Raw Fleece Processing Lessons from a Newbie

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I have been wanting to write this post for a while, because when I first started processing fleece, I looked for “raw fleece processing posts for dummies” post and didn’t come up with one that walked me through getting the wool, washing it correctly, not maiming myself on the drum carder (no, I don’t have a cat), and how amazing it is to spin from sliver.  So here we are.  I’m posting this with a wikki type approach–please feel free to add comments and suggestions below, because I’m still learning.  And..I want to document this while the “d’oh” moments are still really fresh. Hope it helps someone at some point!

1.  Washing.  Lanolin can be one tough bugger.  When people say the water should be over 140 degrees, they mean it.  Living in a 2 bedroom condo means I can’t take over the kitchen, bathroom, and I don’t have a back yard.  So, I process small batches at a time.  The washing machine doesn’t work for me because our house water temp is not high enough and I don’t want to risk scalding myself at another time. 🙂 I wash bags of fleece in a netted lingerie bag in the kitchen sink–at weights ranging from 8-10 ounces, depending on the fleece.  Yep, it takes me a while to wash a fleece..but it takes me a while to spin it too..so no need to rush.  I learned after a few failed attempts that I need to fill the sink with hot tap water AND add two pots of boiling water to get it hot enough to melt the lanolin.  Usually it takes two rinses with Dawn, one with a tiny bit of vinegar, and one plain hot water. This has worked out beautifully..no more sticky fleece.  The dead giveaway was when I tried to spin some fiber off my drop spindle and I couldn’t draft it…the wheel will pull the wool out of your hands..but a spindle?  Not so much.

2.  Carding.  I LOVE my drum carder.  I love carding wool.  I have NO regrets from this purchase.  I bought a new Brother for about $300.  It does not have a packer brush, which is an essential item, IMHO, so I use a hard bristle brush with my left hand while I crank with my right.  I also learned that carding takes a certain rhythm.  The first time, I was so excited I plopped the wool on without opening it and loosening it, cranked and had both drums on the carder totally covered in wool.  Then I learned a few tips.  Small chunks of wool, locks opened up, and crank slowly at first.  I card an ounce at a time and always do three passes.  You can see from the photo above how much it evens out after each pass.  I also consider the first pass to be more of a combing things into a certain order, so I open the locks, but I don’t lay them all flat, etc.

3.  The DIZ..what a great invention!!!  (Or use a large button with a decent size hole).  I finish an ounce of fiber, and pull it through the diz to make sliver.  When I spin, there’s no drafting, it comes straight off the ball, and my spinning time is cut down by about 25% from when I draft from commercial roving.  This has also given me the chance to really work on my long draw, which is so relaxing now.

So there you have it.  Intro thoughts on fleece processing in a very limited environment. This has been a game changer of a learning process for me, and honestly…now I don’t even look at commercial roving unless it’s a specialty item.  Raw fleece is like an empty canvas..and it’s a beautiful thing.

Thoughts from others who have tried this?  Ideas to add?

Spin on!

Fiber Friday!! Today’s thought, “Slow down…”

Today’s post is largely inspired by this post on one of my favorite blogs “Suzy Sells Sea Shells.” After reading her post, I found myself thinking more and more about how amazing it is to slow down and enjoy the process of what we do in our fibery worlds.

Slowing down gives us the ability to see what is transforming before our eyes. A concept of fiber to finished project that most people don’t really comprehend (you mean yarn doesn’t just come off the sheep?)

The last batch of fiber I processed caused me to think through this very thing, because I realized I was trying to rush the process. Small moments of truth came to light.

If I rush this, I might not get all the dirt out..gritty yarn, not so great!
If I am impatient, I might not get the lanolin out..stiff, sticky fiber? Tough to draft..
If I hurry, it might felt..shame to have the sheep give up his coat in vain!

And slowing down means:

Really feeing the texture..
More time to dream of possible projects (or solve all the world’s problems)
Less tension…need I say more?
Spindling by the ocean…

I love the transformation process and the fact that I am knitting a beautiful hat from lamb’s locks.

I’ll leave you with these pix of my peaceful journey. What’s your Fiber Friday moment?

Spin on!

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Food and Fiber

I know, this is primarily a spinning blog. But..I love food, so sometimes that might enter the picture as well. Like this:

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This was an idea I got from Pinterest when it first came out..and it became part of my normal routine. Brilliant concept for those of us who work full time, want to eat healthy at lunch, hate hassles, and don’t want to spend $$ that could go to other important things (like fiber!)

Simple. Dressing goes on the bottom, then you layer with heaviest things first. Greens go on top and stay fresh cuz no liquid hits them. When it’s lunchtime, shake the jar like crazy and dump it out on a plate (larger that you would imagine), and you have a beautiful, lettuce on the bottom, fully dressed salad! Yum!!

Okay, back to fiber. I have a post in my brain to write soon about what I have learned in the self taught raw-fleece-to-drum-carder-to-yarn process, but I will save that for another day. Besides, I think I still have some lessons to go!

In the meantime, this is uber exciting to me. Beautiful fleece, and it actually washed up white!!! I am going to spin some bouclé with it this weekend. Can’t wait!!

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“Perfect” is self defined

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Up until about six months ago, my focus on spinning was to get my yarn as even, smooth, and consistent as possible. Sometimes I would go for a sock weight, sometimes bulky, but mostly I aimed for the best worsted weight I could muster. After about 7 years of spinning, I found myself being less and less satisfied with the finished product. Not that there was anything wrong with it..but I began to feel like I was just “producing” yarn.

Then I started spinning art yarn, and while it’s a new path of discovery for me, I realized that I had gotten pretty good at technical skills but was confining myself to that box that equaled “the perfect yarn.” (PS. There us no such thing..!)

The ability to find joy in thick and thin and suddenly consider slubs as neat and random elements of texture lead me to the project posted above..my Mardi Gras scarf. Rules broken.

I also found that when spinning from one of my recent raw fleece projects, I could rely on my technical skills to keep the overall weight of the yarn even and enjoy the fact that slubs and bumps were incorporated in. The pic below is 3.7 ounces of what I’ll call “freshly spun” from the Dorset fleece I got a few weeks ago.

All in all, this little lesson reminded me that in life, work, and projects..if we focus to much on what we consider to be the “ideal” result, we might miss something amazing in the process.

Spin on!

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Adventures in Fleece, Pt 2

So, I went from this…

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To this.

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With very little pain but a lot of learnings!! I am über excited to have washed, dyed, carded, spun and knit my first actual fleece!! It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn awesome.

Notes to self:
I’ve been spinning a lot of art yarn, so bumps and slubby bits are pretty.
Short fibers (less than 2 inches) are not the best for my first few attempts.
Less fiber at a time might give me better QC.
Drum carders have lots of pokey bits.
I LOVE the process..it’s very gratifying.
Lanolin is kinda cool.