Wednesday, May 12, 2010

lurking in the basement

The professor and I are still in the clutches of a bad head cold. It's the kind where you think that cutting off your head altogether would make everything all better. Luckily, that seems so difficult that in between coughing and blowing your nose, you just sit on the couch and stare at nothing, so in actuality, our heads are pretty safe.

This slow motion approach to life is ideal for processing the wool I've just received. Aside from the burrs (see photo 1 there) it's quite nice. I deal with it pretty simply.

First, I sit down on the basement floor for an hour or two at a time, usually in the late afternoons when I am good for little else. I pull off a clump of locks of wool, with burrs embedded in there. (just like a journalist with the military) I take a pair of sharp scissors, and I chop off the very top of the lock, where the burrs are. I assemble a big pile of greasy locks, ready to be washed. I throw all the burrs away along with wool that is too short or too stinky into a trash can. (Absolutely never consider composting this seedy kind of trash. Burr seeds in your compost could potentially mean big ole burrs in your garden if your compost wasn't hot enough to kill the seeds. Oh no.)

When the pile is big enough, I wash it as one would usually wash wool, but with a bit of deviation to maintain a small amount of lanolin in there. The water in my washing machine (I use it as a set tub) is hot but not really hot. I do one wash and one rinse. The wool that comes out is cleaner, but still a little greasy, which is ideal for wool combing.

You'll see there are still some burr seeds in there, but otherwise, it's now pretty much vegetable matter free. Unlike wool from the east coast, I found the burr species here did not puncture my hands, and there were no tree leaves in this. Another benefit of the prairies and bush land here, I guess!

I used basic tools to make this work. One thing was a pair of sharp scissors. The other thing was a set of well-loved 2 row Indigo Hound Viking Combs. I will note here that I don't comb when I'm too tired as it is dangerous. I also found that raw or really greasy wool and combing can be dangerous too, as the combs get sort of slippery and, well, I don't want one of those spikes through my hands, do you?!

The next stage was to do some combing to see how this was coming out. As you can see here, this wool looks nothing like that first photo up top. White, relatively clean and hand combed top-- with a little grease in it for ease in combing and spinning? It's practically my favorite stuff to spin in the world.

Yesterday I had to sample a bit, just to be absolutely sure it would be a delight to spin. Oh yes, it was! The spindle here is one of Ray's. I spun a very fine yarn for the heck of it. My keys are next to the spindle for perspective's sake.

Then I plied the yarn, using a Navajo 3 ply technique. I plied it directly off the first spindle and onto a Hatchtown Farm Kaari Spindle.
When the tiny skein was complete, I put it on a tiny niddy noddy, ideal for sampling. (I've never used it before, as it was a gift and I usually use my hand and elbow, but it's quite a nice little piece of woodworking!)
I haven't knitted a swatch with it yet, but it's basically a fingering weight yarn.
The combing waste will be used for stuffing or carding into a woollen yarn. I'm mostly through "de-burring" fleece #1. Fleeces 2 and 3 await.
In the past, when I've done production spinning, this wool wouldn't have been a candidate for it--it's obviously not time effective. However, if you're enjoying process and not product, (and in no hurry) there's no reason not to use nice wool and work around flaws like a few -hundred- burrs.
It's not for everyone, but so far I haven't minded the quiet time spent in the basement, fondling raw wool and staring off into space. It's ideal for someone with a head cold and this glazed look...I'll see how I feel towards the end of fleece #3!
Was this helpful information? Have you ever gone the extra mile to salvage interesting fleece? Tell me about how you did it in the comments, please! Let's learn from one another!

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger June said...

Oooh, you have some pretty wool there, Joanne, and lots more patience than I would ever have!!!

May 12, 2010 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

When I first started raising sheep, I used to sit on the floor in my kitchen and pick out every piece of vegetable matter from the wool I could find BEFORE I sent it to the processing mill. Obviously I learned how unnecessary this was but it was relaxing and I love clean fiber.
That being said, I have always wanted to try to spin in the grease. Have you done that? Did you like it?

May 12, 2010 at 9:21 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

I have a beautiful handcrafted set of Ray's 4 pitch English combs in my collection.
I don't think I have ever processed fleece with burrs in it but I have done pygora and shetland that was somewhat felted together and I did a Shetland fleece last year that was full of June bugs. They were stuck in the fleece (dead) and when I pulled them out the legs stayed stuck in the wool. Gross.

May 13, 2010 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Deb, I have indeed spun in the grease. In fact, that's how I first learned to spin! I really enjoy it and find that if the fleece is relatively clean and the animal was healthy (not too stinky) it is a delightful experience. As far as I've found, it has only made my wheels look better over time. (natural oils on the wood and all that...) I do find that my dogs think raw wool is very tasty, so I don't spin greasy wool indoors or very often as I don't want them to ingest too much of it. It is definitely something to try.

May 13, 2010 at 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice work, Joanne. Aren't favorite combs wonderful? They make puffs of wool that just invite spinning.

May 13, 2010 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Brings back memories of a superfine angora fleece that I used to pick apart while waiting for my kids to get out of school (no schoolbuses in Calif after Prop 13 in the '70's) and let the VM waft away in the winds off the Bay. Peaceful work, I enjoyed it.

--AlisonH at

May 15, 2010 at 12:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home