Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Time to Spin, Part 5: When Fleece Attack

Last weekend, my mother-in-law helped me wash one of the fleece. By hand. In her backyard. We started with five pounds of dirty, smelly fleece. Here, for example, is a fleece about the same size as the one we washed. This one went back into the in-laws' garage.

Imagine twice as much fleece packed into that plastic bag. Then imagine nine more bags that size. Or if you prefer, imagine 20 bags this size. That's how much fleece a group of us spent five hours examining and skirting a couple weeks ago.

I only wish I could post a sample of the smell. Smell-O-Vision, that's what we need.

Once again I have no pictures of the in-progress washing, because hot water, sheep grease and the camera don't mix, but the process goes something like this:
1) Fill big buckets, in our case two old plastic garbage cans and one very large plastic bin, with water as hot as you can get from the tap. This is much, much easier if you can hook up a hose to the tap and run it outside, otherwise you will be carrying a lot of water. If the tap water isn't hot enough, boil a small pot to top it off.
2) Add copious amounts of dishsoap. Preferably something that isn't cucumber & melon scented. (I never want to smell that soap again. It's almost as bad as the time I washed my big fuzzy white q-tip marching band hat* with White Rain shampoo in high school. But I digress.)
3) Add fleece, slowly pushing it down into the hot, soapy bin without agitating too much.
4) Let it sit for an hour or so.
5) Retrieve wet, soggy mass of fleece from still rather warm water, again trying not to agitate it too much, and squeeze out as much dirty water as you can. We found that a pillowcase is ideal for this. It can help to fish the fleece out of the water, and makes it easier to squeeze out excess water. You will very likely get quite wet at this point, compliments of the brownish, sheepy-smelling water, unless you have small children to put to the task or cover yourself in plastic.
6) Repeat steps 1-5 at least once more, maybe twice, or even more if you want it to be really clean. We opted for a total of two soapy baths. I was too tired to carry more water.
7) Repeat steps 1 and 3-5 again. In other words, omit the soap and do a hot rinse. You don't need to let it sit as long for the rinse.
8) Do one more rinse with lukewarm water, taking care not to shock the wool by changing its temperature too quickly. We spread the wool out after taking it from the first hot rinse - it was steaming when it came out of the water - and let it cool a little before putting it into the lukewarm rinse.
9) After it's rinsed to your satisfaction (or the water is relatively clean) and you've squeezed out as much water as you can, spread the wool out and let it dry. This could take a while, though I hear putting the wool through the spin cycle of a washer is perfectly safe and helps a lot. We didn't. My father-in-law was dubious enough about the state of his grass by the end, he might have had a stroke if we'd put raw fleece in the washer.

Here is the fleece drying on sheets in my in-law's backyard:

A closer of picture of some clean fleece. It could probably be cleaner - there's still a lot of veggie matter and some of the dirtiest tips are still yellowish, but I'm not too worried about it. Most of the rest will card out, and it will be washed again once it's spun. I was mostly concerned with getting it clean enough to store without stinking up the apartment:

I brought over a 3-tiered drying rack later to get it up off the ground for the night. We did the washing on Saturday evening, and it wasn't fully dry until Wednesday. Not being able to resist, and not having anything better to do (AAAAHAHAHAHA!! Heh, I crack myself up, really!), I carded some and spun a little:

Ford helped.

Not bad. Not bad at all. It spins up nicely, and there will be tons of it to experiment with - carding, combing (once I get combs), dyeing - I still have two more full 5+ lb fleece of my own to do, as well as my couple pound share of the ram (nicknamed "Hercules" - he is a big boy), which we split up among several people. At least a half-dozen more fleece haven't been spoken for yet and are still in someone's garage. If no one takes them soon, I'll probably buy at least one or two more.

In other news, there have been... complications... with the Big D proposal, a lot of which are probably in my mind, others maybe not so much. Writing continues. Writing always continues. At this point, I don't have any energy to left to stress out about it, I'd rather expend the energy working on it.

That's progess around here, I suppose.

*not entirely unlike this one, but plain white. Also known as a "bearskin"-style hat. Hated. Them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

So, a sheep walks into a baaaahrn...

