Fiber Preparation

1. Obtaining Fleeces
Fiber arrives on the Virtual Farm via UPS or USPS.  This time, it's a 6 lb Cheviot fleece from last year's shearing.  Advertised as "very little vegetable matter and easy to clean", I bought it 'cause it was dirt cheap & other people seemed to be happy with it.  I opened the box & it smelled like a barn!  Hey, what did I expect!!  ;)
cheviot_raw.jpg (10963 bytes)
here's the good stuff
I can't find the pic of the bad stuff...just imagine fiber with clumps of dried brownish poo stuck on them.
2. Evaluating, Sorting, Skirting
Since this fleece is not fresh, the lanolin made the fibers sticky.  I sorted the pieces according to "good", "bad", and the "ugly".
"Good" pieces are long, clean, and the tips are open.  
"Bad" pieces have encrusted mud, tips matted together, but can still be cleaned. 
"Ugly" pieces are too short, badly stained, matted together, covered with poo and who knows what else, filled with dirt and vegetable matter (hay bits, plant seeds).  The "Ugly" pieces are thrown out - this is called skirting.   Usually, skirting removes the worst parts of the fleece right afer shearing.   "Heavily skirted" means the "Bad" pieces and maybe even some of the sub-par "Good" pieces are thrown out too.  Better for the buyer, so we won't have to PAY for the stuff.

Sometimes, a fleece is too full of hay or vegetable matter to use.  Mud/dirt usually dissolves or can be shaken/combed out of a fleece...hay bits are too light and they stay embedded in the fibers.  It takes forever to remove the bits.  Some people spend more money to buy covered fleeces (the sheep wear capes on their backs) to protect the wool.  I think they look cute with the little jackets on.  Some sheep absolutely hate it & go to great lengths to rub their coat to pieces.

3. Soaking
This fleece was really muddy, so I soaked it for 20 minutes in a sink filled with HOT water.   I filled the sink with water, then added the fleece.  There is enough room for it to move around somewhat.  Since the tips were really muddy, I gently rubbed them to release the dirt (wearing gloves, of course, 'cause the water's super hot).
4. Rinsing
I changed the water twice on this batch, making sure running water doesn't flow over the fleece.  Too much agitation can cause matting or felting!  I very gently squished the dirty water out before adding more clean HOT water.
5. Scouring
This step removes the lanolin from the fleece.  The sink was filled with steaming HOT tap water + 2 squirts of dishwashing liquid.  This stuff cuts grease like you won't believe.  I gently added the fibers to the sink. 
**Some people prefer leaving a little lanolin in the wool - this makes it a little softer & easier to spin**
6. Rinsing
After 30 minutes, before the water has a chance to cool, I moved the fibers to the other side of the sink & gently pressed the water out.  I filled the sink again with hot water.  Taking small handfuls at a time, I gently swished the fibers around to rinse them clean.  I don't recommend this for easy felting fibers such as Merino.   Cheviot is pretty darn hard to felt.
7. Drying
I squeezed out as much water as I could & fluffed the fibers out a bit.  I set them on a large towel on the countertop by the sink.  After a few hours, I will transfer them to a net "hammock" made from a piece of tulle tied between two chairs.  I got the tulle from WalMart's fabric department.  It's cheap & allows the air to circulate under the fleece.  Also, dirt trapped in the fibers will fall right out!
After the fiber is cleaned, it will need to be combed or carded.  Sometimes, it can be spun straight from the locks.  I usually fluff the some more using a flick card.  This takes forever, but results in nice clean puffy cloud-like balls of fiber.   It's no wonder prepared roving is so much more expensive!  A lot of work goes into cleaning and preparing the fleece.  And also, a lot of "weight" is also lost with the skirted parts, removed lanolin, and dirt.  Keep this in mind when you're buying fleece!  Sometimes I prefer buying roving - that's instant spinning gratification. =D

Back to the Fiber Arts Page