Sunday, April 29, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

How to Wash a Fleece

Subtitled: A backyard full of sheep can't be far behind...

My spinning instructor Pat showed us how to wash a fleece in class, and then sent each of us home with a 1/2 lb of fleece to wash ourselves. I took some pics of my homework assignment in progress so I could create a little tutorial on washing fleece, for those of you who, like me, just want to keep getting closer and closer to the source. So buy a raw fleece from your local shepherd or at the next fiber festival you go to, take it home, and then do this!

Step one...cut a hole in the box.

Okay, really...step one is to fill 2 basins with water as hot as you can stand. You're going to put your hands into this water for a few seconds -- don't be a martyr, just make sure it's hot to the touch. It's hard to be a fiber fiend with 3rd degree burns. Add a little bit of Dawn dishwashing detergent to one of the basins only (the other one is going to be for rinsing), just enough until the water feels a bit slimy (you don't need frothy bubbles). (NOTE: You can use some fancy fleece washing soap if you want, but Dawn is cheap and cuts through the grease quite well!)
Next, take out just enough fleece to fit comfortably into whatever sized basin you are using. You can't wash the whole 4 - 8 lbs at once, unless you have a REALLY big basin. You want the fleece to be able to fit loosely in the basin, not be jammed in tightly.

Put the fleece into the Dawn-tainted basin, and push it down with some authority. Make sure all the fleece is completely submerged, but DON'T agitate it -- that can result in a singularly un-useful felted fleece! Let it soak for about 20 minutes. Then you'll have some really gross-looking water.Now gently, gently gather the wet fleece up against the back of your basin and tilt the basin so that the sheepy water pours out. You can gently squeeze your fleece to get out some more water, and then submerge it into the rinsing basin full of clean water (no soap). Now here is the reason you filled both basins at once -- the rinsing water should have cooled at the same rate as the washing water, and they will both be approximately the same temperature. Significant differences in temperature can result in fleece felting, so if you let the basins cool at the same time, you're golden when it comes time to rinse.Let the fleece soak in the clean water for just a few minutes, and then again gather it up against the back side of the basin and tilt to let the water pour out the other side -- target is minimal agitation of the fleece. Gently squeeze again, to release more water.

Repeat from step 1, re-filling both basins (one soapy, one clean), trying to make the water in the 2 basins the same temperature as the water you just removed the fleece from. In other words, this water will be a little cooler than what you started with on the first wash.

After the 2nd wash and rinse, lay the fleece out flat on a large towel.Gently (do you notice a trend here?) roll the fleece up in the towel and squeeze the towel. If it's big enough, you can even step on it to get the towel to absorb more excess water.
Lastly, lay the fleece out flat on some sort of breezy table-like structure. I used this mini slatted bamboo table, but your best bet is a sweater rack, so that the air can dry the fleece on all sides. Leave the fleece laying out for 24 hours, then flip it over for another 24 hours so that the other side can dry. You might have to let it dry a bit longer, depending on the fleece.Now you're ready to card and spin! But that post will have to wait until I save up to splurge on some wool cards. Right now I'm just using the ones in my class, and it is so relaxing to card. I even spun about half of this self-washed, hand-carded fleece already. Rolags! I love you!

I didn't include any advice on actually choosing your fleece at a Fiber Fest or farm, and that's because I don't have any expertise to share on this. I'm just learning! At the Greencastle fest, I just stuck my hands into every bag of fleece I came across, and finally settled on one that felt great and was affordable. At the very least, your hands will be silky soft from all the lanolin at the end of the day, even if you don't walk away with a fleece. Make sure that whatever fleece you buy is skirted, which means most of the Vegetable Matter has been picked out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Starting her off young

Sam, this is a sheep. A sheep is a wonderful animal that gives spinners like your Aunt Michelle wonderful fibers to twist into yarn that can be knit into fun clothing for little people like you! Sheep should be treated with respect and NOT eaten. Don't eat the sheep! Pet the sheep, love the sheep, shear the sheep (gently and preferably only in the summer) but don't eat the sheep!!!Watch out -- if you do try to eat the sheep, their bodyguards will get you!