Sunday afternoon was... interesting. I spent it, along with four other women, up to my elbows in wool and sheep shit. I kid you not. One of my local SCA cantons has come into a huge amount of freshly-sheared fleece. Dorset cross, in case you're curious (the "cross" is an anonymous donor, meaning the farmer has no idea). Twenty full fleeces, 3-4" staple, white, nice crimp, roughly 5 pounds each, not a premium spinning wool, but very usable (and hey, fleece is fleece)...

...and chock full of lanolin, dirt, grass, suint and poop. Lots and lots of poop.

And occasionally, a blueberry. Nature is funny that way. The herd is kept for meat, not wool, and apparently grazes in and around an orchard.

We're keeping about half of the fleeces between the group of us and making a summer canton project out of learning how to process a full fleece from scratch. It's amazing how many long-time spinners have never dealt with a fleece straight off the shearing-room floor. I doubt I'll do this every year (the farmer is possibly willing to make this a yearly thing, but in the meantime I'm going to look into options for sending it out for processing), but several of us agree that it's a good thing to know how to deal with, and do at least once.

The remaining ten fleeces we're trying to sell, with any extra money (beyond paying the shearer) going to the (non-profit) canton. But we figured they would be easier to sell if we got rid of some of the crap, so we spent Sunday afternoon very lightly skirting them. Being DIYers in an organization of DIYers (historical re-enactment), we didn't remove all the short cuts, like belly and leg fur, or even all the poo-tipped locks, which would normally be pulled out or cut off in a thorough skirting of a fleece instended for spinning. We figure even the unspinnable wool can be used for something once it's washed up - quilt batting, pillow stuffing, whatever - we'll leave that to the end user. We just pulled out (by rubber-gloved hands, thankyouverymuch) the really nasty stuff, and then weighed them. And even some of the really nasty stuff is going to be used, since one of the women figures it will make excellent fertilzer.

It took five of us four hours to skirt and weigh them all. Laying each fleece out one at time on a large, covered picnic table, 10 hands simultaneously decended into the wooly muck and began their work. We talked, we laughed, and we were exhausted by the end. I cannot believe we didn't take any pictures on Sunday as evidence blackmail documentation. Even a pic snapped on my cell phone camera would have been better than nothing, but did I think of it? Ah, well.

I'll get some pictures of the fleece itself soon enough, though, since three of the buggers now reside in my in-laws' garage. My mother-in-law, who is possibly vying for sainthood, is going to help me wash them in a week or two. One lady washed a few handfuls of one of the dirtier fleeces Sunday evening and carded it, and I spun a test rolag Monday evening. It washed up to a lovely white, medium-coarse wool, and spun nicely on the drop spindle. Like I said, it's not premium spinning wool, but it will do just fine.

In other news, that Next Written Thing that was supposed to go to Lady S on June 1? There's apparently nothing quite like a good, ultra-low-tech day filled with sheep shit to reset my brain. I am - finally - writing it now.

Notice the use of progressive aspect there. Don't die of shock please.

It's now a race to see if I can have something coherent written by the time Lady S, having just returned from a week abroad to an office full of crazy busy, notices that I am maybe hiding from her and emails me to see if I'm alive and, um, weren't you going to give me something "the day I got back", that being Monday?

I have not yet found the book, but then, it appears I'm still obsessing about it. That, and I haven't returned the library book either.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My inner librarian is annoyed at me

I am missing a book. This book. The one I talked about buying here and using here and took a picture of within recent memory. I've been tearing the house apart now for 24 hours looking for it, with no luck. I've upended Rubbermaid bins full of wool. I've shelved several stacks of other books hoping it was buried underneath something. I've cleaned a bit.

OK, maybe this isn't entirely a bad thing.

But still, no sign of that blasted book.

I don't actually need the book. I haven't used it since late last year, although it is a decent "learn to spin" starter book that I recommend to people and would prefer not to lose, but is entirely replacable if I do. The real issue is that I had some loose papers tucked inside it - handouts and documentation about sheep breeds and their history that I got from someone who knows far more about them than I do, and I would really prefer to NOT lose that.

So, not as though I have anything better to do (um, except write that thing for Lady S by next Monday, the thing that you were going to have for her on March 1, then April 1, then May 1, then June 1...), I am now retracing all my steps from last night and looking through the things I've already looked through thoroughly three times for this goofy-ass little bookbecauseitisdrivingmeinsane.

Of course, we all know that the only way it's going to show up is if I stop looking, right?

*sigh* Maybe I should take that one book back to the library that I've been holding on to for an excessively long time.

Library karma is a bitch.