I’ve shared a bit on social media about my passion for spinning yarn out of wool and silk (I tried spinning cotton and it wasn’t for me) so I thought I’d do a quick write up on what I called My Summer Project. I’ve been spinning for about twenty-five years and I’ve always wanted to buy a raw fleece, right off the sheep, and “process” it myself so I’d have the experience of going from the raw wool, to processing it, to spinning it, to knitting it into a special project.

I’d planned on buying my first fleece at our local Manitoba Fibre Festival in September, but thanks to COVID-19 it was cancelled this year. However, a friend in my spinning group got a line on about 28 fleeces from a shepherd who raises sheep for meat and didn’t want the fleeces after they’d been sheared. And best of all, the price was FREE! I decided to try my hand at a Wensleydale-cross sheep fleece because I knew it would be a long-lock fleece, meaning the actual locks of wool would be long for spinning, and hopefully, it would be softer to the touch than some of her other fleeces.

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This isn’t the sheep I got my fleece from, but you can see what I mean about the long, lustrous locks of wool hanging down. Here’s what I came home with from my spinning meeting: (pardon the shoes at the front door)

My husband’s reaction was “Oh WOW!” at the sheepy-smell, but I assured him I’d already “skirted” the fleece, which meant I’d laid it out on a screen at my girlfriend’s place and removed all the poopy-bits and hanging edges that aren’t going to be able to be made into decent yarn. That took a couple of hours to do with her helping me. And I wound up with this 90 litre garbage bag of fleece. Next, I did this:

After I collected enough wool and separated it into a “batch” this is what I did with it:

You’re going to laugh when you see this from the next morning!

And this is basically how you “wash” raw wool. Then I put the wool in hot water (as hot as I could get it) in the same plastic tote, with some blue Dawn (it HAS to be the Blue Dawn) and left it to soak for 40 minutes. I got rid of that dirty water, and then soaked the wool again the same way. (It should be clean and the water pretty clear on the second soak.)

Then I put it into lingerie bags (split into three or four bags) and ran a cold rinse into my washing machine. I let the bags sit and soak in the cold water – I DID NOT run the rinse cycle because that agitates the wool and it felts together – and then I ran the spin cycle to get all the water out of the wool.

I took it out of the bags, lay the wool out on a plastic tablecloth over my laundry rack and let it dry overnight into the next day or so. Each batch took different times to dry depending on the basement temperature over the summer time.

I don’t have any more videos for you but here are some photos I took of carding the wool after it dried to get the rest of the hay and burrs etc out of it, and what it looks like when it’s finally done being “processed”:

This is “clean” and dry wool but it needs to be “carded” with my hand carders to brush out the bits of hay and vegetable matter before I can spin it up.

This is after a couple of passes with my carders. You can see the hay etc is falling out and the wool is fluffing up. Yes, there ARE easier ways to do this but I don’t own what we call a “picker”. That’s a much bigger piece of equipment full of dangerous metal tines into which you can throw huge batches of this clean wool to shake it back and forth and all of the hay etc will come out without you breaking a nail or cutting yourself, which I always do with my carders.

And voila – clean, white wool ready to spin just as it is right off the carder. I have six HUGE bags of this stuff to spin up now and I’m happy to say, it’s coming out at a lace weight which means I should get many, many yards of yarn from this fleece. I’m going to keep track and on my next blog about this fleece I’ll let you know what it looks like spun up and how many yards I got out of it.

I’m super-happy with my Summer Project and looking forward to plying it with some silk I’m also spinning. I did all this washing and carding in between edits for NORTHERN PROTECTOR (Heroes of the Tundra Book 2) – coming December 8, 2020, as well as starting my next book.

Have you tried a new hobby, or expanded one of your hobbies during the pandemic? Leave a comment and I’ll enter you for an e-book giveaway, your choice between either of my books!