Spring spinning – Eli fleece

Eli after his recent shearing experience

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.

The fleece in it’s soap nut bath, look at all that dirt.

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.

Much cleaner
This wool spins up so smoothly
The eventual yarn will need to be washed again of course, but it is going to be a lovely, strong knitting yarn.

I will soon have a pile of skeins to dye and knit. I can’t wait!!!

New socks, here we come.

Winter spinning adventure – Day five

My daughter had to complete an assignment for university which involved a walk around a wetland. I drove her the required hour and a half to the assigned wetland and walked around with her to see what was there.

We found some overgrown walking tracks and plenty of interesting paperbark trees. There were also some choked up water ways. All in all we were a little disappointed with the wetland, but it is hard to maintain anything without funding.

When we got back to the car park we saw three roosters waiting for someone to feed them. Apparently this is the local place to dump unwanted chooks. We raced back into town and bought a fold up cage and some grain to try tempt them into a trap. All we caught were some magpies, who had to be chased out of the cage and convinced to stay in their wild state. We eventually had to leave without the roosters, hoping that the council worker we reported them to will have better luck catching them.

While I was waiting to spring the trap on the poor roosters, I did a little bit of spinning. The people in the mini train passing by seemed to get a kick out of it, so I waved to them in a friendly fashion. When I had spun for my half hour and tried to coax the roosters into the cage for a further half hour, we packed everything away and headed home in the afternoon chill.

I wonder why people dump animals, what thought process leads them to believe that it’s OK to just leave them to fend for themselves? Chooks that have been used to being looked after can’t just become ‘bushwise’, they fall prey to the many foxes, rats and cats (and feral/roaming pet dogs) about. Not to mention the native predators of the bush (pythons, possums, phascogales, quolls, eagles, hawks, owls, and many more). They rely on humans for food, they don’t automatically know how to find food for themselves, or water for that matter. They are not car savvy, they get run over. If you hatch chicks, you are responsible for the babies, one way or another. Rant over, it just makes me mad, animals shouldn’t have to suffer because humans are not as intelligent as they could be.

Winter spinning adventures – Day three

Today’s spot by the river

I skipped a day, it rained so I stayed home and did boring housework type stuff. Today however, I went adventuring in the car again. I had things to do for family and friends in a not-so-nearby town so off I went to do some shopping and delivering of things. I met friends for coffee and took my knitting of course, then I found a lovely place by the river to stop and spin on the way home.

My current knitting, a baby jumper for a friend’s daughter

I do love this new habit. The silence in my mind once the wheel starts to turn is so soothing. The calm of Nature, just doing Her thing all around me is so balancing after a day full of rushing around and trying to get things done. I wonder if I can find a way to keep it once I am back at work?

Once again, leaving nothing but a little pile of neps in the grass.

Neps in the grass

Winter spinning adventures – day two

Today was a day full of running around and doing things for others. I took some RAT tests to a friend (dropped in her mail box) on my way to post letters for our local Co Op (which is ,sadly, closing), then delivered some roosters (dropped off at our place by one friend) to my good friend and stopped for a coffee there. After all that, I had to go pick up my partner from work as his car is out of action due to the rough roads at the moment. So I took the opportunity to leave him there for half an hour and visit one of my favourite trees.

This tree is a European oak, planted well before I was born. It has stood beside the road and seen us progress from carts and bullock drays to cars and will hopefully see us move to electric cars (or maybe back to carts). I stopped the car, set up my wheel and with a box to sit on, spun for a tranquil half hour beside the road.

I am amazed that there are still leaves on the tree, it is after Solstice and the coldest part of Winter is on us. It was a grey, chilly day today, with a sneaky breeze to steal the loose leaves from the branches, but when I went to look I saw there are new leaf buds waiting.

The spinning is coming along. My attempt to ’embrace the nebs’ is in the early stages though. I like my yarn to be smooth and even, this yarn is not. I am trying to spin it with an acceptance of what the fleece has to offer and hope that I will love the resulting yarn. I guess there is a lesson in life in this for me (isn’t there always) I need to stop striving for perfection in everything and sometimes be content with what comes. I do know that my hands are finding the rhythm of this fleece now and I will begin to spin faster from now on.

After my half hour of spinning, I packed up my wheel, thanked the tree for her company, and went to pick up my poor, abandoned partner. Leaving nothing but some nebs on the ground to mark my passing.

Winter spinning adventures – day one

My box of loveliness from Bespoke Fibre
Eli fleece ready to spin… can’t wait.

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.

My fold up wheel, all set up in the bush and ready to spin.

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).

My view while I spun

I also found some interesting Turkey tail fungus on the way home.

Time to spin

It is now officially school holidays, when I typically take a week off from teacherly stuff and just be… well, just be really. It is time to binge watch a series of some sort (with aliens of course) and spin a lot of wool.

After the chores of the day are done and I can settle for an extended period without interruptions (thanks, in part, to a global pandemic), I start to make magic.

This holidays, I cleaned out my fleece stash and discovered that I have a lot of spun singles that need to be plied into yarn. I also have some very nice fleeces to be washed and spun into singles. My first step is to clear out my singles container and wash the new yarns. This yarn is going to our local Co Op to be sold.

Sorting through my fleeces. There were a lot of old fleeces in my craft room.
My pile of plied yarns ready for the Co Op
I found this lovely fleece in my stash. I see a spinning jag coming on.

Then I can wash some fleece and start spinning more singles. I have an ambitious plan in mind; I want to spin enough to knit a cardigan for myself. I will spin heaps of skeins of the same fleece (a white one), then I will dye the skeins in different colours and finally knit myself a cardigan. This little project could take until next Winter.

