So much to do, so why?

Christmas is coming and as usual there’s lots to do, some of it the pleasure of choosing and making / buying presents, some of it more of a chore, cleaning and moving furniture so we can put the tree up. So why, oh why does my house look like this?

That’s a whole Wensleydale fleece hanging from my airer. Lovely isn’t it, the only problem being my washing basket is overflowing and there’s nowhere else to dry the fleece where the cats won’t play with it. It’ll be a relief when fleece washing is completed and I would like to finish them before Christmas (still 2.5 BFL to wash!) but we really do need clean clothes soon!!! Does your house get like this? please cheer me up and tell me it does.

Free fleece

A very nice breeder called Tim has gifted me fleece from his rare breed Portland sheep. Tim keeps the sheep to cross graze with his horses but knows little about what this wool would be useful for. Rather than waste the fleece it’s been passed to me to try and find homes for it and to feed back to Tim what we think of it for spinning and felt making.

There are 12 black sacks of fleece available on a first come first served basis. So stake your claim now. Here’s a little more information.

Lots of lanolin. A little more straw in with some of it then we’d like but it’s been near the stables and some hay was dropped on it. Otherwise not too bad in the main.

I pulled some fibres out from various sections and the staple length is 3″.

It had 2 washes and 2 rinses, a quick spin in the machine and out to dry. It’s cleaned up quite well and was easy to card on hand carders.

I needed to add a little more soap for felting and it’s not a bad felter but it won’t be a favourite with me because it’s still a little stretchy and to felt it any further I would lose all detail. I do like solid well felted wool so this isn’t the one for me but would be suitable for softer projects like pictures. I have no idea how well it would spin but for the staple length, it’s quite a soft wool.

If you’d like to take a bag of unwashed raw fleece just drop me an email or give me a call. All I ask in return is that you tell me what you do with the fleece and how well or otherwise, it suited your purpose. I’d like to pass this on to Tim so he has more of an idea if it has a commercial value. If it turns out that it’s great for spinning or felting and you’d like more next year I’d be happy to put you in touch with the breeder.


A promise

I made a promise some weeks ago that I would let you know when Blue Faced Leicester fleece curls became available at Adelaide Walker. I used them on this little pot.

The BFL is now in stock at £3 per 100g of washed fleece and as you can see it dyes up well too.

Does this happen to you?

It was very hot here yesterday so my daughter and friends arranged to spend the day at the Lido, Mum had a trip to the local park for a picnic, the kids next door played footie all day so what did I do? Gardening, sunbathing? No, of course not, perfect weather for washing and dyeing fleece.

No room for barbecue food here just lots of fabulous Teeswater fleece drying in the sun. It was so hot that it dried quickly, was picked over again and bagged up ready for my next workshop. I also managed to sort out a Wensleydale fleece that’s been waiting my attention for far too long.

No room here for clothes either. You can see I also managed to sort and wash a Whitefaced Woodland fleece. It looked nice before but it’s so white now I can’t wait to get it carded and start some felting. As usual, I struggled with some of the dyeing but I did eventually work out why the yellow dye didn’t work and turn the wool orange – because the yellow dye was a fibre reactive dye! One day I’ll get the hang of this (I hope). All the dyeing I did in the steamer was fine because I used a dye solution I’d previously made up.

It’s a nice feeling to have this wool, washed, dyed and packed away. I’d be happy to do some felting in the sun today but the family are forcing me to go for a bike ride no doubt I’ll enjoy it when I get there.

Buying and washing raw fleece

It won’t be too long before it’s time for sheep shearing and I thought some of you may be interested in what to do with raw fleece. If you’ve never seen a sheep being sheared take a look at this from YouTube.

Buying a fleece can be done from various websites, direct from farmers and at events like Woolfest and Masham Sheep Fair. You could also take a nice walk in the country and come home with a few gleanings from fences etc. but I like to leave those little bits for the birds.

If you have lots of raw fleece (and I know quite a few of you are sheep or alpaca farmers) then there are several things you can do with it.

1. use it yourself, doing all the wahing, carding and dyeing necesssary
2. send it to the Halifax Spinning Company or the Natural Fibre Company for washing, carding, blending, spinning et al
3. sell it through events like Woolfest, Masham Sheep Fair, breeder associations, Wool Marketing Board or direct to the public. I buy a few each year and I’m more than happy to give it a mention to my lovely readers, just drop me an email.

This guide for handspinners on sorting and grading a fleece is also very useful for felters. The key thing to remember of course is that you must wash your hands after handling it. Most sellers / farmers remove the worst of organic matter and soiling (poo) but there is usually a little residue. You can use the fleece without washing it but if felting, be warned, it will require more soap when working it.

Once you’ve sorted your wool it’s time for the wash. Here’s another guide aimed at handspinners and what follows is my version.

1. run two bowls of warm (not hot) soapy water
2. put the fleece in one of the bowls and agitate very very gently just to help it get wet throughout then leave for 1 hour
3. take the fleece from the first bowl and put it into the second bowl of clean water (as the water was run at the same time they should be similar in temperature. too much temperature change will shock the fleece into felting)
4. agitate gently. If the fleece looks clean then you’re done but if it still looks very dirty then I’d wash it again.
5. I don’t spin the water from my fleece – i peg it on the line to drip dry. I sometimes pop it in a bit of old net curtain to prevent it blowing away and I have been known to drape it on the patio table if it’s a larger piece. The problem with the latter of course is that the cats sit n it even though it’s wet!

N.B. If you’re washing a lot of fleece make sure you have a strainer / drainage mechanism over your plughole so that the fleece doesn’t go into the drain and block it. If you spin your fleece in the washing machine to get excess water out, then put it in a pillowcase or similar to ensure your machine doesn’t become blocked with bits of fleece.

To dye your fleece requires a hot process and so I don’t wash it and then dye it, I do it all in one go. More on this next time.

Masses of fun at Masham

I really enjoyed our trip to the Masham Sheep Fair this weekend. It’s possible the family are getting a little tired of the annual sheep gazing but I just love it. I’ll have to find a friend to accompany me next year I think.

On arrival my first stop was the fleece tent where I bought a fleece from a Whitefaced Woodland sheep. I have felted with this fibre before and it’s quite soft for a hill breed and makes good felt. It also dyes well. Then off we went to have a look round the pens in the market square.

So much lovely fibre, shame it’s still on the sheep. We stopped by the old school house to watch the spinning demonstrations, wandered around the market, bumped into other felters and then ….. went back and bought a second fleece, a Teeswater fleece this time, beautiful lustre and grogeous curls.

Of course, I couldn’t miss the sheep races and just for once, I won! In one race the sheep refused to finish and raced back to the start instead. On the final race I bet on “the black sheep is in white” (meaning white ribbon). It had to be the black sheep for me, couldn’t resist the name and I couldn’t believe my luck when it won.

Even though I listen to it each year I never get bored with the sheep show. It’s educational and very entertaining plus this year they highlighted a campaign to get wool at the olympics (not as an entrant you understand). I’ve signed the petition, I hope you will too. Britain has more sheep breeds than any other country in the world, it’s a heritage we should be proud of and show off whenever we have the chance and help the farmers to get a better deal.