Drying Fleece

November 11, 2013 - 2:39 pm

I’ve been washing a lot of fleece lately.  A LOT of fleece. I’m helping Deb Robson with materials for her workshops, and so have been acquiring and washing fleeces for her.  Plus *ahem* a few for myself that I’ve picked up as well.  I think I’ve washed about 15 fleeces in the past two months. I lost count. And I’m well above 20 for the year.

To keep up with the washing I needed to build a second drying rack. I’ve been planning to write about this since my fleece washing article back in March, but, well, blogging. This is the finished rack: 

 2013-10-03 16.39.04

If you’d like to follow along at home you will need (pictures below link to Amazon so you can buy these online if you’d like):

  • A wire mesh shelf you don’t mind destroying:
  • 4 48″ shelf bracket strips:
  • A bunch of zip ties that will fit through the slots on the shelf
  • wire cutters or scissors to trim the ties

First step is to decide how many shelves you will want, and do maths to determine how closely to space your zip ties. In my version I’m building 10 shelves, and leaving two grid squares to stabilize the rack. The top shelf goes at the top of the bracket strips, but the bottom one should have clearance from the ground to allow for air circulation. This means I inserted zip ties every 10 slots to space the shelves evenly: 

2013-10-03 16.07.54

I inserted them in one bracket and then used that as a visual guide (I hate counting!) to make 4 the same:

2013-10-03 16.17.17

Then I took two of the bracket strips and attached them to the top shelf:

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Continued attaching shelves all the way down:

2013-10-03 16.26.12

And finally attached the two other bracket strips on the other side of the shelves:

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You will notice this can fold almost flat. And the poodle puppy has decided I need help.

In the picture above I’ve already slid two of the bracket strips around so that there’s one strip on each side of the grid square. Comment if this is confusing and I’ll draw up a diagram or take better pictures. 🙂

At any rate, there’s no way this will work without more stabilization.  That’s where the last two shelves come in. Attach them on adjacent sides at the bottom, zip tying all four corners around brackets and through shelves:

2013-10-03 16.38.28

Now you can stand it up and have a drying rack!

2013-10-03 16.39.01

The last step is to use the pliers to tighten the zip ties, and then cut off the excess tie. I didn’t take a picture, but I’m betting you can figure that part out on your own. Careful not to leave sharp bits, though, as you can snag your hands and/or the fleece bags on them.

These racks work great outdoors on a breezy sunny day, but just as well stood by a heating vent in the winter, perhaps with a fan blowing on them as well. With the vent and a fan I can dry a fleece in a day. 

SandHill Farm Visit

October 3, 2013 - 10:34 am

Monday I visited Eileen Hordyk at SandHill Farms in Arlington, WA. I was greeted at the gate by a 30-something Shetland pony, who decided the grass was more interesting than me when I didn’t produce treats. Apparently he’s a neighborhood treasure, and Eileen regularly has folks asking about him when he’s in a back field or in the barn instead of on display out front.


She and her husband are raising sheep for fleece as well as for meat, but Eileen says “For me, it’s all about the fleece.” The stack of ribbons they brought home from the Washington State Fair and the quality of her fleeces speak to the success she’s having. Here’s a sneak peak of the Lincoln Longwool I brought home: 


This was a blue ribbon ewe fleece this year, but her brother’s fleece beat her out for grand champion. Another one of Eileen’s fleeces– one of her Dorsets– won Grand Champion handspinner’s fleece. I looked for a listing of the results from the fair to share all the ribbons she brought home, but it isn’t posted anywhere I could find. Suffice to say Eileen brought home more fleeces with ribbons than without.

Here’s Eileen with this year’s fleeces. This is also the lambing barn in the spring, once the fleeces are all sold.


Here are a few that didn’t come home with me. This one was a crossbred Dorset/Rambouillet: 


This was a Romney that took best of show:


Pretty sure this was another Romney.  Look at the length and crimp!


They have two flock protector dogs that are crossbreeds, and three Border collies. I didn’t take a note on this girl’s name, but she’s the old lay of the farm and spends her days in the barn now:


This is her brother, who prefers to spend his days with his charges:


Right now he’s in with the boys:


Eileen was in the middle of putting four of her Lincoln ewes in with a ram lamb. Here are the girls:


The girl in the green coat is #1188, who grew the fleece in the first picture that came home with me:


Eileen and I talked a lot about what she looks for in fleece, and how she manages coating so the fleeces grow well. This girl has a nice white one. It curls differently on her upper body where the rain falls than on her sides, but the fiber is quite uniform.


