8/6/07 ETA: I added some edits to the fleece washing section.
On Tuesday I came home from work moved through my usual after work routine:
- First the requisite frenzied greeting from a certain small terrier, which consists of much delighted twirling and excited barking.
- Second, moving around the large box in the entry to put down my totebag and purse in their usual spots and…
A quick look at the label changed tentative investigation into real excitement:
Back already? I only mailed it off on July 13th - Amazing! I wasn’t expecting it for months after hearing about my various friends’ experiences with fleece processing.
I ripped open the box, anxious to see what the finished combed top looked like. Imagine my complete surprise when this met my eyes:
Oh, well, okay then.
Underneath the bag of waste wool* was the actual finished combed top.
Close-up of the lovely noil-free top
Absolutely gorgeous! Zeilingers did a really wonderful job on this fleece! I will definitely be using them again. (I had seen their pin drafted Romney top at the Spring Hill Farm booth in Puyallup and it was perfectly lovely, but I’d never seen their preps for fine fleece before.)
I immediately called Holly to let her know that The Marvelous Eugene Fleece had landed, since we bought the fleece together and half of it will be going home with her. “I’m touching it right now!!!” I told her while we were chatting.
And just to be a good friend I took the tiniest bit off the end to test spin. But really only to make sure it was okay before Holly drove all the way out here to pick up her portion, not for any selfish, personal reasons! That’s just the way I am, self-sacrificing and all that.
The verdict? It spins, as Linda Richman would say, “like buttuh”
And finally, here is a summary of the evolution of The Marvelous Eugene Fleece that I never got around to posting earlier despite my good intentions.
Fleece Type: Purebred Merino (First Place in the 60’s and finer class)
Acquired: June 2006, Black Sheep Gathering, Eugene, OR
Raw Weight: 7.78 lbs (price - $12/lb)
Post-Wash Weight: 6.38 lbs
After Processing Weight: 5.5 lbs
Processor: Zeilinger Wool Co.
Processing Method: Combed Top
I prepped the fleece by sorting the locks, discarding the very few scrufty bits and second cuts not worth keeping, and then rolling them in nylon netting secured with rubber bands to maintain the lock structure during scouring.**
My typical scouring process involves using my top-load washing machine. I fill the washer with hot water (supplemented with additional boiling water from the stove as needed) and then turn it off. I add generous amounts of Dawn dishwashing soap (ETA: how much Dawn I add is dependent on both the water level in the washer and the dirt level in the fleece, but generally it's enough that the water feels slippery.), turning the machine back on for just a few seconds to allow the agitator to swish the soap around to mix (but not enough to make suds) before turning it off again.
The nylon netting rolls (ETA: or loose fleece if I'm washing a fleece without rolling it in netting) are submerged and left to soak for an indeterminate amount of time (very scientifically based on the amount of time I have available to obsess about how long it’s taking), but not so long that the water gets cool.
I then put the machine on spin to remove the dirty, soapy water. (my machine doesn’t spray water on the final spin cycle and that’s where I set it to spin the water out – if your machine sprays water during the spin cycle you’ll want to turn off the water at the spigot.)
The next step is either another soapy soak or a rinse, depending on how dirty the fleece is. I always give the fleece at least two hot rinses and I put a ‘glug’ of vinegar in the last rinse because it seems to cut any remaining soap residue.
I let the fleece dry in the rolls awhile before opening the netting and removing the locks to dry completely.
Close-up of washed locks
I’d like to note here that I usually enjoy carding my own fleeces (almost as much as I enjoy spinning them). However time is increasingly at a premium lately and even if it weren’t I knew without a doubt after sampling a small amount of this fine fleece on my carder that I needed to have it processed professionally as combed top. The resultant batt wasn’t completely horrible, but carding certainly wasn’t going to do the fleece justice with the small noils it introduced. And really, there’s no sense putting out the cash for a gorgeous fleece only to ruin it by going cheap on the processing.
* I think returning the waste wool is a nice touch and probably saves the poor mill owners from fielding many phone calls from people receiving their fleeces back and wondering why the finished product is pound or so lighter than the original fleece. Having combed wool in the past, I was expecting to lose volume to waste and noils, but I was still surprised to see how many plant bits and pieces (aka VM) were in the waste wool since I had been so careful with the cleaning and sorting of the locks.
** some people might find this tedious but I love handling the raw, lanolin-rich wool – especially one as incredibly clean as this one. This method also allows me to really see every bit of the fleece before washing and sort out any challenged bits that I may have missed during skirting.