This year, for the first time, I managed to make it to the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival, a.k.a. “A Fiber Lovers Paradise.” It. Was. Amazing. There were sheep, and alpacas, and goats, and rabbits. It was a veritable petting zoo, which you know I’m all about. Todd had to keep a close eye on me, as I was casing all the alpaca stands trying to figure out how shove a cria in my pocket to take home with us. Here were a few of my favorite furry friends:
And then, you could look in any direction and see glorious fiber and yarn. In fact, there was so much fiber goodness that it was a little overwhelming. I simply couldn’t choose between all the yarns. They were all so beautiful. So, I decided to stick with my game plan of buying my first whole sheep fleece.
For those of you uninitiated to the world of fiber, buying your first fleece is akin to entering the Tour de France as a young rider. It’s exciting, daunting, and very scary. Since I’ve never purchased a whole fleece before, I really had no idea what I was looking for. I know……shocking, right? There were hundreds of trash bags full of shorn sheep fleeces to dig through. I wish I’d been smart enough to get a picture. I was quickly reaching “sheep fleece saturation point.” So, lacking in any formal knowledge, I did what I do when picking a wine — choose based on aesthetics. I was able to narrow down my choices because I wanted a white fleece so that I could blend it with my angora rabbit wool. Then, I just looked at the names of the sheep and let my fingers be my guide. I settled on four pounds of the softest wool I’ve ever had the pleasure of groping. My fleece is from a lovely little Cormo sheep named Lillian. (Each fleece comes with a label telling you the weight, sheep’s name, and farm that it came from.) Here is my bounty:
The first step towards turning raw sheep into wonderful yarn is a very long washing process. You have to get out all the lanolin (natural oil), dirt, vegetable matter, and other nastiness that I won’t explain, but you know…… The tips of Lillian’s wool was especially dirty, so before washing it, I clipped those off.
You have to be very careful when washing wool. If you’re not careful with the temperature changes and agitation, you can end up with felt, which probably some of you are familiar with if you’ve ever put a wool sweater in a dryer and ended up with a baby cardigan. Doh! One thing that helps, is putting wool into lingerie bags. So, after clipping in they went.
Since the plan was to blend this Cormo with my angora, I wasn’t too concerned with preserving the lock structure the wool. That meant I could use the washing machine instead of large tubs. Each batch of wool was given three separate, 30-minute soaks in hot water and laundry detergent. At the end of each 30-minutes, I’d put the wool through a short spin cycle to remove as much dirty water from it as possible.
The fourth soak was in clean, lukewarm water to rinse out any remaining soap. Then, I spread out the wool on sweater racks to dry.
Washing an entire fleece is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. You have to commit. It is a LONG process. I have now finished, four loads of Lillian, and I still probably have two more loads to go. Ugh. Yes, I purchased Lillian in May. Yes, it is now July. Touch of the ADD, what can I say? But, the effort has been so worth it — I now have a HUGE plastic bin full of heavenly, cloud-light, soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom, wool.
What am I going to do with all of this, you might ask? My plan is to eventually spin it into a bulky wool that I can use to make the sweater Cameron Diaz wears in “The Holiday.” I love this sweater! I’ll probably have it done by 2035.
Washing all of that fiber has inspired me to get some spinning done. Since I have a bit of a backlog with my angora, the mission was to use up as much as possible. I started with a small skein for my mom that was 50% alpaca and 50% angora. The picture’s color is a little washed out — it’s actually lavender. I think she plans to make something for my niece with it.
Then, I spun up a skein of angora, silk, and merino in baby blue on my spindle while we were at the beach. And this week, I spun up a 50/50 skein of angora and merino wool on my wheel. I was really, really pleased with the latter. My ability to keep a consistent thickness of yarn is definitely improving. There is definitely still a variation, but it’s less apparent.
After winding both of these skeins into balls, I started knitting up the “It All Comes Together” slouchy hat with a twisted stitch rib in the 50/50 mix. While you can see the diameter variation, I think it still looks okay. Look at the halo starting to form — so soft!
It’s been so nice to crank up the AC and pretend that it’s snowing outside instead of this nasty 100 degree weather we’ve been having. Hopefully, it’ll start to cool down soon and I can really start picturing fall and wearing all these wonderful knit garments!