Thursday, August 09, 2012

cleaning fleeces - a lesson learned

Fair warning, if you're having your morning coffee while reading this post, or if you have a delicate constitution, you might want to stop now.  There are feces below.

I've been buying some wool fleeces lately.  Most are "raw" meaning they're straight off the sheep and aren't washed.  Some of the fleeces have been "skirted" which means that the really dirty stuff from near the tail and belly area (if you know what I mean) have already been pulled out.  Sheep, as you may know, live outside and tend to get dirty.  They also eat hay which gets stuck in their wool, as well as grass and other "vegetable matter".  It's normal, and expected that when you purchase these fleeces that you'll need to do some washing and picking.  

Some more than others.

I've learned a lot in the past few weeks.  I think I was lulled into a false sense of security when I processed my first fleece.  I had watched it be sheared off the sheep and while a bit dirty, it cleaned up easily and had minimal vegetable matter.  It wasn't skirted but there wasn't really any "recycled food" to deal with.

Then I ordered this fleece that was, in all fairness, described as dirty and taggy. (meaning it had some poop on it)

And it changed things for me.  Some poop...maybe a bit more poop than I had anticipated.  I had stupidly pulled out about a pound's worth and soaked it in the tub rather than outside like I would normally do.  When I poured off the first soak, this was my tub.

That's a lot of dirt for not a lot of wool.
Also... that'll learn me.
And... it ruined afternoon coffee for me.
Lastly... I pulled out the bleach after this.

I've realized that these descriptors are highly subjective.  While some fleeces are totally in line with what I feel constitutes "some" vegetable matter or "some dirt", some are vastly different.

Some fleeces are so jam-packed with vegetable matter that I think they must have dragged the sheep around behind the tractor for a few miles in the field before shearing them.

My point is not to complain, so much, (though that is what I'm doing, right?) but to share the experience with those of you that haven't had the pleasure of cleaning a fleece.  Think of this when you purchase pretty roving or yarn from someone who processes their own fleeces.  It takes work to get from here... here...
A lot of smelly, dirty work.
I no longer wonder why that pretty wool roving is so expensive, do you?

Hats off to all you fleece-cleaners out there.


lynn bowes said...

Wow. I posted a complaining blogpost today, too, but I think yours may have trumped mine.

Karen G. said...

My favorite are the dead fleas and what I'm supposing are their eggs!

Anonymous said...

EWWWW! And....thank you! Thank you for going to so much trouble to give us such a beautiful product. EWWW!

Besides that, I don't think you're complaining...whodathunk? I had no idea of such things and find it interesting to learn. I'm just sorry it's at the expense of your afternoon coffee [grin]


julochka said...

i want to know where you got the green sheep! :-) said...

I've had the thought of processing my own fleece too... but... now I have second thoughts! Had the fantasy of it being slightly grimy, dunk it a couple times, then magically have fluffy nice wool. Thanks for the reality check!!!

Heather M. said...

Surprisingly, your post lifted my spirits, instead of the other way around. To be fair, those who do a lot of fleeces usually have the machinery to assist them and don't have to bleach the tub afterwards. It's lovely wool, though. Do you have plans for it or do the plans come first and then you decide on the wool?

diegoagogo said...

Eeeewwww!!! Kudos for your commitment to the whoa to go process but eeewwww!!
Totally justified rant.
Trying to find the positive in this, searching, searching. Oh, yes. Sheep poo is good for your garden.
I would far rather buy it in a bag though.
Looking forward to seeing the pretty things you make with this.

Elderberry-Rob said...

Wow, I was looking at wool for felting bagged up the other day and thinking I couldn't justify £10 - think again! I had no idea so much work went into this and will certainly be much more appreciative when I do get round to buying some. I think you did extremely well to come out of it with any fleece at all!

Mona said...

Well, I know I'm some kind of wool-freak - I actually enjoy cleaning fleeces ;) Most sheep are sheared twice a year, spring and autumn. Ask for fleece cut in autumn, the sheep has been on grass all summer (not eating hay), and rain has 'washed' the fleece. Very dirty fleece most likely is 'winter grown', and can be a pain in the butt to make fit for use.
That said there's also the fact, that quite a lot of the fleece must be discarded before washing. Perhaps up to one third of the whole fleece. All wool from the butt-end, neck, and legs must be discarded, and most belly wool too. Do not try to wash wool with poo ;)
I always do fleece cleaning outdoors, using a big tub for the first couple of rinses. I just tip the tub with dirty water directly into flowerbeds or the like.
One of the above comments mentions fleas - I think she probably means ticks. If the sheep has ticks they ought to have a treatment. Didn't mean to sound bossy - just wanted to share my experiences.

Jessica Jo said...

I cleaned some fleece a few times. A friend found out I'm a spinner and thought it would be a better use of her fleece to giev it to me rather than use it for compost. The first one she gave me had been roughly skirted and it was a lot of fun. The next year, however, 3 fleeces with no skirting.. kind of turned me off to the idea. I ended up cleaning what I could by the end of February and then tossed the rest! I still need to comb a bunch but first I need to get the combs to stay on the table again. I could go on and on about this! I love me some fiber!

Amanda Pedro said...

yes, I bought 1 fleece and didn't enjoy the whole process. I skirted and washed half of it and put the rest in a bag for "later". That later became- Pass ti on to a friend to do. Cheers for continuing on...

Anonymous said...

Hats off indeed!

As someone who is very interested in learning more about this art myself, I really appreciate your very honest post. Kudos to you!

Tricia said...

I'll have to agree with the ewww comments. It do not have the stomach to clean poop out of wool. Grassy, straw, even ticks maybe but not a poop handler. Really appreciate the things you are willing to do for your art.

Margie Oomen said...

i did this once but swore never again unless i can take the sheep into the shower with me before they are shorn


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