The fleece cards up really well, I think this is an easy spin fleece

This entire fleece will be used as test yarn for my natural dye experiments (otherwise known as ’50 shades of beige’).

The first lot of yarn. Plied and dyed (and a little felted because of too hot water).

I also found a bag of silver/grey suri alpaca fleece. I think it will be my next fleece to spin.

I am so happy and relieved to be back at my spinning wheel. For a while now, I haven’t had the energy or inclination to do anything crafty at all. I have just been living in a holding pattern, waiting for the next crisis, but I feel I am coming out of that long, dark tunnel into the sunlight.

Washing an entire fleece (in urine)

All right, this is a really yucky post. I have heard and read about how traditional spinners used to wash fleeces in urine to get them really clean. The theory (or maybe science) behind it is that the alkalinity of the ammonia in the urine reacts with the lanolin in the wool to make a very basic kind of soap. This soapy mess then cleans the wool.

Wool scoured in this way is then rinsed (multiple times, I imagine) to get rid of the smell. The resulting wool is soft and unfelted apparently. It also removes a lot more vegetable matter than other kinds of washing (according to the hype). I want to give this method a try, but not anywhere near the house.

This experiment needs;

A big tub with a lid: Thanks to a quick thinking husband, I found one of our fire safety bins (not so useful in the rain) and gave it a good scrub.

It does seem strange to be cleaning a bin that will hold urine.

A raw fleece: One of the partial fleeces I have in my stash should be small enough to fit in the container.

This one is a Merino cross fleece with a lot of dirt and lanolin in it.

A water source for rinsing: The garden hose has a 30 metre stretch and gives nice hot water on a warm day.

A place away from the house to minimise the awful smell it will no doubt produce: The far end of the yard, behind the garden bed will have to be far enough.

A whole lot of pee: It is just as well the urine should be aged for this, as there is no way our family can produce enough to fill this tub in a day or so. We use a bucket for night time pee trips (so we don’t have to go outside and wake the dogs and sheep up), so I just began to collect that pee in my handy bin instead of tipping it out way up the paddock.

Collection started.

The fleece is soaked in the urine for about a day (two if it’s really dirty), then the whole lot is tipped out and the fleece rinsed multiple times to take out any remaining smell.

The fleece in the urine, before it sunk to the bottom. This fleece is larger than I thought.
After the fleece soaked into the liquid, I did have to add some more water to make sure there was enough liquid to wash the whole lot.
The first rinse has washed out a lot of dirt and lanolin, but the smell is still there.
I filled the bin up with clean water and some home made soap and set the fleece to soak overnight. One more clean rinse after this should make the fleece clean and get rid of the smell.
It took quite a few rinses to get the water to stay clean (ish). I just kept refilling the containers and transferring the wool between them.
Finally, after four rinses, the wool is not giving off too much dirt.

The fleece is spun out in the washing machine and spread out to dry on a sheet in the sun.

I squeezed out as much water as possible and took the whole lot in to spin in the washing machine.
I lined the spinner with a clean piece of cloth and wrapped the fleece up in it to avoid small pieces of wool clogging up my machine. There was still a fair amount of dirt in the fleece as you can see by the residue it left in the spinner (it needed a good clean afterwards).
I spread everything out on a clean (but old) sheet in the sun. It will take all day to dry I think, even in 36 C heat.
The wool in certainly clean and hasn’t felted at all. It does still smell a little, but the sun will bake that off.

The result?

After carding,I have a usable fleece to spin.

My final immpression is that this is an effective way to clean a fleece if you have no soap. It does seem to stop the fleece felting and the wool is cardable and as soft as can be expected from a course fleece. The smell really put me off though. I think I will try washing a whole fleece with soap nuts again, but do the two day soak.

Carding bulk wool for spinning

Eli and his glorious wool

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).

Scouring Eli wool
Some of the fleece spun out and hung to dry

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.

The inner workings of the wool picker
Even after scouring, Eli’s wool has a lot of dirt, vegetation and general rubbish
It looks a little better after going through the picker, there are still a lot of second cuts though.

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).

Feeding small bits of wool through the carder
Using a brush to push the wool down on the drum
The batt is full. I can tell because the wool almost reaches the tips of the bristles on the drum carder
Breaking the batt and removing it from the drum

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 finished batt. Not very smooth, but better than it was

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.

I hand carded some for comparison. This wool is going to need washing twice next time I think; it’s very dirty
The batt texture for comparison.


Processing wool from Eli

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.

The pink spots are antiseptic spray on the areas where he was grazed by the shears.
Eli is all angles and loose skin under the fleece.
Frieda came out of it looking like a black and white ball.

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.

This is the fleece before scouring.
I used soap nuts to wash the fleece, the wool comes out so much softer and very clean.
Eli has been collecting dust and dirt this year.
Didn’t the fleece come out white and fluffy?
Carding it was a breeze; two passes over the carders and it was ready to spin.
The singles spun up smoothly and seem to want to be fairly thin. I think it will make about a sport weight yarn, once plied.

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.

Washing fleece with soap nuts

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.

My go-to book when learning about new fibre types.
Eli will, hopefully, have wool that is slightly on the fine/soft side of this scale, thanks to his Merino ancestry.

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;

This is the brand of soap nuts I buy. I hope to grow my own one day though.
I put a cup full of soap nuts into a saucepan with about two litres of water and bring it to the boil.
The resulting liquid; after I strain off the soap nuts. I use about half a cup of this liquid to wash clothes in but I think I will use a full cup for washing wool.
This is the pile of fleece to be washed; about a kilo in total.

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.

A close up of the dirt and lanolin in the fleece.
A close up of the fleece after washing and drying.
There is now just over a kilo of fleece sitting in my ‘to-do’ basket waiting to be carded for spinning.

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.