As a new spinner, I figured I'd work with prepared top and roving and probably some batts. Eventually I'd learn to card and eventually, eventually tackle my first fleece. After, of course, much learning about how to judge the quality of a fleece, setting aside the money to buy one or go halfsies with someone. You know, the sensible way to go about it.
Ahahahahah... the Woolly Fates just love to catch the new spinner unawares.
Enter a woman into our knitting group with a vanload of fleeces. Yes. Seriously. Load. Of. Fleeces. She... or someone she knows... I didn't get the whole story... recently acquired a small herd of rare Santa Cruz sheep. They hadn't been wearing the little canvas coats so de rigueur among the cool sheep whose wool is destined for handspinners, and other issues I think, but anyhow these fleeces had been recently shorn so that the new owners might start anew with good fleece for next year. In the meantime... was there anyone, she wanted to know, who would like a fleece to try out, see if the wool was good, how well did it spin, all that.
"How much are you asking for these?" we asked.
Well, she wasn't sure how much she would eventually charge... but she wanted to give a fleece to each of the handspinners in the group. Yes. Give... a... fleece!
So out we went to her car and did some fleece diving in the giant bags she had each fleece rolled up in. We washed up a lock of one of the white fleeces and though the fibers were very short, just a couple of inches at most (a characteristic of the breed, I think) it washed to a bright white with beautiful crimp and no breaks.
And that's how I ended up with my very first fleece:
It's small, maybe 4 or 5 pounds or so. It doesn't look very beautiful yet. In fact, it looks rather ratty and dirty. The underside shows a promise of white:
The cats went a bit nuts. All that sheepy aroma, they just had to sniff the fleece and run in and out of the bag it had been in:
And sniff some more:
And rub it and roll in it:
And try to lay claim to it:
I see some wool-stuffed, sheep-scented cat toys in the future. In the meantime, I needed to clean the thing. While some in our group enjoy spinning in the grease, this fleece seemed pretty dirty and full of bits of hay, burrs, and other less savory organic bits, all the stuff that accumulates in the wool of uncoated sheep. I decided to clean mine first. At the spinning class I attended at Black Sheep Gathering, the instructor showed us how to make little bundles of the locks wrapped in cheap tulle, then soak them in the tub of the washing machine and spin them (no agitation, or you get tulle-wrapped bundles of felt). But the locks are so short in this fleece, it would take eleventy-thousand tulle bundles to do the whole thing. So I decided to experiment a bit. I gently removed some of the fleece, laid it out on one of my sweater-drying racks, filled the bathtub with some hot water and a bit of clear shampoo, and let the fleece sink into its hot bath:
The dirt was already pouring off when it hit the water. At the end of ten minutes, the water was the color of black coffee. Yeah, no way am I spinning this without washing it! Ick! Ew!
Several more changes of water and applications of clear shampoo (no conditioners), some long soaking, then several changes of rinse water later, the section of fleece was finally rid of 99% of the dirt and grit, quite a few burs, and the bigger bits of hay. And I managed not to felt the whole thing.
It's drying now, with a fan on it to help keep air moving all around it. The fibers I'm told are too short for carding, so I'll spin from the locks, combing out the hay bits as I go. It'll have to be spun quite fine. Several pounds of rare breed wool, spun laceweight. From locks.
This is going to take a while.
The Woolly Fates are laughing. Laughing, I tell you! But I have a fleece. I have a fleece!