely discoveries in doing all this work. #1: This is a lot of work. It took two days to process 8 pounds of wool, and I have about another full day of work to finish off the fleece. #2: It's definitely worth it. Once washed, the fleece is snowy white, with nearly all the crimp still intact, and very little felting. For the several pounds I put aside for spinning as white yarn, all I need to do is flick a dog comb through the tips of the locks, and they're ready to spin. There are also very few second-cuts or noils, because I was able to pull all those out as I separated out the locks. #3: With the locks already wrapped in nylon, it's a relatively simple (if time-consuming) matter to sew the rolls shut and then chuck them into dye pots. I've been doing that for the past two days, and I'm getting some really nice dyed locks that will be fun to comb and spin. #4: I got to lovingly handle all this gorgeous fleece--just the experience is well worth all the effort.