Friday, August 3, 2007

The Return of The Marvelous Eugene Fleece

ETA: UPDATED to include grower's name, some forgotten links and additional photos that I couldn't upload initially
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…

Wait a minute. Large box? What’s this? I don’t remember ordering anything recently. What could this be?

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:

Holy crap!, I thought clutching my chest in shock, what had they done with the gorgeous fleece I’d sent them? Actually, I’m pretty sure the ‘holy crap’ part may have been said aloud and with considerable emphasis.
Then, as I lifted the bag I noticed there was something written it.

Oh, well, okay then.
Note to self: maybe try, hmmm, I don’t know, looking through the whole box and actually reading stuff before totally freaking out. Yeah, that might be good.
Oh, well, panic first and think rationally later as I always say.

Underneath the bag of waste wool* was the actual finished combed top.

big bag o' 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

It was all I could do not to try just a little bit more. Showing an unusual amount of self-restraint, I managed to resist the siren call of that lovely top. I actually had to put it in another room to accomplish this though because, honestly, it wouldn’t shut up. “Fondle me”, “Spin me”, “Me, me, pay attention to me!”, etc. That finished top is a regular Chatty Cathy.

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.

The Marvelous Eugene Fleece
Fleece Type: Purebred Merino (First Place in the 60’s and finer class)
Grower: Elizabeth Hubbard, Hub Corriedales, Bonanza, OR
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
Mailed: 7/13/07
Returned: 7/31/07

raw locks

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.**

Mr. CPA says these look like giant insect eggs...

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.

Washed and released from the netting cocoon

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.

Washed and ready for its visit to Zeilinger's wool spa...

* 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.


Sheepish Annie said...

Oh, wow!! Let me say it again. Oh, wow!!! That top came out just wonderfully. I continue to do battle with a merino fleece over here and, since I haven't worked with a raw fleece in a while, am really enjoying the process. But' if I didn't have the summer off there is no way this would be getting finished any time soon. They did a wonderful job with your fleece and it's more than worth it to have it treated well!

Cathy said...

Wow. Now I know where to send the finer Shetland I've been hoarding. It is so hard to find a mill to process fine wool.

Jessica said...

That's some seriously gorgeous wool. Reminds me that I still haven't washed the second half of my fleece from BSG.

Jacqui said...

awe- some! i can't wait to see your finished product.

i understand about chatty fleeces- even though i know not what i am doing yet, Cy the alpaca keeps jabbering at me from his exile in the craft room. pushy pseudoruminant.

marti said...

i am so drooling! it is beautiful.

LisaK said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing. I'm green.

Joanne said...

Whoa. That's all I can say. Whoa. That's stunning stuff. So, I didn't know that Zeilinger's combed such small amounts! That's great news. I love combed fibre, but can't cope with the large quantities folks used to require. I am stunned by this beauty. Beautiful.

kerry said...

That is gorgeous! So WHITE! I'd like to sleep on that.

Romi said...

Wow. It's beautiful. You *almost* have me wishing I spun. ::g::

Melanie said...

Wowza, what a completely gorgeous fleece! Look at that crimp. The combed top looks wonderful, as do the singles.

The little net rolls of fleece look like a bin of mozarella.

June said...

There are no words!!! Thanks for this great post! I have some Romney at Zeilinger's right now!

Sheila E said...

WOW is that BEEutiful!!

Vicki said...

What a gorgeous fleece! and even more gorgeous processed top! Love your idea for using rubber bands to close up your bundles of locks. Might have to try that the next time I have some raw fleece to wash. ;)

Tammy said...

Wow that is so beautiful!!

Laura A said...

My husband does that so much, (freaking out audibly before assessing the entire situation), that it no longer seizes my heart to cause chest pains. In fact, I completely ignore him, wait 5-20 seconds for the, "oh! OH!, ok then. Whew! We're fine", and shrug it off.

Your fleece is beautiful. Congratulations!

Holly said...

omgomgomgomgomg I soooo can't wait! I still need to get you to teach me the whole wee-bits-o-netting routine, 'cos that came out so incredibly beautifully. Woooo!!!

CarolineF said...

Beautiful. I would have just spun a whole bunch and then apologized profusely.

vanessa said...

fleece nirvana

Naomi said...

I don't know how many times I have read this post because it is so amazing to me. Thank you for sharing the process with photos!

Way cool!