wool.


IMG_4781What does one do when they acquire an unscoured fleece almost straight off the sheep with no experience whatsoever on scouring, carding, or even spinning?

Well, I’m still figuring that one out myself.

The fleece, in question, is from a Columbia sheep named Sierra who lives on a small farm about a 45 minute drive away from where I live. We’re friends with the farmers (I’ve even helped out at their farm and got to spend time with them and their lovely sheep, and I hope to get back out there again before it gets too cold …), and I asked them what they did with the fleeces that their sheep produce.

When their shearers come, once every year, they take the fleeces with them. They sell the fleeces to wool brokers, and that absorbs the cost of them shearing the sheep for our friends. Putting that together with some other things that I already knew about the wool industry in America, I was a tad bit sad.

After the shearers sell the wool to the brokers, the wool is graded, and then the fleeces of these sweet, curious, and organically-raised sheep fleeces are mixed with other fleeces that have the same, or very close to the same, micron count (and aren’t raised with the same care), and then sold to mills (most of which are in China, sadly), or other producers labeled as generic “wool.”

I haven’t finished the process of cleaning this fleece yet, but in the time that I’ve spent handling it so far, I can tell that this wool is amazing. It has even crimp, a certain spongy hand, and wow! there is almost too much of it!

This is definitely a process. I just finished the second wash, and I don’t think I’m going to get this whole thing done anytime soon.

Here is the first wash and rinse, in photos. NOTE: If you don’t get heart palpitations every time you see wool, you don’t need to scroll through all the pictures. πŸ™‚

I can’t wait until this is done! Now, I have to find our carders …

These next weeks are going to be really busy. A deadline on a pattern in collaboration with an amazing indie dyer was unexpectedly bumped up two months. :/ So, I’m accelterating in the knitting, pattern writing, and layout. Let’s hope my tech-editor will have plenty of time to fix all of my errors! I think she will, though …

But I digress. Again

J

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34 thoughts on “wool.

  1. Sooooo jealous. I’ve been playing with the thought of spinning my own wool too — hopping from one youtube video to another. I would really love to see the result. And good luck for your busy week πŸ™‚ xx

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    1. Thanks! It is kind of confusing, don’t you think? It is definitely a whole community in and of itself, and it seems a little intimidating to jump into it, especially when you’re still having lightbulb moments with something as simple as manipulating knit stitches, eh?

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    1. It is gorgeous! No, seriously, I wake up in the middle of the night smiling because I’ve got something so amazing. I can’t wait to see the next pattern in your collection! So excited. πŸ™‚

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  2. Something else to ponder, for when you do this again in a year or so (and I’m sure you will): there are companies in the US that will clean, process (into roving, top, rolags, etc.), and even spin up the fleeces into yarn. I know people that swear by cleaning and processing their own fleeces but I just can’t see all that cleaning nonsense. I’ll pay someone to do that part for me. I don’t mind digging out VM (veg matter) and carding but if I can pay someone to save me time, I will πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Renee! It is good to hear from you whenever you comment. πŸ™‚ I was actually considering doing just what you were describing, but I was encouraged by my lovely parents to process it myself at least for this first time so that I can get the full experience of the clip to the yarn. It is definitely a huge amount of work, and I’m going to be really happy when it is finally carded. πŸ™‚

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  3. My interactions with sheep wool are limited to bits picked up here and there, and the finished product. I can’t see myself taking up spinning any time soon.

    You’re right though. It’s a real shame that carefully reared, maybe organic, wool gets mixed in with everything else. Are there really no small wool processors in the States? I know there’s at least one over here, in Bradford – Haworth Scour, but that would just add to the product miles!

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    1. There are still several mills here in the US, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. But most of the industry moved its mill equipment to China (where wool is treated to be superwash, by the way) in I think the eighties or nineties. Thankfully with the domestic-made movement that is growing in the US, there are a few really small mills starting up here. One is actually being started here in Idaho (by the Woolful podcast host), so I’m happy about that. Hopefully, as time goes by, we’ll bring at least a little of the wool industry back here.

      That is great that you have a mill right by you! Do you know if they produce any handknitting yarns? I’d love to work with some of them.

      And I really would love to go to Scotland … especially for wool … But yeah, we’re going to start school here very soon, and I’m not sure I’d be able to save up for the plane ticket in time. πŸ™‚ Now I’m planning a dream trip in the UK, so thanks. :/

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      1. A mill ‘right by me’? Um, I’m in Portsmouth – just off the south coast. Bradford, once centre of the British wool industry, is a good deal further north, in Yorkshire. Though I suppose if you’re used to driving Canadian distances it might be considered nearby.

        I don’t know whether Haworth Scour produce their own range of yarn but they are currently producing a range of yarn, Buachaille, for knitwear designer Kate Davies. See here

        http://katedaviesdesigns.com/2015/08/31/at-haworth-scouring/

        and subsequent posts. Apparently she’s getting it dyed up by another small firm, Harrison Gardner, also in Bradford.

