Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.
Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.
Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.
Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.
Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.
I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.
I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.
Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.
First, the washing;
Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.
The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.
The extreme heat of the last few weeks has driven us to take our sanity to the edge in regards to our sheep. They have been shedding their wool very slowly over the summer and I have left them to it as shearing in the middle of summer can sometimes lead to sun burnt backs (for the sheep as well as the shearers), but now they are beginning to grow their winter wool underneath the old fleece it is time to tidy up their haircut (woolcut?) a bit. We discussed getting someone to come and shear them for us or buying/hiring some shears but in the end decided that money is just too tight, so out came the scissors. We looked at a few ‘how to shear sheep’ sites and decided to have a go at shearing them while they were standing up.
First we haltered one of the girls, in the handling pen with her sisters. That way she was calm and happy to be played with. Then my eldest daughter and I took turns cutting the old fleece off while the other held the lead rope. The sheep were surprisingly patient and calm while we did it, which helped matters immensely.
We sheared (clipped?) two of the four girls each one taking about an hour and a half to do. We had originally planed to do one a day as it its hard going and very frustrating work, but when we let the one shorn sheep go her sisters butted her and chased her from the herd (she looked different) so we caught the worst bully and gave her a clipping too. This seemed to even out the odds and they all got along again.
I managed to salvage two shopping bags of usable wool from the two girls, the rest had started to felt and is too matted to use. Next year I will have to clip them in the spring so I can get better wool. I got shedding sheep so that I didn’t have to worry about shearing if I had no use for the wool, but it seems I will have to shear them anyway. However, this is only their second molt, so it is possible their shedding will improve next year (I hope so anyway).
This is Gaia before her clipping
You can see where they have been shedding…and where they haven’t.
This is Gaia after her clipping, somehow she looks smaller.
She really appreciated the cool breeze on her skin, and being able to scratch every itch.
This is the usable wool from Gaia and Kraken (sorry about the terrible photo), after I took all the felted stuff out and the really dirt stuff around the edges.
This is the wool close up, it looks like clouds to me.
I hope I can get enough usable wool from my girls to make something to wear (it’s been a dream for a long while). The girls (Gaia and Kraken) certainly appreciate the new coolness, now to do the last two; Nut and Kore.