After the shearing day on Saturday, I decided to wash the half fleece donated by Eli. I did the usual soap nut solution with hot water bath and spread the whole lot in the sun to dry for a day. The result was a snowy, white cloud of spinnable fleece.
I carded some up this morning and spun a few rolags, in the interests of experimentation. I am loving spinning this fleece, it is making me wish I had saved the whole fleece and that I had all day to spin.
I will soon have a pile of skeins to dye and knit. I can’t wait!!!
Today was shearing day, we usually shear the sheep when the nights are warm enough for everyone to stay warm and the days are beginning to be uncomfortably hot. This Spring has been wet so far, which means that our sheep run the risk of being damp and warm for long periods of time (flies love that), so we messaged Karl, who shears our sheep for us, early this year.
Karl came out and the sheep were shorn in no time. He always does a great job, treating them with care and respect and talking to them the whole time. This year they all behaved themselves, which is unusual, in previous years we have had to lasso escapees and even tackle one or two as they run past. Luckily, Karl plays football and takes it all in his stride. He seems to find us amusing, and laughs at the lengths we go to to keep our babies comfortable. We set up a shade gazebo for Karl to shear them under and then leave it up for a few days so they don’t get sun burned. We spray every little graze with antiseptic spray (the pink splotches) and give them a soothing feed of hay after their shearing ordeal. At the same time, he takes the time to make sure they are comfortable while he is shearing and they seem to just lay against him or on the ground while he works, and he talks to them like we do, so we count him as one of us, and so do the sheep.
I now have a bag of lovely wool from Eli to process into wool and knit or weave into something lovely. I could have saved more, but I have plenty of fleece to spin in my craft room already.
It is school holidays again and I have decided to add a half hour of spinning to my daily practice for the next two weeks. That way I can get some more yarn spun ready to dye in the Spring. I have a lovely fleece ready to go from Bespoke fibre. This fleece is from Eli’s first shearing, I sent it away to be processed as it was taking forever for me to wash and card all the fleece in my stash and I wanted to have a large batch of white roving to spin ready to go. Because…
I found a really exciting blog called (weirdly) Local & Bespoke, it is Australian and full of posts about spinning, mending, sewing, and most importantly for this post, dying wool. There is one particular post about cochineal bugs and how they can be found in prickly pear plants in Australia. Of course the best time to harvest the bugs is in early Autumn, but that’s a story for another post. For now it has started me planning and working towards dying some of my hand spun yarn (from Eli’s fleece) with hand collected cochineal and hopefully getting a non-beige colour. First I need to know where I can find some prickly pear plants growing wild, either on my property or close by, so I will start taking my daily walks while I have the time and inclination. Secondly, I will need a stash of spun and plied yarn to dye once I find the cochineal (I also have a backlog of other dyestuffs I want to try out as well) so I need to get spinning. So I decided to combine the two and take my spinning wheel for a walk each day and spin for a half hour in blessed silence somewhere in the bush.
I am lucky enough to own a folding wheel with a carry bag that fits on my back. I can pack up some fibre, a bottle of water and my wheel and trek off into the bush… lovely. I will share my little jaunts with you each day, to keep myself accountable.
This particular fleece is very bumpy and has a lot of nebs, so I have decided to just ’embrace the nebs’ as suggested by this post. It is so soft and fine and squishy that the nebs will just add to the interest of the final yarn (I hope).
I also found some interesting Turkey tail fungus on the way home.
I have a big fibre project on the go (really I just started planning it) it is a really long term project that involves a lot of different fibre crafts. To get the ball rolling, I washed a kilo of fleece from Eli. Now it needs to be carded before I can start to spin. To card this much wool with a set of hand carders would take a very long time…hours of carding every evening for weeks. Luckily, I have recently (within a year or two of the current day anyway) bought myself a drum carder and wool picker set. A drum carder is a nasty looking contraption that cards huge amounts of fibre in one go, simply by turning the handle (well…there is a bit more to it than that).
First I need to run the wool through the picker. This is a chute with nails sticking out in all directions inside it. The wool is passed through the chute and is pulled apart and fluffed up in the process. This breaks off any brittle bits, catches most of the short cuts (little lumps of fleece that are too short to spin) and shakes out some of the vegetable matter.
Next I take tiny bits of the fluffy fleece and pass it through the drum carder, being careful to only put in small amounts at a time. During this I use a brush to push the fleece down onto the drum so I can fit a lot of fleece into the batt (a batt is a big mat of prepared fibre for spinning).
Lastly, I break the circle of fibre on the drum and slowly peel the batt off. I can either put this batt back through to get a smoother finish (or add some other colours to it) or I can go straight to spinning it.
The drum carder does make it easier to process large lumps of fleece into spinnable batts, but the end product is not as smooth and easy to spin as when I card with the hand carders. The fibre choice probably makes a difference to the outcome as well. This new bit of equipment has helped me process the fleece to yarn more quickly, so has been worth the money (they are fairly expensive), but I think the hand carders will win out for fine fibre or special projects.
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.
Last week we had another family crisis; Sid, our wether, had another kidney stone block his urethra. He tried to jump a fence one morning (after possibly being chased by feral dogs) and probably dislodged a large stone in his bladder. We took him to the vet as he looked very uncomfortable. The vet said she would try to remove the stone, but she wasn’t very hopeful. We said our goodbyes that evening, just in case.
Our wonderful vet managed to dislodge the stone and push it back to the bladder, but it was blocked again the next morning. We had to make the decision to end his suffering as another operation was not likely to be successful. When he had the operation we knew he may only have a few months left to live and we tried to make those months enjoyable. He has lived a good life with us; full of friends, food and fun (which is all sheep care about).