Here’s an up close shot of one of the fleeces on the sheep. This is 1189 who is the other one blanketed in the first picture; her coat was a little too big for her and so Eileen was switching it out. She pulls coats regularly and fluffs the fleece underneath to make sure it isn’t getting matted down:


Here’s another picture of the girls mugging for the camera or possibly begging for treats:


Eileen teaches all of her sheep to tie and lead. She explains it makes management much easier for her since she doesn’t have to fight with them to move them around. Takes extra work with the lambs, but pays dividends throughout their lives whenever she needs to handle them.

I brought home three fleeces, a Dorset:


Sample lock:


The Lincoln fleece from #1188:


Sample lock:


And a Romney:


Sample lock:


Today I started washing the Lincoln fleece. It was six pounds in the bag. Here it is turned out ready to open up:


And here are some sample locks.  Look at that crimp!


I opened the fleece out on a sheet in my living room because I have to start washing the pile you can see there under my puppy grooming table, and if I wait for a dry day in Seattle to start sorting fleeces it will be summer before I get that!


In the whole fleece I only found a few tidbits I wanted to skirt. You can see them in the upper left of the sheet. There were a couple locks that were matted, a few with dags, and a few second cuts. Here’s a close-up:


I’ll leave you with some more fleece beauty shots. It was so lovely!





It’s soaking in the tub now, removing the dirt in prep for it’s scouring wash which I’m about to start. I should have clean, dry fleece to share, perhaps tomorrow!



Fleece Washing

March 2, 2013 - 5:44 pm

Note: The photos in this article were published on Flickr several days ago while the blog was down for repair, so you may have seen them. The blog is fully up and operational now, so I’m moving it to the blog, and expanding the text significantly. 

Before I can actually start washing I prepare the working area, which for me is primarily the sink in the kitchen. I remove all the clutter so I won’t splash sheep water on things that are hard to clean, and put out towels on the counter to catch splashes, and a towel on the floor in front of the sink.

Sheep are lovely, charming, amusing, dirty, dirty critters. I always pay attention when I’m washing a fleece to make sure I contain the filth, and don’t contaminate myself or my home with it. After I’m done with the washing, the sink and counters will get washed with soap and wiped down with bleach water, and all the the tools run through the dishwasher.

Preparing the workspace

I also set out my tools. For me, the tools are:

  • Gloves which are long enough and thick enough to protect me from the hot water
  • Plastic spoon for stirring the wash agent into the water, and for poking and shifting the fleece around in the bath
  • Candy thermometer for measuring the temperature of the bath
  • Wire cookie cooling racks with folding legs. I use these to lower the bags of fleece into the water and to take them out without overly disturbing the fleece.
  • Wash agent; generally Unicorn Power Scour
  • Most importantly, a good solid drain plug that will hold the water in the sink for 20 – 30 minutes without leaking.


I have the fleece next to the sink in a laundry basket. It helps me tote the fleece around particularly when it’s wet since there’s enough of a lip on the bottom to contain any water that drains out of the fleece. It’s also easier to carry a dozen or so bags of fleece in a basket than in my arms, and causes less disturbance to the fibers.

fleece ready

I boil water on the stove in big stock pots. I kept a second pot around after a handle fell off just for using in scouring.

Water boiling

I boil a pot full of water, then pour it into the sink basin.

Water in sink

Using a candy thermometer, I add tap water to the sink until I get to the desired temperature. I aim for 135 – 140°F.

Check the temp

Once the basin of water is at the right temp I add the scour. Power Scour has good directions on how much is needed for a given weight of fleece. I use about 3 pumps per sink full on the Shetland, but would use more for a heavy grease fleece like a Merino.

Adding scour

I stir enough to distribute the scour in the water, but the less suds I raise the easier it will be to get the fleece into the bath.


Next the fleece bags go into the water. Note how they’re stacked on the upside down cookie tray, and I’m using the legs as handles.

Fleece going into the bath

I generally let the fleece settle into the bath on its own so no air is trapped, but once it’s most of the way down I’ll use a second rack to push it the last little bit into the water making sure the whole fleece gets wet.

