It's about time I got started washing the fleeces I'm going to keep. I started with Rowdy, who is an unusually-marked Jacob, almost albino. His fleece is so white, crimpy and clean.
Here's his bag-o-fleece, one of the MANY decorating the floors of our house.
A closer look:
Next, it's filling up the washing machine with really hot water and pouring a few rounds of Dawn in the water.
I sorted Rowdy's fleece into whites and greys, then put the fleece into mesh bags (so the fibers don't float all over and get tangled) and push the bags into the hot water. Ow!
After a half-hour soak, I put the machine on spin cycle to release the dirty water (this doesn't felt the wool, but you can't let the machine go on agitate cycle!). I lift the bags out and fill the tub again for a rinse. Usually one or two rinses gets all the dirt out. Then it's on to dry outside. I use an old screen door to dry the wool on.
Rowdy's dried wool back is back in the house in a net basket, ready to be picked and carded for spinning. This is just the first half of the fleece, from the left side of the above picture.
It's probably best that this next picture came out blurry, as this picker, my "torture device" as Gene calls it, is a pretty scary tool.
I'll leave these next steps for another day. Time to go choose my next fleece to wash...
My friend, Janet, asked me how long it takes to skirt a fleece (remove undesirable wool). I conservatively and ridiculously replied, "10 or 15 minutes, depending."
I skirted 3 fleeces yesterday, and each one took no less than a half hour, and these were clean fleeces! Sometimes it takes longer if there is considerable vm (vegetable matter-hay bits, leaves, burrs), or if I get interrupted by the cry of a new lamb who has lost her mom :-/
First, I lay out the fleece, cut-side down on the skirting table, neck to tail. This is Sherpa, one of my breeding rams.
I pull out sample locks of both the white and the color, lilac in this case, and photograph them to display character and staple length. Sherpa's white shows a tight crimp; his lilac is open and springy.
I make two trips around the edges of the fleece, pulling off unusable wool, like this britch wool (the coarse hair fiber from the tail end and lower thigh), wool with dung and any matted wool, from the sheep rubbing against fence posts or the shed wall.
Some of the britch wool is usable, especially for felting, but I also have to pick off second cuts, where the shearer had to go back and cut again, closer to the skin. Here is a second cut easy to spot, white on white.
The dark on white second cuts are easier to spot, and harder to remove. I make a round about the fleece, first shaking it to remove second cuts and loose vm, then two more rounds rolling back the fleece and picking out what I find.
Sherpa's fleece was pretty clean, not much vm, but I did need to shake and pick out some kemp (short, brittle, weak fibers) that had migrated into the best wool.
After skirting, I find a good cut-side area to photograph, showing off the color variation and character of the wool.
Then, I fold the sides into the center and roll the fleece from tail-end to neck-end for storage.
And back in the bag it goes! Bags are labeled with the sheep's name, and now I can mark this one "sk14"--skirted 2014. I will probably use Sherpa's fleece for my Shear Bliss products, but if I were going to sell this fleece I would next go weigh it so that I could determine selling price.
Seventeen more bags await me...