I will miss my friend; the sound of him calling out to me when I got home always made my day. I will miss his social nature, that made him come over to meet every visitor with a friendly face. Sid was a calming influence in our sheep herd and always friendly. The other sheep will miss him too; they called for him for a few days after he went to the vet for the last time, and they are still subdued and quiet.
Because the ground is so dry and hard at the moment, we decided to have Sid cremated and plant him in a large pot with a fruit tree. We have planted many smaller family members this way and it is a good way to honour a life. Sid will become a dwarf mandarin tree and we will continue to care for him and remember him.
Even though we only knew him for four years, Sid was a part of our diverse family and he will be missed.
Our newest sheepish family member; Eli, is the most easy going sheep I know. He is quiet and loves a cuddle or an ear scratch. He is also not too concerned about getting wet. Even though we are officially in drought, we have had a recent fortnight of drizzle and damp (but not significant rain), during that time we noticed that Eli does not run for the shelter when water starts to fall from the sky like the other sheep. We can use the sheep herd as an indicator of rain by the way they come close to the shelter about half an hour before rain starts to fall, but not Eli. He will stand in the rain, unconcerned; because of this we began to worry about him having damp wool, damp wool can lead to skin problems and sometimes fly strike (in Spring and Summer), it also takes days of warm weather to dry out a full fleece. Fungus thrives in damp wool and can actually kill a sheep fairly quickly.
We tried building him his own shelter…he refused to stay under it. We tried locking him in a sheltered place…he broke out. Our next option is to buy him a raincoat. He is not enjoying the experience of wearing a raincoat at all, so we have decided to only make him wear it when it is threatening rain (it should last a long time). We think he looks very handsome and it is a relief not to have to worry about him standing in freezing drizzle all night.
We are still trying to get a shearer out here who can shear his belly and head. In Spring we will get all the sheep shorn, but for now we would like to reduce Eli’s chances of getting fly strike.
It really makes me think about all those sheep in really cold, wet weather who live in paddocks with no shelter and who are shorn at the beginning of winter. I wouldn’t like to sleep outside on the cold ground in the rain, even with a really good jacket. Sheep and cattle are mammals, just like us, so it makes sense that they have much the same physical needs as us when it comes to cold and heat.
This is another behind-the-times post; Freida has been living with the sheep herd for about two months now. After Eli joined the family, she bonded closely to him and they both began to explore the outside world.
At first they both slept in a tent in the back yard and ran around with the big sheep through the day. After a few weeks we began to leave the gate to their tent open at night so they could choose where to sleep. Now they live full time with the herd.
We still lock Freida and Eli up for the morning feed as the other sheep can be very pushy and will chase them off. This way we know they will get at least one good feed in the day.
Freida has become a very smart and calm sheep, which is something of a relief; we thought she may have trouble learning to be a sheep after the start she had.
She is still as loved as ever, but now she is able to fullfil her biological needs without getting in trouble (at least not much trouble).
In all the rush and confusion around the start of the year I forgot to introduce our newest family member; Eli. We adopted him as a friend for Frieda, and our way of encouraging her to realise she is a sheep, not some kind of mish mash of human, dog and rabbit.
The full story;
Just before the end of the year (I can’t be precise here, I didn’t write down the date), I was walking past a group of Mums at school (the regular afternoon chat session, which I love to join, time permitting) when one of the lovely Mums called out to ask me if I wanted another sheep. I , of course, said yes (automatic response I’m afraid) then thought I should ask some pertinent questions. The back story was; a friend of this Mum had raised a lamb in the house (the same as Freida), he was a wether and had been a pet for her two year old son. She wanted to re-home him as he was being aggressive to the little boy. Sheep can become very pushy with those they see as below them in the social order. I thought twice about getting an aggressive sheep as they can be a big problem, but decided in the end to give him a go as we were desperate to find a friend for Freida since our old ewe Ma had sadly died from pneumonia. In order to get Freida to join the sheep herd, she first had to come to terms with the fact that she is a sheep.
I picked him up one day after work when the original Mum bought him to school in the back of her car. he was ensconced in a pile of hay in the back part of her four wheel drive with a collar and lead on. We woman handled him into the back of my car, a job which went very smoothly as he was eager to do whatever we wanted. His name was Eli and he was some kind of wool bearing sheep (i.e. not a shedding sheep or a hair sheep like the rest of my herd). He rode home in happy silence and jumped out of the car to meet Freida when she came barreling out of the humpy to see what was going on. They sniffed each other and got down to the business of finding grass to eat, they have been inseparable ever since. The house he came from was a very animal friendly one and it showed in his general nature.
Eli is polite and calm, he is as trusting as it is possible for a sheep to be and allows us to do anything with him (obviously having never been hurt). He has shown no aggressive tendencies here (probably because we have no two year old humans in the herd) and has bonded to Freida well.
He enjoys sitting in the sun, eating (anything really) and having his ears scratched. He has developed a real love of corn flakes (we give him a handful as a treat sometimes) and chaff.
Eli is a Dorset/merino cross, which means he has wool in some inconvenient places (like his belly and legs). He has been tail docked when he was a lamb, this procedure is essential in wool breed sheep as the underside of their tails are wool covered and, after a week or two, very poop covered. We will be getting him crutched (where the belly, legs and bottom bits are shorn on a roughly six monthly basis) as soon as we can get the shearer out here.
He has given us a huge amount of freedom as he has become Freida’s company and he will give me some beautiful fleece to spin as well. He has also given us the privilege of getting to know him.
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.