Catching breath

Phew! Since getting back from holiday it’s been non-stop trying to catch up with everything non-textile.

But finally this morning I got the chance to spend some textile time helping to clean some sheep fleeces. My friend Carol was given a couple of Shetland fleeces from a friend who rears Shetland sheep in Cornwall, and she met Mary, who had also been donated four different sheep fleeces from an Irish farmer.

Soon Carol’s kitchen smelled like a farmyard as the six fleeces were unrolled and laid out on the floor.

fleece1 fleece2 fleece3

My experience of scouring my own fleece last year came in useful, as we placed parts of the fleeces in sinks with hot water and shampoo to get rid of the the muck and lanolin.


However, even with two sinks, one tank of hot water was not going to go far with six fleeces – we only managed to scour two half fleeces before it ran out!


Still a little way to go!

I managed to combine the trip to Carol’s house with some very fruitful visits to local charity shops, as this haul of scarves shows – one cashmere, one wool and three silk. These will be upcycled in the indigo vat – the production rush for Christmas is about to begin!


Here’s one I made earlier – a beautiful linen scarf that was originally grey with rows of sequins at both ends. I wasn’t sure how they would react in the indigo vat, but they emerged unscathed, twinkling like stars in the night sky. 🙂

linen mokune2


Felt samples

One thing I am learning the hard way is that it’s often best to experiment with small samples first rather than rushing in with all guns blazing on my latest “brilliant” idea.

Sometimes it does work, but sometimes I end up wasting a lot of time and/or materials when my process or technique throws up something I hadn’t thought of.  It’s not a total waste – I do learn a lot from my mistakes! But it might be less wasteful to learn on a smaller scale. 😉

It’s difficult to restrain my natural impatience, but this week I’ve done a couple of small samples (also useful as I haven’t had much time). The first was a small piece of flat felt using wool from my fleece. It does felt, although quite lightly, and it takes a long time; even after fulling, it feels quite spongy and stretchy.

I like the effect – I think I might mix it with some merino to help speed up felting and provide extra texture.

The other sample was a another experiment with honeycomb felt, this time in a small 3D pot. I thought this would be quite difficult to felt, because I make pots around a flat resist, and there would be a layer of marbles on each side of the resist.

It was difficult keeping the marbles in position at the beginning, so in the end I went for the “random honeycomb” effect and  let them move where they wanted. But the actual felting was remarkably quick – maybe the marbles inside the felt acted like the glass washboard I use for fulling, providing extra friction and speeding up the felting?

I also like holding it up and seeing how the light comes through the thinner layer of yellow felt.

Washing the fleece

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the frogs are stirring in the pond. Time to make a start on cleaning my fleece!

As ever, the advice on how to do it was contradictory. Magdalen, who gave me the fleece, wrote on her note that I should soak it in lukewarm water for a couple of hours without soap. Debby, my tutor at Morley College, said that if I wanted to dye it (which I do), I should put it in cold water with a little detergent, as the lanolin in the fleece resists dye because it is too oily.

Online, the consensus among spinners seemed to be that using hot water and dishwashing detergent was best, as long as you don’t agitate the fleece and don’t let the water get cold, as this causes the lanolin to reattach itself to the wool. Eventually I decided to use the method outlined by Fuzzy Galore. But as I can’t do all the fleece in one go anyway, I will probably try different techniques on different batches.

When I laid it out on a plastic sheet in the garden, it became clear that it wasn’t in one piece, like a sheepskin rug, but several large clumps. I picked off some of the grubbiest bits of dung, plus the largest bits of straw, thorny twigs and other vegetation.

Then I picked a clump that didn’t look too grubby, filled the kitchen sink with hot water, added some Fairy Liquid, and gently pressed the wool so that it was submerged in the water.  I left it for 15 minutes, by which time the water was filthy, scooped out the wool into a bowl, drained the water and repeated the process. The water wasn’t so dirty this time.

Then it was two 15-minute rinses, again in hot water but without the detergent. The final rinse water was a little cloudy but not dirty.

I was a bit worried about spinning it in the washing machine, as many people seem to recommend, so I put a few handfuls in the salad spinner and span it by hand! This was actually very effective and didn’t take too long.

Then I laid it out on some net curtain on top of a rack above the bath to dry. I’ve managed to do three batches, which I reckon is about half the fleece.

As you can see, the wool is much whiter than it was, and it’s considerably less smelly! It doesn’t seem to have felted  anywhere, so either I have handled it really well, or it’s going to be difficult to get it to felt! 😉