The last we left him, Frankie was looking a little like this – shorn by Yours Truly, albeit a patchy job!
For the past few weeks I’ve been working on processing Frankie’s fleece. Today I started the last batch of it, and remembered to bring the camera along for the show.
This is what the raw fleece looks like up close. Lots of grass bits and hay. In the middle of the shot you can see some of the lanolin clinging to the fibers. The first stage of fleece cleaning is to pick out the big bits, which is a really nice relaxing activity at the end of the day.
Once the big bits are picked out, the fleece looks much better! You can see above there are still lots of little dirt bits and other vegetable matter. This will come out gradually over the next few steps. At this time I group the fleece into piles of different colors or lengths. Frankie is actually designated as being grey, most of his fleece is white as pictured above but he does have some grey areas as well as grey hairs scattered throughout his white parts.
The next step is to put it into bags for washing in the tub. I use these lingerie bags which I bought at my local grocery store.
Then it’s into the bathtub filled with hot water and dish soap. I’m glossing over the details as I’ve covered them in a previous blog post. You let the fleece soak in hot soapy water for 30-40 minutes, then drain the water and do it all over again a few times.
I experimented with a new method of drying the cleaned fleece. It’s basically putting the fleece onto a window screen, which allows air to circulate both on top and below. Adding a fan to circulate the air faster got the job of drying the fleece done in far less time than my previous (space-limited) method of laying it out on a towel. I am now thinking of ways to create a multi-tiered drying rack to really speed up the process.
Once dried, the combing begins! This is the stage that takes the longest amount of time and dedication. I use the hand combs my Dad made for me to, well, comb the fibers. This lets all the little dirt bits and veggie matter fall out, aligns all the fibers in the same direction, and eliminates small fibers or second cuts. It takes anywhere from 5-10+ passes of combing it for the fibers to become really clean and perfect. Once you’re satisfied, you simply pull the fibers off to make one giant fiber snake known as a sliver. More specifically, this is a worsted sliver of fiber, which is different from a woolen rolag of fiber… but that is another blog post altogether!
Here is a sliver formed into a ball for ease of handling. You can see a few bits here and there, these will come out when the fiber is drawn and spun up into yarn. And even if there are one or two bits that stay into the final yarn, it adds to the homemade feel!
And finally, here is a completed skein of Frankie yarn! This was made with 8 balls of combed fiber, each rotation of my yarn counter is about 2 meters, so this skein of yarn is around 81 meters long and weighs just over 50 grams. It is on the thicker side, as it will be for a hat.
I’ve got quite a way to go before Frankie’s fleece is completely done with, and of course I have the three girls’ fleeces ready to be washed and combed next. If I expand my flock enough in the next years I might consider sending some of my fleeces to a processing mill to be washed and turned into roving – while processing by hand is relaxing and enjoyable, it’s simply not possible to make a living off of 100% home processed yarn. However, this is certainly a path to making unique, love-filled gifts.