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.
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.