Submerging fleece

After 20 minutes- and I always set a time because I’m good at forgetting fleece for hours at a time until I have some other use for the kitchen- I remove the fleece from the water (ICK!!):

Removing fleece

Drain the sink:

draining the sink

Wash it out:

rinsing it out

Roll up and gently ring out the bags of fleece to remove as much dirty water as possible:

wringing out the fleece

Note that too much agitation will felt it, so err on the side of being gentle.

wringing out the fleece

And then make a new, clean bath to repeat the process until the fleece is clean and rinsed.

new bath

I made a tactical error on this fleece by not evaluating how dirty it was; this sheep appears to have been a bit overly fond of mud. After the first bags went into the wash and I saw how filthy it was the rest was put in the tub to pre-soak and remove the dirt before removing the grease. It ended up getting three baths like this:

tub soak

before it was clean enough to get effectively scoured. I used some Planet dish soap to reduce the surface tension enough for the fleece to soak. If I had just put the fleece in the water without adding some soap it would not have gotten wet; wool is quite good at resisting penetration by water. After all that’s part of its job for the sheep. 🙂 Soap helps the wool fibers slide into the water without trapping a lot of air. If there are air bubbles in the fleece it won’t soak, partly because it stays dry, but also because the air will float it back out of the water.

When I wash a fleece I have three goals. The first is to remove all the dirt. The second is to remove all the lanolin/grease. The third and most important is to cause as little disturbance to the fleece as possible, both to minimize the possibility of felting and to make later processing as easy as it can be.

Most sheep fleece has more grease than dirt to remove, so pre-soaking is overkill. Alpaca/llama fleeces are the opposite of sheep- they don’t make grease but they bathe in dirt, so they’re full of it. Worst of all are goats, which have large amounts of both dirt and grease, and bucks particularly are quite smelly to boot.

It takes different processes to remove dirt and grease. Dirt will wash out relatively easily with soap and water of any temperature. Heat can also turn some kinds of mud into a quite an effective dye. Grease has to be melted to be removed, which is why I heat the water for scouring baths so hot. It’s worth noting that too much heat can damage fiber, so it’s good to keep the baths short and not too far above the melting point of lanolin, which is between 100 – 120°F. My preference is to remove dirt and grease in separate steps when I have to deal with both, and to remove the dirt first.

The last step in the process is drying the fleece. I built a nifty and cheap drying rack that functions equally well outdoors on a sunny day and indoors over a heating vent in the cold and damp weather that’s more common here. I need a second one, so stay tuned for the blog post about building it.

I also have a second fleece for Deb in the wash, and found some different sorts of wool and interesting characteristics in that fleece to share later.

OM NOM Romney

December 13, 2011 - 11:45 am

All I can say is yum.


I went with Terry on Saturday to Wet Thistle Farm to pick out fleeces.  Usually this farm’s fleeces aren’t available to the public- a yarn company snaps up their whole clip.  This year, however, there were some available, and as Terry promised it was oh so very worth the trip!  I ended up splitting three colored fleeces with Terry and getting one white lamb fleece as well.

This is a lamb fleece that progresses from a red brown to a creamy white down the length of the staple.


I washed it and experimented with using the spin cycle on my front loader between passes- I won’t do that again.  The butt ends felted slightly.  It won’t be hard to process, but it fell apart deliciously before the wash, and past fleeces with that character have maintained it after washing.

It has a 5″ staple:


here’s a second lock:


Don’t you just want to bury your face in this?


It smells vaguely of lavender and sheep after washing, just so you know.  I can’t wait to start working with this! It’s deliciously soft too; much finer than the rest of my Romney.  Oh- and strong.  no sign of crackle when I “ping” a lock.  This is as close to perfect as fleece gets, and it’s even in “my” color!  It will match my hair!

I’ll get pictures up of the other three fleeces as they are washed.

Thanks so much to Marie for letting us visit her farm, and giving us the opportunity to collect these gorgeous fleeces.  I’m hoping to return for the annual clip, which will be happening next month.  Maybe I can talk her out of another fleece then!


ISO: The Perfect Sock Yarn

July 10, 2011 - 7:25 pm

I’m enjoying my carder a great deal.  This is an experiment in making a better sock yarn.  40% Romney, 40% Clun Forest, 20% silk.  I intend to spin it semi-worsted and then cable it into a 2×2 cabled 4 ply.  In my brain it’s AWESOME!


My new (to me) Strauch Petite carder is pretty comfortable making 1 oz. batts, which is a good sample size and a nice round number.  I weighed out .4 oz of each of the Romney and Clun, and .2 oz of some Bombyx silk top I have in stash.


Next I lashed the locks on hand cards on 112 tpi Schacht hand cards (thanks for the loan, Heather!)


