August 27, 2008

Help! Attack of the Fleece!

Last Tuesday brought yet another fleece, this one the merino that I mentioned in my last post. I'm beginning to really understand that raw (unwashed) fleece is dirty, actually beyond what I used to consider dirty. I know that sheep live in pastures and barnyards, that they spend part of every day lying down in the grass, dirt, and mixtures of all of those with some animal and feed waste mixed in. And that lanolin, a substance produced by the sheep to protect animal and fleece from elements, also attracts and traps dirt of every sort. And I know from experience that the finer the fiber/hair/fur, the more likely it is to catch and entangle debris. I think the combination of all these things together might just rival the Strong Nuclear Force that helps hold the Universe together. Which explains why it takes so much work to turn dirty fleece into spin-able fiber.

Fortunately, the web is a wonderful storehouse of information and experience, and I've done some research exploring the different ways one might process, or 'prep' fleece. Most methods involve lots of very hot water, detergent, multiple rinses and removal of debris. Washing and rinsing are done in the expected order, and debris removal can occur before and or after the washing process. There are easier ways to prep fleece; fleeces can be sent to fiber mills that, for a fee of course, will wash, clean and prep the fleece into spin-able fiber with a minimal amount of vm. I don't know anything about those costs, or how the condition of the fleece may affect the fees or finished product. Garbage in, garbage out probably.

Another option is just buying the fiber already in a spin-able form, such as top, roving or batts. Well, I have all this fleece now, and I'm working on figuring out the best way for me to get it ready for carding and spinning. Besides, I'm intrigued by the possibilities; so many different types of fleeces and the best ways to use them, how to blend them, how they are different. And I just really like them.

I started in July with the very dirty white alpaca. It was so, so dirty and filled with vm. I chose washing first, and then picking out the vm, and then washing again because there was still very fine dirt well into the fiber. I'm very happy to report that the kitty brush does wonders on removing the fine grit and vm. If I was doing it again, I'd try picking apart the fleece and using the kitty brush to remove more of the dirt and vm before washing. Alpaca doesn't have lanolin like wool, so its possible to prepare and spin without washing first, if the fleece is reasonably clean. This particular fleece, now that it is clean, is gorgeous. Bright white, very fine and soft and has crimp. Some of the lock are shiny too.

I have some brown alpaca too, a beautiful red-brown shade. It arrived much cleaner, mostly just dusty. Sadly, the quality is not nearly as nice. The fiber is coarser and shorter, and the fleece is full of prickly second cuts; to short too spin. The dust and short bits can be shaken out, and I've decided to sort the fibers as I go. Some of the fibers are soft and I'll spin those with some wool. I'll spin the coarse ones by themselves, or with some Romney wool, maybe the yarn will work for socks or felted projects. And maybe the longer of the short bits will felt if mixed with some wool.

Which reminds me of the large Romney fleece I have. It arrived already washed at least, and some of the locks are over 6" and have a lovely luster. Sadly, some of the fleece has Canary Stain, and much of it has either bug damage and or wool break. I found dead beetles in the fleece too, I have no idea if this is normal. I was just going to discard the whole thing, but most of the damage is within .5" of the cut end, so maybe I'll trim those bits off as I prep it.

OK, I've talked a bit about the small amount of Rambouillet and the Cormo X fleeces. They have been washed and dried, but I realize now that I washed too much at once and the water wasn't hot enough. A small amount of lanolin is still in the fleece, which isn't horrible. It's not so much to make the wool sticky, and I don't have to oil the wool before carding and the skin on my hands likes the lanolin. I've realized there might be a small drawback, more on that later.

to be continued...

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