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What am I talking about?
Fleece. No not the sort that zips into your coat, a real one from real sheep. My very first.
Growing up the smell of fleece was a common one in my house. We didn’t live on a sheep farm, my mum did something others mums didn’t do. She spun. On a spinning wheel like Rumplestiltskin but with fleece and no ulterior motives.
My interest wasn’t held for long when it came to the fleece. Occasionally I helped card (the process of aligning, mixing and blending fibers). There was an odd attempt of using the spinning wheel, but that was it.
A budding love affair
It has only been in the last year that my interest in wool and the process of fleece to yarn has been peaked.
I have taught myself to weave, crochet and loom knit as well as doing a little bit of felting. The more wool I bought the more interested in the process from sheep to yarn I became.
In April my sister, mother and I went to Wonderwool Wales at Builth Wells and I became hooked. I have never seen so many colours, ideas, techniques and fibres.
My first fleece
I’m lucky that my mother has a friend who supplies fleece from her Jacob sheep and so I had the pick of three.
I chose the middle fleece as it had the most light coloured fibres. My plan is to use it in its natural state for felting and try my hand at spinning and dyeing for weaving and crochet.
Firstly it helps if you know a little bit about wool, I have a walking, talking field guide in my mother which is handy. I also have two books (click the title for a link to Amazon) which I find invaluable as a beginner:
The Field Guide to Fleece by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. This is a guide to 100 sheep breeds and how to use them. It is an excellent source of information on origins, length, colour and uses
Spinning, Dyeing and Weaving by Penny Walsh. Part of the self-sufficiency series this book isn’t just about fleece as it explains all different types of fibres; how to prepare, spin, dye and use them. It even has four projects to attempt. This book focuses on using traditional techniques and natural dyes.
On receiving the fleece firstly unroll it. It should have been rolled up with the yucky end bits (skirtings) on the outside.
When it was unrolled I couldn’t believe the size! My mum then showed me the different textures, the fibres at the front were softer than the coarser hair of the back end of the sheep.
The length of fibre (staple) also varies depending on which part of the sheep it is from. Generally the wool from the front (shoulders and back) is longer and the shorter wool is from its tummy, head and bum.
You will notice that if you have a full fleece it may have not been ‘skirted’. This means pulling all the mucky short bits from around the edges. It can be used for felting or, as my mum does, use in the garden.
Once had we skirted the wool. It was then rolled back up and placed in a cotton pillow case to prevent it from sweating and our hands were given a very good wash!
I forgot to mention that the fleece feels almost tacky from the lanolin that is produced. Lanolin creates a waterproof barrier from the elements and can be very good for the skin though some people are allergic to it. It’s used in lots of products, even in nipple cream for breast feeding mums! So after washing your hands they should feel softer.
Next time I will be sorting and scouring small amounts to use. I hope you will join me as I experiment and explore the methods used to create my own yarn.