The Golden Fleece

I have never been very good at washing fleeces. Actually, when it comes down to it, it is the task I am most horrible at….or at least, it’s almost my weakest skill. I’m pretty sure I’m worse at holding a conversation than I am at washing a fleece…

Anyways. Right. Fleece.

I’ve only been spinning for about a year and a half, so I haven’t had much practice with washing fleeces yet. Over the summer I decided to give it a try; I located a farm via Etsy that had a variety of good quality fleeces for a fair price, and I dove in. I bought a portion (1 pound-ish of each) of mohair, Montadale, Cormo, and Rambouillet.

…I hate washing fleece so, so, so much. It’s not the VM or the dirt or the smell or anything like that. It’s the lanolin. I hate trying to wash that crap out; it does not like me.

The mohair washed pretty easy, dyed up gorgeous, and was later sold to members of Ravelry (I didn’t have hand cards at that point, so I wasn’t at the point where I could easily spin mohair…). The rest of them… The Rambouillet washed easiest– the dirt came out so easy! Montadale was a little harder… Cormo…Urg. Cormo. The VM liked to stick to the abundant lanolin, making my job much harder, and honestly and I didn’t even begin to realize how much lanolin all three of the fleeces had in them until the water dried off and I felt…sticky fleece. It wasn’t something I was prepared for; I read the tutorials, I used the hottest water I could manage, I washed again and again, and always got the same result–

Sticky fleece. Just…really sticky fleece 😦

So I resolved to spin the wool in the grease and to hard wash the finished yarn and to never, ever take home raw fleece again. Ever.

Fast forward a few months. My family goes to visit my relatives in Vermont, and we stop in at my aunt and uncle’s home-and-or-hobby-farm. And I see my aunt’s two rescue sheep, Candy and Lydia.

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I only have a good picture of one of them; they are Finn-Dorset crosses, with large fleeces…and my aunt, not being a fiber person, uses the fleeces only for her plant pots, and leaves the rest in bags in her barn. Immediately I thought of all the useful possibilities for their shiny, high-luster, easy-to-spin fleeces. I thought of felted bags, maybe, of a pair of felted boots. I requested some fleece, and my aunt supplied in abundance, dumping out both most recent shearings and allowing me to take as much as I wished. I plucked out the best portions of each, taking home several pounds of raw, and vowing to do better than the last time.

Flash forward to two days later, with me, frustrated, laying out the fleece on the paved pathway, unable to get the dirt out lock-by-lock, angry and tired of being outside, not desiring another sunburn like the last time I washed fleece outside for hours. I took out the hose and power-washed the dickens out of the fleece, and called them ‘clean enough’…though still with enough lanolin to annoy me.

But…they wouldn’t dry. I laid them out on the porch, on a drying rack, and still they were soaking wet after a day or two. I took them inside, for fear of the neighborhood cats, stared at the wet, stinking mess…and threw the fleece in the dryer. ‘It’s only one time,‘, I thought, trying not to focus on all the horrible possibilities. ‘I will not ruin them– it’s only once.’

Famous last words, I suppose. What I ended up with put me in mind of a sheepskin rug, the ends felted together and matted, some parts ruined entirely. Disgusted with myself for ruining a perfectly good fleece, but unwilling to part with it just yet, I threw the whole lot into a black trash bag and hid it in the deepest corner of my closet.

But flash forward again. Come forward to now.

Once again I bought fleece– once again I started down a path I had promised myself not to take again, the path of hand-processing. I have hand-cards now. I have more knowledge and experience now…

But I’m no less stupid, apparently.

Wednesday I decided to wash my Scottish Blackface fleece, figuring that the extremely low level of lanolin would make it an easy wash. ‘Just soak it in hot water with soap,’ I thought, ‘and I’ll be done within three rinses!’

Fat chance of that! The tips, dry and full of mud, refused to open up and release their dirt, and even after hours of struggling, I was left with a dirty (and now wet) fleece. Dejected, I spread it across my room, hoping it would dry fast.

The next day was Thursday– my ‘home’ day, the day I do chores, finish shop orders…and wash laundry. The fleece was just as wet as the day before, and I was just as frustrated and impatient. As I finished up my laundry, I remembered a post I’d seen on a fiber board– something about washing fleece in a washing machine? ‘It can’t be that hard…’

But even as I packaged up the fleece in a cloth bag for washing, I felt a sense of dread, remembering my past mistakes. I didn’t want a felted fleece; I needed something useable. Still, my mind was set, and into the washer it went, on delicate, with warm water and little agitation. A half an hour later I opened up my washer to find…a thoroughly undamaged fleece, soaking wet, but far cleaner than it had been. Smiling, I went to pull it out– ‘wait– how will I dry it?’

The dryer was right there, taunting me– it couldn’t happen twice, right? Surely this time it’d be okay?

Trusting that not the entire fleece would be ruined, I loaded it into the dryer, set the dial to ‘gentle’, and left the wool to the mercies of a machine.

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I’m not sure how much you can see from the progression photos– can you see how dirty it started? And how utterly useless that soak was? And can you see how nice it came out?!

I have never been more pleased with the results of a risk; the fleece came out almost entirely clean, with only minimal felting, and is strewn across my floor to ‘dry’ only as a precaution (just to make certain before I bag it up). And drying had one plus I certainly did not expect– it removed the kemp! The fleece started out horribly kempy, but the dryer seems to have static’d the kemp away, leaving the fleece soft and fluffy, and my lint trap full of scratchy kemp hairs. Score!

So that’s what happened to that fleece. But that’s not my golden fleece.

I’m going to guess you know the story of the golden fleece– of Jason and the Argonauts and the quest to retrieve the mythical fleece? Well, for me, my golden fleece is a fleece that has all my favorite traits and is ‘the perfect spin’. The locks have to be the right length. There has to be the right level of crimp, there cannot be kemp, there has to be little lanolin, and the wool has to have the right softness-to-silkiness-to-shinyness ratio. And the fleece has to be colored. Kramer’s fleece is that fleece.

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It’s super-easy to spin in the grease, so I’ll just wash the finished yarn instead of stressing over the possibility of ruining this perfection…and after I’m done, I may message the owner of Kramer and reserve next year’s clip 😛 Just maybe.

So other than all my fleece news, not much to report. My singles for the BFL are done, so I should have a finished yarn soon. I’m holding off on posting the Icelandic because I just got word I’m being sent more Icelandic as part of a monthly breed study I belong to, and I might as well post both finished skeins together. Annnddd I just received Navajo Churro and Maine Coon Cat fluff, so that’s two more off my list. And the success I had with the Scottish Blackface fleece inspired me to again pull out Candy and Lydia’s fleece, and to salvage what I can. I’m currently in the process of the carding up the good parts…about 50% of it is still useable 🙂

Thanks for reading my ramble 😉

~Rebekah

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One Response to The Golden Fleece

  1. Pingback: Fiber Festival of New England 2014!!! | Without Your Wings

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