Sunday, June 07, 2009

Finding the right technique

I bought a large (actually, huge) white Shetland fleece at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. The card inside the bag said it was 6.5 pounds. And it was. This is a picture of about half of it after washing. It lost some weight in the washing and I think about 4 pounds remain. It is unusual to get this large a fleece from a shetland, I think.

It was filthy. But sheep do live outside and shetland does not respond well to being a coated animal as the fleece felts under the coat.

Here is a picture of the fleece on my kitchen floor. The white stuff at the bottom is after washing and drying. The stuff on top is the raw fleece. It still looks a little yellow because I took it indoors without a flash. But you get a good idea of the contrast of before and after scouring.

While I was washing the fleece and putting the clean stuff out on a screen on the front porch to dry, my husband asked me when I was going to wash "that brown thing on the kitchen floor." I told him that this lovely, shiney, soft as a cloud white stuff on the screen WAS the brown thing on the floor. He did not believe me until he watched me start to wash a new clump of it.

Now, this fleece is not pure white (most Shetland is not pure one-color), but it has a few dark grey hairs running through it. This is a close up picture.

Click on it to make it bigger and you will probably be able to see the odd grey hairs running through it. I could pluck them all out, but I've decided to leave them in for the sake of time as they are not coarse.

The part around the neck (where the most vegetable matter is, of course), is also the most grey. It is also the most soft. Go figure. Unfortunately, due to the ton of hay bits in it, I may not be able to save much of it.

But I'm delighted with this fleece. It's dual coated, meaning there are very, very long hairs. Some as long as 13 inches... no kidding, we measured. And the undercoat which is so very soft, rivals some merino I've felt. The staple length of the undercoat averages about 6 inches.

So this is where finding the right technique comes in. At first I ran a few handfuls through my drum carder and test spun it on a drop spindle. It was very neppy and difficult to draft. The staple is simply too long for my drum carder and the fibers were breaking because of the tangling. So I dug out the combs. It worked but I lost a lot of the undercoat to the combs and when I forced the issue and tried to recover the shorter, softer undercoat, I ended up with more vm than I wanted.

I finally sat down with the flicker and a piece of leather for my leg. By holding the tips of the locks, I could flick out the shorter, softer undercoat. I then flipped the lock around the flicked the tips. These I laid in a flat basket all going the same direction. Then I returned to the flicker and pulled out the undercoat and flicked it again. This second and sometimes third flicking, removed the vm and saved the majority of the undercoat. I tossed this wonderfuly white fluff

into another basket and worked until I had both baskets full. The trash went into a bag that I will use for making wet and needle felted items later. The very trashy stuff (too vm caked for use in anything) went out in the yard for the birds.

I'm actually spinning two different yarns from this fleece. The outer coat is being spun worsted and fairly fine. I will probably end up with sock weight yarn. I may save back some of these long locks and see if I can spin it even finer and get some lace weight from it.

The baby fine undercoat is being spun woolen style from the clouds of flicked fibers. Pardon my blurry picture. I did not have my glasses on when I tried to focus.

This is going to end up being dk weight I think but might be a tad bit thicker. It's very lofty and springy and even Ken admits it's very, very soft. I have a co-worker who is expecting a baby, and I want to knit a baby sweater. I need about 400 yards. This might end up in that project.

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