        Not so long ago (like 1960s forwards) the bottom fell out of the British wool industry, everyone wanted sythetic yarns for their clothing, fewer people were knitting and anyway, sending stuff to Turkey, or China, to process, was far cheaper. It’s good to see these smaller businesses coming back into production as the artisan spinner/dyer/weaver/knitter thing takes off.

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  4. Hi!
    I always get heart palpitations when it comes to looking at pictures unprocessed wool, especially from my angora rabbits!
    But really more to the point, hello! How are you? I hope all is well with you these days. I just wanted to check in and tell you all is well here on this end too.

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    1. Tiffany! I am so happy to hear from you. You’ve got angora rabbits?! That’s great! I love bunnies, and bunnies that produce fiber that is knitable are even better (if such a thing can be possible)! I’m really glad that you decided to stop by. I think of you often and I’m glad to hear that you are well.

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  5. Just come across another small wool processing mill, this time in Scotland – The Border Mill (in the Scottish Borders, nach). They will process any quantity of fleece from a single fleece upwards.

    I realise you’ll probably back at school soon, but time for a visit out of country?

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  6. Come to think of it, Juniper Moon Farm get their clip processed every year. And while they sell to the public I bet they don’t have a mega-flock.

    ‘k, that should be the last comment on this subject.

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    1. That’s great, I love it! I’m really happy to hear from you as well; I’ve kind of been really anxious in hoping that you’re alright and everything, and I’m so, so overjoyed that you’re doing better. I think, even though you weren’t trying or anything, you’ve made me a better person. I don’t know. I think I now consider other people and their feelings more, and I can credit you with helping me. So, thanks. And I’m not sure that made total sense, but I hope you understand.

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      1. Hi! I’m sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I have been busy, distracted by Doctor Who, and stressed. (So basically being a teenager.) And to your response: that’s very sweet of you to say!! And yes, it does make complete sense. You helped me much more then I could explain, so thank you! Anyways I hope you are doing well, and that you are keeping warm! It’s getting cold for sure!

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      2. That’s exactly how I’ve been, too, Tiffany! How are you enjoying the new series? It definitely is getting colder. We had snow a few days ago, and it doesn’t look like it will be thawing out anytime soon. How cold is it out East? Past sweater weather?

        Hate when it’s past sweater weather. Sweater weather’s the best. i could go on … πŸ™‚

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      3. I am loving it!! Peter Capaldi is the best Doctor ever! It’s funny, over here in the East it’s warm and in the 50’s, and we have had no snow!!! I’m so disappointed sighs. And yes, just yes to sweater weather. Even though it isn’t really sweater weather, I am wearing them, because, well, sweaters :D. They are like warm fuzzy hugs that don’t let go!! As you can see, I can go on too…. πŸ™‚

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  7. It’s so exciting to get started with a new hobby, isn’t it? I was lucky that my library has a pretty decent selection of spinning books so I was able to try out quite a few. The main thing I learned was that I just couldn’t learn to spin from a book – no matter how many pictures there were I just couldn’t wrap my head around the process, especially at the beginning. I ended up purchasing the Interweave DVD ‘Start Spinning’ with Maggie Casey and Eunny Jang; getting to watch them actually spinning on the wheel really helped me. I also found the free video tutorials on the Knit Picks website quite good (they have a series of drop spindle tutorials and a series of wheel tutorials).

    I did recently buy ‘The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning’ when I spotted it at a secondhand store. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would have bought it if it wasn’t such a good deal, at least not at this point in my spinning career. It goes into some serious detail and only has hand-drawn diagrams; the information is great and I can see myself referring to it in the future but I’m not quite at that level yet. I will say this, it does have a good section on cleaning and processing wool (although you’ve probably got that down pat by now).

    It might be frustrating at first, but I promise it gets easier! Even after watching the videos multiple times and understanding what I was supposed to be doing, I just couldn’t get my brain, hands, and feet to work at the same time. But at some point it just ‘clicked’ and it’s just been getting easier and easier ever since.

    Good luck – I can’t wait to see your finished yarn πŸ™‚

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    1. Wow, that’s a ton of information, and I’ll be busy looking it all up! Thank you so much for taking out the time to point me to all of those references! Just one more question. πŸ™‚ How much time elapsed between learning to spin at first and making your yarn all uniform and even?

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      1. I’m glad to help! I’m still not as uniform and even as I’d like to be, but I’d say it only took a few days to get to the point where I had usable yarn. Once I had my wheel all set up I spent an entire weekend doing nothing but practice. The first roving was a horrible, frustrating experience that I threw away. When I started the second it was a bit better, but I thought I’d be stuck with super thick-and-thin yarn forever – but about halfway through something just clicked and suddenly my hands and brain were cooperating and, while not perfect, I was producing a decent single. The best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice πŸ™‚

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