When I was given the fleece as the Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild meeting last month, I remarked to my lovely Mother-in-Law that I had no clue where to begin. She kindly offered that she would be happy to help and I bravely said that I would muddle along and call her if I found myself well and truly confused. The fleece was greasy with lanolin and smelled of ... well, sheep.
Uncertain where to begin, I did what any good person would do. I went to the oracle of Google and did a search on how to process fleece. Many sites popped up and I clicked the first non-Youtube link that I saw. After doing some reading, I learned the following:
- In addition to lanolin, there is sheep sweat, bits of grass, dirt, and sheep dung that will be found in fleece. (I looked my bit of fleece over and didn't find any large bits so I'm hopeful that I don't have much in the way of sheep dung to worry about.)
- You must use really HOT water to rinse and wash your fleece. Tepid or cool water will not be sufficient to soften and liquify the lanolin and strip it off of the fibers.
- Shampoo will not work to clean off fleece because it will not remove the waxy lanolin. Dish soap or laundry soap are a more effective option.
- You can not use Oxyclean or similar products to clean your fleece. They contain enzymes that react with proteins and will dissolve your fiber along with the lanolin.
- You must be very gentle in agitating your fleece, if at all. Anything substantial will cause your fleece to felt.
Once I have the fiber spun up, I am thinking I should actually knit something with it. I honestly don't know how much yarn I will get out of this, though. I may wind up only making a small swatch with it all. That would be ok, though, because I'm going to start knitting and crocheting gauge swatches. I figure as I start a new project, I will get into the habit of doing this. After I get a decent sized pile of swatches together, I'll stitch them together into something. Oh, I forgot to note, but the breed of sheep that this is from (and pictured above) is Cotswold.