It’s not too hot to knit! Or spin or weave or…

This past June I was given my first raw sheep fleece. I have just experienced the joy of trying to figure out what to do with it.
My challenges:
no past experience – no problem, I love learning to do new things!
No top-loading washing machine – giant buckets from Buckerfields!
Where I live has septic, not sewer – the plants will love all the lanolin!
It’s really dirty – I’ll just wash it like 15 times! How long could that take?

The day before I picked up this really dirty BFL fleece, I was spinning with some of the ladies from the Guild. I am a new spinner, spinning on a wheel borrowed from the Guild. They were talking about the best way to set up to wash fleeces as many of us live rurally It hadn’t occurred to me that having dirty fleece water go down a drain might be a problem. For those who don’t know, yes having an excess of wool or debris caught in a fleece going down your sink drain might be a problem. Even bigger than all that lanolin in the fleece. All that grease down your plumbing could cause problems down the line. That may cost an uncomfortable sum of money to repair. I learned that ideally you want to have it drain outside, possibly in a place where nearby plants could benefit. So that’s what I did. I did several pre-soaks in one giant bucket. In order to get the water hot enough in the other bucket, I boiled pots and pots of water in the kitchen then carried them outside to the back steps. I needed to do that several times as this fleece was big enough that I had to do it in batches. Even then I had to do several rinse cycles.The weather started getting really warm. Which is actually just fine for a newbie drying an entire washed fleece outside after laying many towels on the deck.

I was several days in at this point and it was taking over my space. I needed to start carding. I had a couple of hand carders and realized after just two hours of hand carding that this was going to take forever. At the next Guild meeting I asked if there was a drum carder I could borrow. Yes the guild has 2 drum carders to loan to members. Here was the
opportunity for more new learning as I had never used a drum carder before. Tammy [the equipment person] showed me the fancy carder and also mentioned that another member had the workhorse carder. I ended up borrowing the robust one from the other member since she didn’t need it for a couple of weeks. It’s amazing to me a giant bag of fleece, changes to a wet smelly mass of “sheepy” hair, to a mound of fluff then finally to a larger-than-life pile of frizz. Where am I going to put all this? I need the other Guild members to share their storage solutions with me. The answer, of course, is to spin it. Spinning is what got me into this mess in the first place. Organizing the clean and carded frizz into yarn will reduce the volume considerably making storage much more manageable. I’m not currently working so I actually have the luxury of time to process all this wool. Well as my body allows. I’m learning I have to be attentive to posture and muscle strain in my forearms lest I awaken any former repetitive strain injuries.
I have also learned in the carding and spinning process that this fleece is still kind of dirty, so once I have it all wound up into hanks, it gets another bath in wool wash, and then I hang them outside (in the heat!) with a three pound weight to keep it straight, to mitigate the over spin that plagues new spinners who are still learning to control the tension. I will take the weight off when it’s mostly dry. I think until I can learn to control the tightness of the spin better as time goes on. This will be yarn for weaving rather than knitting. I have not yet learned how to weave but if you read my post in the spring you know I have aspirations! My first weaving project will most likely be a rug and my kitties will love it.
I’m having a blast learning to process this fleece. I feel like the stakes are low because it was free and a BFL is a good one to practice and learn on. It has a long staple and, once clean is very soft. I have no plans to learn how to dye yet, I already have plenty of mischief at the moment. I may yet get a sweater out of this once I get the hang of it all. I am once again thankful to live where we do and to be enjoying our craft with so many like-minded people. If you are not a part of the Guild, I invite you to join us! We will have lots of examples of the work the Guild members have done over the years on display at the Cowichan ValleyMuseum July 14-28. Please see our events page for more details

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