Early in July, my cousin from northern California brought her family up for vacation and brought me a lovely 3-pound Jacob fleece from one of her favorite ewes. I spent part of the afternoon on July 4th sorting fleece and readying it for a cold soak. The top two pictures are of the fleece before I sorted it by color. The staple length ranges from about 3″ to about 6″, with some of the fleece long and silky while most of it is soft and downy. Like most Jacob fleece, it is a patchy mixture of colors, from white and grey to tawny, russet, browns, and black.
I cold soak dirty fleeces for at least 24 hours before scouring, and sometimes much more. I had been given a sample of Jacob fleece from this farm before and knew to expect a fair amount of VM (vegetable matter) and just plain crud hiding in the fleece. Cold soaking loosens up the dirt, feces, and urine and allows the solids to settle to the bottom of the tub while the urine is liquefied and rinsed out before washing (scouring). Because of work and lack of time, this fleece sat in the cold soak for nearly a week before I got to it. The warm weather had set up conditions for a good bacterial growth, so the tub developed into a suint vat before I got back to it. Pretty darn stinky when I took off the cover – but it sure cleaned the fleece well! I’ve found this method works especially well with high-grease fleeces and cuts down the time and number of washes (scours) needed to get the fleece clean.
A cold soak or even a suint vat probably won’t get rid of the hay, stems, weed seeds, and other VM that is embedded in the fleece, but I don’t worry much about that. I pick out the big obvious chunks as I sort – and have been known to toss out completely locks that are more VM than fiber – but experience has shown me that all the other VM will be processed out either when I comb or card, or while I’m spinning. No worries.
After lifting the trays out of the tub and squeezing out the liquid with my hands, I hot scoured the fleece using Dawn dish soap and very hot tap water. I do all this outside on our covered back patio in the laundry dump sink with a large plastic tub set into the sink to wash in. I washed all the fleece twice, rinsing once with hot water between the washes. Each wash, the fleece sat in the solution for 15 minutes, not allowing the water to cool. The second wash, I used Unicorn Power Scour and kept the temperature slightly cooler than in the first wash. Finally, I rinsed all the fleece with lukewarm water, squeezed as much water out by hand as I could, then placed all the fleece in net bags, zipped them closed, and spun the remaining water out using my front-loading washer set to “drain and spin”. I then took the clean fleece out of the bags and spread the fiber out to dry on my drying rack – a folding laundry drying rack fitted with tulle “sheets” held in place with clothespins. Works like a charm! While the fleece was drying, I moved it around a bit, straightening locks here and there and flipping the whole mass over at least once or twice so the air would move through it a little better. Because of the afternoon wind threatening to blow the fleece off the rack and into the garden, I moved the whole thing into the house where it could dry safely, if a little slower.
The next day, after I was sure the fleece was completely dry. I packed it loosely into brown paper grocery bags, weighed and labeled, and then stored it for later carding / combing and spinning. (I tare weight the pair of grocery bags so my fiber weight in grams is more accurate.) To enclose the fiber, I pull a second bag upside down over the first. I’m such a geek that I keep track of my fiber in a spreadsheet and label the bags with bag numbers so I can figure out what I’ve got where and how much of it I’ve got. If I’ve got just a small amount – up to 100 grams or so – I’ll store it in a gallon-size Zip-loc bag, numbered and labeled as above.
I’m enjoying the whole process of cleaning raw fleece. I really like the idea that I can create lovely yarns with locally-grown fiber, dye fiber with native plants or other plants grown in my own garden, then spin the fiber into yarns that I love to knit with. The whole process just pleases me immensely and fills me with great joy.
How about you? What fibery thing makes you smile?