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I spent Saturday at The Fiber Event in Greencastle, IN. This was my very first fiber event where I didn't buy ANY yarn! Can you imagine a more deadly sin? But spinning has completely risen to the forefront of my obsession. On the 3-hour drive home, all I could think about was getting back in front of my wheel (she really needs a name, by the way) and letting the fiber slip through my fingers and twist into its new yarn-y incarnation.

I had an awesome day with Jess, who had a pretty wonderful time herself -- she went home with a beautiful Jensen production wheel, named Hazel. She told me I had to either talk her out of it or into buying it, and I told her it would certainly fit nicely into the back of my car. I'm not so good at talking people OUT of buying things, you see. And neither is Jess, by the way. I kept telling her to make sure I didn't buy anything else, and she replied by promptly showing me something else wonderful to buy.

I bought a LOT of multi-colored roving, because I love to see how the colors spin up together. Jess and I picked up our Corriedale x Romney fleece, which came from Lola at Praire Winds Farm and had been processed for us by Wooly Knob Fiber Mill. And I bought a whole fleece! It's from the lovely Alfreda, a Cormo x Border Leicester, almost 5 lbs. after some skirting. I'm going to try to wash and comb it myself...we'll see how far I get with that. But this is the real deal, a sheepy-smelly bag of fleece, freshly sheared off its previous owner.

We stopped at Stitches & Scones on the way home (braving snow and sleet and rain). What a cute store! That's where I redeemed myself, by buying some lucious Malabrigo. I don't know what I'm going to make with it, but once I touched it I couldn't leave without it. I also picked up some Fleece Artist merino roving -- as if I hadn't bought enough fiber earlier in the day.

In spinning class, our instructor, Pat, showed us how to wash a fleece. She gave us some raw fleece to take home and wash before the next class, where we are going to comb it. I washed mine last night, and took lots of pics of the process. I'm going to post a little tutorial with pictures on how to wash a fleece in the next few days.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

White Easter

We had about 2" of snow blanketing the ground this morning, and I swear if ONE MORE PERSON comments that it's more like Christmas than Easter, I'm gonna blow!!! Although...are those REINDEER in the front yard? We did have a nice time with David's family, cold or not.

Since my PG friend Phillipa received her package (thanks for the nice note, Phil -- I'm glad you liked it!), I can share pics of the basketweave baby blanket I knit her. Props to Kimberly Chapman's Knitting Gallery for the pattern. It was really basic and simple, but knit up with organic green cotton, the blanket looks very nice and was really soft. Perfect for wrapping up a little baby!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

In which MUD goes farther into the vortex...

Now everyone has to die someday (hey, can that really be incontrovertibly proven?), but with the escalating spinning infatuation my day to dye was obviously just around the corner. This is my first attempt, and it won't be my last. I followed the instructions for Kool Aid dyeing on Knitty, and learned a few lessons as I went along. Number one being don't tie off your handspun with hand dyed yarn and then immerse it into a pot of boiling'll get some bleeding. This is most likely destined to be a hat for Sammy or Anika. It's some mixture of 5 packs of pinkish-red flavors. The yarn has a nice slightly variegated look to it (I KNOW green is not a variety of pink. Just try to ignore those parts, please). Do you think the pink will bleed more when I knit and wash it? I boiled it until the water was clear, and then rinsed it forever until the water ran clear, but it still smells kind of fruity...

I think my next plan is to try to dye roving in several colors before I spin it -- it's wicked fun to watch how the colors blend. This multi-colored proposal will involve quite a lot more mess than simply boiling a skein, so I might wait until I can make use of the great outdoors to spatter instead of Kool Aid dyeing the kitchen counters.

Here's a little sock update (Claudine, I'm glad I ripped it back last week no matter how much it hurt at the time...)