I am spinning for the Tour De Fleece this year, the goal of which is to spin every day of the Tour de France. Then, everyone posts their progress on their blogs, or on Ravelry. I have also been watching the TDF almost every day, for inspiration. My goal is to put a dent in my stash of fiber, which has been accumulating over the last few years. I have a habit of buying fleece at fiber fairs, then bringing them home to wash, and never get around to carding and spinning them. I also have a few pounds of unwashed Merino, Corriedale, and Alpaca. I have been washing a pound or so every couple of weeks this summer, and am currently spinning the Merino. It was difficult to process, but now that I am spinning it, I see why people go to all the trouble. It's a super-soft, crimpy and beautiful fiber, and spins into a finer thread than I am used to. Normally, I spin worsted-weight. This will be a nice sport-weight yarn for a lace shawl or scarf. I plan to kettle-dye it, not sure what color yet.
My progress to date: Finished spinning 100 grams of sock yarn roving I dyed at a workshop. Drum-carded and spun 2 batts of Merino. One bobbin about 2/3 full as of last night.
I might wash the Alpaca today. We are supposed to spin something challenging on the 23rd. I have never spun Alpaca before.
When I first learned to spin, back in the early 90's, I read Lee Raven's book Hands On Spinning, and followed her advice on how to wash fleece. The first fleece I bought was from Reading Terminal Market in Philadephia, a brown fleece from a sheep named Edna. It was only $4 a pound, and extremely dirty, but otherwise a good fleece, probably Romney. I scoured it lock by lock, using Dawn dishwashing soap, 140 degree water, following all the book's instructions. Grab a lock by the cut end, immerse it in the water, scrub the tip end with your other hand, then drop it into a soak bucket. Soak 20 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse with a bit of vinegar in the rinse water. It was time-consuming to scrub all those tips, but rewarding to transform something once so dirty and smelly into beautiful, clean fiber. It made it very easy to card and fun to spin. Overall, a nice experience.
I then bought a beautiful gray Romney fleece on a trip to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival which was not horribly dirty, so I tried washing a couple of pounds of it using a mesh garment bag by soaking and spinning in a top-loading washing machine (still using Dawn, NO AGITATING). Lots of people use this method, and swear by it. I never felt like it got the fleece clean enough, though. The really dirty part of the fleece (the tips) never got clean, and it is no fun carding and spinning it in this condition. It takes much longer to card. You either have to tease the ends of each lock open with a flicker brush, or if it is really bad, just cut the tips off.
It works OK if the fleece is of a type that is not very greasy, like the Norwegian Spelsau. However, I was so disappointed with the results of washing a Cotswald fleece via this method, that it is still sitting in the mesh bag it was washed in about 5 years ago. It was really greasy and dirty, and it just didn't seem appealing to card or spin without re-washing, and I kind of gave up on it.
The Ravelry website has a Fiber Preparation forum, with a fleece-washing thread that has been going on for about a year. I started at the beginning of this thread, and read through the whole thing looking for help. It seems that the soaking method is what most people use, but maybe my water was not hot enough, or I wasn't using the right soap, or something. Some people recommend using tulle netting to keep the fleece distributed in a "burrito" formation, so that the water can flow through evenly while soaking. Some people use plastic trays and layer them. Lots of people still use Dawn, but others prefer Kookaburra, Unicorn Power Scour, or Soak.
So, I tried again with a soft, crimpy Merino fleece I had bought at the Maine Fiber Frolic (see photos above). It had looked fairly clean from the outside. But when I got it home, I saw that all the tips were on the inside (as they all are, packaged for judging in the fleece competition) and they were really awful-looking. The label written by the sheep farmer had said "consider professional processing," and I should have. I thought I could handle it. I didn't know that Merino is one of the hardest fleece to process, as it is THE GREASIEST and also felts very easily. So, you have to use very hot water, but be extra-careful not to agitate. I tried using a new soap, Kookaburra Wool Scour, and heating water on the stove to get the temperature up to 160 degrees. I did not have any tulle or plastic trays, so I did not use them. Once again, the fleece got nice & clean, but the tips are still really caked and icky (photo on left is AFTER washing). I finally decided to just cut the tips off (photo on right is after cutting). Once they are cut off, it should be fine. Merino 1, Rebecca zero. But, this isn't over.
I finished these 2/19/2009, and have already started on another pair, and a beanie with the leftover sock yarn. The photo is after machine-washing and drying. They are men's size 9-10, the most needed size. The legs have to be 12" long, to go up over their Army boots. I think they turned out quite nicely.
I still have a lot of the Rowan Big Wool left, so I made "The Brangelina Hat" (photo top right is before felting, photo left is Tal modeling the felted hat). Since the pattern is designed for bulky yarn, even though I downsized it a bit, it still turned out to be an XL-size hat. So, I took it to work and gave it to a co-worker, Tal, who I thought it might fit, but it was too big for him. He had the bright idea of washing it in the washing machine to shrink it. I knew this would really felt it, but this yarn is good for felting, so maybe it would work. And it did! Of course, the brim shrank to almost nothing, but he likes it anyway, and I have seen him wearing it, so cool. So far I am 2-for-2 on these hats. I may make another hat from a pattern that is meant to be felted. The felting came out so well.
I needed a break from knitting with the fingering-weight SFS sock yarn.
It has been such a cold winter here in Maine. So, over Xmas vaction, I thought it would be good to knit some hats for friends. I made the "Russian Princess in Exile" hat for my friend Jone, who likes it and wears it on her walks. It was made with Rowan Big Wool which I bought on sale from Webs.
I have yet to knit a new hat for myself, which I sorely need. I am going around in my old Peace Fleece Tribal Mountain Hat, which I knit years ago. I still like it, but really. A knitter should have more than one knit hat to show off. Like most knitters and crafters, though, I always give away most of the stuff I make.