This past February I helped out on shearing day at my neighbor’s place. She graciously gave me a salvageable fleece with problems. The fleece has been in storage until recently. This particular ewe had a skin infection that caused skin flaking and small scabs throughout the fleece. However, it was mostly on the spine and rump. The rest of the fleece was nice and soft. I don’t know this ewe’s name, but she’s Oatmeal Girl to me because of her creamy oat color spots.
The overall staple length is under three inches, and I suspect the micron count is in the low thirties to upper twenties. She’s also a freckled Jacob, so there are dark hairs in her light wool, and light wool in her dark spots. This is a love it or hate it trait, and fortunately a minority of Jacob sheep carry it. I personally fall on the love side. Since the staple legnth is on the shorter side, and there was some dander I decided to wash the fleece first. This time I used the washing machine, and just pine sol. I wanted to kill off any fungus or bacteria that might be lingering before handling the wool.
After washing, rinsing, and hanging out to dry, the fleece was picked on my Little Dynamo picker until fluffy. That’s when I discovered there was also a vegetable matter issue. However, carding on my hand carders really sorted out the matter. I still had to pick out some farm while spinning, but overall my rolags ended up clean.
Once my carding party was over, Josephine, my Babe Production Wheel, and I set out spinning supported long draw singles. Since the bulk of this fleece is going to become warp thread for a new Jacob Sheep inspired blanket, Navajo plying (chain ply) seemed like the best choice. I ended up with a lovely three ply fingerling weight yarn that will hold up to weaving. I’m about half way through, and I’ll be spinning up the rest this week.
In our modern age of machine processed fiber it’s easy to overlook and simply toss fleeces that don’t meet milled standards. However, if I had gone with that idea I would have tossed nearly three pounds of nice usable wool. It was definitely more work, but the sense of accomplishment outweighs the extra five days in processing time. Besides, I dare anyone to beat the price!
Because this fiber was softer than most Jacob I ended up having to put extra twist in, especially since I went with a Navajo ply. It didn’t come out as squishy as I hoped, but then again durability was the goal, not a fluffy scarf.
Oatmeal Girl spent an entire year of her life growing this fleece, raising a lamb, and avoiding becoming dinner for coyotes or dogs. Why toss that? In days not too long past our mothers and grandmothers would have spun this fleece and been grateful for the opportunity to keep their families warm. What wasn’t usable for spinning will end up as mulch and eventually compost. Gratitude may be the biggest take away lesson from this fleece. Gratitude for good neighbors, a wonderful day, a free fleece, and a little ewe who gave an entire year of her work without complaint.
In all you do, craft no harm.
Moriah and the Flock