It’s all about the process

As you might have gathered from my last post, I’ve started processing fleece. I’d heard spinners wax poetic about the wonder of spinning wool you’d processed yourself: So lofty! So easy to spin! It’s like eating prime steak after a steady diet of hamburger! (I think that last one was Judith MacKenzie.) My curiosity was piqued. I like steak; I like getting heavily into the minutia of making things; how could I not like this?

Let me tell you, those spinners did not lie. Now, I didn’t start with that Shetland fleece. That baby is so fine and silky, I didn’t want to muck it up in my newbie enthusiasm. Oh, no. I started with some raw Tunis fleece from the Catawampus Farm Etsy shop. Tunis is less fine, and less inclined to felt, and so should be more forgiving of any ham-fistedness that might occur along the way. Plus, I could buy in small amounts, so I wouldn’t be stuck with, say, 9 pounds of raw fleece in a fibre I might not like.

I started with 10 oz. of unwashed locks that looked like this:

I carefully arranged some of them in some mesh produce bags, basted the bags shut so the wool wouldn’t move around, and scoured it:

This is a really, really precious way to scour fleece. This method didn’t last long.

which gave me lovely tufts of cushy wool locks. Which I then spun all of before taking a photo. Oops.

This fleece carded beautifully. I couldn’t have asked for better newbie material: it was so easy to work with that I took it on my first spinning demonstration, and managed to card and spin an entire bobbin through mild stage fright and multiple conversations with complete strangers. (By stage fright, I mean the lurking suspicion that Someone Who Knows would come up and denounce me: “YOU!” they’d say, pointing and trembling with outrage, “You have no business demonstrating this! You’re doing it all wrong! Get out of my sight.” Of course, that never happened. Actually, it was kind of fun.)

With surprisingly little effort on my part, that fleece turned into these:

Sampling, sampling. The mini-skein at the top is my first cabled yarn, hence the slight wonkiness. I went with the 3-ply.

which knit up like this:

So here’s a thing: if you don’t want your cabled yarn to come apart while knitting, you need to spin the singles in the direction that you want your final plying to go. You know, because you’re plying twice, in opposite directions. Not that I learned that the hard way, or anything.

I loved the cabled yarn the best, but alas, had already started the singles before I discovered the major flaw in my approach. The 3-ply is pretty sweet, though:

One skein down, one to go.

So far, there’s about 240 yards/220m of creamy, very sproingy 3-ply that’s not against-the-neck soft, but softer than I expected for the breed. Indeed, the yarn is so sproingy that I’m not entirely sure about the yardage, despite careful efforts not to stretch the yarn while re-skeining. And yes, spinning freshly prepared wool is definitely worth the work. It’s a whole ‘nother world, my friends, and I’m so hooked that I’m eyeing the stash of handpainted top with a mind to card it all. There should be enough Tunis to make one more skein like this, which will make some really cushy socks. I’m thinking indigo blue socks with cream toes and heels, and cream stripes on the cuffs. I mean, once you’re this deep into the process, you might as well start dyeing, right? Of course right.

For the full-on fleece geeks out there who haven’t gotten into processing raw wool yet, here are a couple of things I’ve learned so far: 1. Lingerie bags are all well and good, but mesh produce bags work well, too, and are many times cheaper. I found those bags at Gourmet Seed. 2. Arranging the locks neatly and basting them into the bags makes for some nice fibre, but is a bit precious and takes a stupid amount of time, especially since I’m carding the wool, not combing it, so it’s not vital to keep the lock formation intact. I can see being that fussy with fine fibres for lace, if you’ve got all the time in the world and mere ounces to process. I don’t have that kind of patience. For fleece without much dirt or vegetable matter, I’ve started packaging the locks in a piece of old bedsheet as shown in the Yarn Harlot’s post on fleece washing, and scouring them in that bin above — I’m not brave enough to put wool on the stove. I’m on to a somewhat dirtier fleece, which I’ve put into the produce bags rather willy-nilly; it seems to have worked well, though I haven’t spun that wool yet. I’ll report back when I’ve spun some of it up.

14 thoughts on “It’s all about the process

  1. Wooot!!! As you know, I just started prepping my own fleece, too. I didn’t even bother with bags or sheets or anyting–I just placed the locks in the water in the sink, and pulled them out after they’d soaked a while. Admittedly, I can see using something when I’m processing more bulk, but for sampling, I think you’re right about your conclusions regarding the preciousness. I LOVE that you carded, spun, and knit. Thus far I’ve only spun up some singles, although I needto get back to the fleeces I have and do some more extensive ad systematic sampling now that I’ve been inspired by you!

    1. Ha! Thank you. And what singles you’ve spun, too! Your Corriedale is making me think about spinning that Shetland from the lock, as the carded sample doesn’t really show off the softness and lustre as much as I’d like. Isn’t that a great thing about having a whole fleece: so much wool, you can play around a bit without worrying about it. Of course, now all I want to do is play with fleeces, which is great, but it don’t pay the bills, dammit.

      1. I know, I *know*!

        I just carded some of my corriedale, and it does come out poofier in the spin than when spining from the lock. Also, I think I might try a more concerted scouring as there’s still quite a bit of lanolin left on the fiber with the little soak or two I’ve given things. I’ll do some plying and knitting, too, maybe this weekend.

        And yeah, work sux.

  2. The finer the wool, the harder to it is to get that lanolin out Sherry…and it will ooze back out after awhile from under the scales, so you think it’s clean and a week later it’s greasy again. HOT water, Dawn, and soaks of about 20 minutes, then into clean hot water of the same temp is the best way I’ve found.
    Cusser, that Tunis is yummy looking and don’t be afraid of that shetland, it’s way tougher than you think and is so wonderful to work with. I have about 4 lbs of shetland fleece waiting washing as I type…ahem…it’s my favorite to process.

    1. That’s so good to know. I’ve managed to process some Targhee and CVM without wrecking them, and the bit of Shetland I scoured using the Precious Method came out well, so I feel much more prepared to do the rest of it. Now I just have to wait for the new order of Unicorn to show up. (I know Dawn is cheaper, but I’m really loving that Unicorn right now.)

      1. And the lingerie bags work well, more flow thru than pillow cases – they seem to trap the dirt in with the wool in my experience.

        1. Oh, goodness me, yes. I tried washing that Targhee in a sheet, and had to re-scour the bottom layer because all the dirt just stayed up against the wool. It’s working well for the CVM, but that fleece is so clean it’s kind of freaky, so I’m just removing lanolin.

          1. So I took our comments to heart and purchased 50 of those vegetable bags. I am cracking myself up: when will I bite the bullet and by a sheep? And of course I’ll need to buy a FARM for the sheep because, you know, suburbia doesn’t do well with ruminants.

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