From what I’ve been able to tell so far in my month of drum carding, every wool seems to have a different best way to prep and load it into the drum carder for the first pass.  The Romney and Clun seem to work best if I lap them fairly thickly in shingle-like layers, and turn the drum very slowly.

stacking up the locks to card

The stack of fluff on and behind the carder is the Clun and Romney, while the stuff in front of the carder is the silk.  Slowly I fed all the wool through and packed the drum.  The black brush helps pack the wool down into the teeth of the drum so it all will fit.

wool on the drum carder

Once the wool has all been run through the carder onto the drum once, the combined batt needs to be removed.

removing the batt

There’s a special tool for this!  I pull up little sections of the batt until the whole thing has been split, and can be unwrapped from the carder.  I have two brushes I can use to lift stray fibers off the drum.  This brush has soft plastic bristles:

brushing stray fiber into the batt

This is a flicker brush, and it has long metal teeth:

flicking stray fiber into the batt

I flip back and forth between them trying to figure out which seems to be working best.  Again, every fiber seems to have its own temperament.  Finally the batt is free from the carder:

first pass batt 50/50 Romney/Clun Forest

In the next pass I’ll sandwich the silk between layers of wool.  The idea is the wool is easier for the carder to grab onto, so if the silk is the filling of a wool sandwich it will card more smoothly.  It seems to work.  First step is to pull off a strip of the bat, lengthwise:

splitting batt for second pass

Then spread it out and feed it onto the drum:


Then add silk by dragging it over the teeth on the main drum, spreading it out in a thin layer:

adding silk

Once a layer of silk is on, I smooth it down with the black brush:

smoothing silk onto the drum

then add another layer of wool:

silk sandwiched between wool layers

Then more silk and more wool until everything’s on the drum.  Then the silk and wool batt gets removed:

removing silk/wool batt

It has big chunks of silk, so needs to make another few passes to get smoothed out.  They are run through the same way, splitting the batt lengthwise and feeding strips into the drum carder.  The second pass is a little better:

second pass - a little better

After four or five passes, it’s nicely uniform:

after 4-5 passes, the blend is nice and uniform

I chose to make hand pulled roving out of this batt.  This meant i first fed a little of the batt through a hole in a diz, and slid the diz down onto the batt:

pulling roving from the batt

Then pulled the diz forward about one staple length:

next I gently pull the dizz and roving away from the rest of the batt.

Then slid the diz down again:

then pull the dizz back onto the roving

And keep on like that til the whole batt has been pulled through the diz:

repeat til done!

And I have coils of roving!

finished roving coiled into .5 oz portions

I have only had a chance to spin a small sample of this, but it was very nice.  Sheen and strength from the silk and Romney, with some bounce from the Clun.  My first little sample was overspun in the single, so it was too compacted to make a tight gauge knit.  I can’t wait to try some more!


Kerry Hill

May 31, 2011 - 8:58 pm

I received a box of rare breed fiber from sarahw this Saturday; she offered some samples form fleeces she has on Ravelry.

First off, look at these guys, they’re adorable!



I like this fiber.  A lot.  Enough that I’ve reached out to the only farm in the US with any Kerry Hill bloodlines; they are trying to breed up from AI, and currently have some 75% animals.  It’s difficult to get fleece from the UK, because it must be quite thoroughly washed to make it through customs.

Here are the first few samples I spun up:


I also included a handful of unprocessed fiber, a nest of combed sliver and a rolag form the waste of that combing in the picture.

The sample in the upper left is spun long draw from carded combing waste.  The little one on top of the washed fiber was finger spun right out of the bag when I first opened it.  The rest were spun from combed sliver in various ways: some worsted, some woolen, some two ply, some three ply, and at various thicknesses.

I only tried a little bit as laceweight.  The sample fleece I have has very little crimp, so spun tightly it turns into wire, and spun loosely the laceweight drifts apart.  You can see what I managed across the top of the combed samples; it just about completely untwisted in the bath.  In the thicker singles, though, the scales on the wool seem very grabby.  Even the carded fiber wanted to pull itself into a tight, smooth single.

As soon as it hit the water of the finishing bath it poofed out into a fluffy, springy yarn.  I can’t really tell the worsted from the long draw samples after their bath.  I can pick carded fiber sample mostly because it’s the longest, but I can see that it’s slightly more uneven than the other bits.  I still like the little fingerspun bit the best, but it was pleasant to spin and has a very soft, springy character.

I will also say it wants to felt like a stone.  I didn’t give it any agitation in the bath, and it was still sticking to itself.

I want MOAR!  What possessed me to purchase a box full of unobtanium?

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