Prepping the Fleece!

To give you all a break from barn-cleaning pictures, I thought I would describe how I've been prepping the Icelandic fleece that I bought from Lee. You might recall that one of the fleeces I bought that first day was from a sheep that is owned by a friend of Lee's - and his sheep are fed differently than Lee's are (in terms of the type of feeder used). This became very apparent when Lee showed me the fleece - the amount of VM (vegetable matter) in Lee's fleece vs. that of her friend's was staggering - very little in Lee's, and a ton in her friend's. Ultimately, what I think I'm going to do with this fleece (from a lovely sheep named May) is send it to a wool mill for processing - there is simply too much VM for me to get out on my own, so in this case, it is definitely worth the cost to make sure it is skirted and scoured well by a team of professionals.  However, I thought it would be good practice to tear off a chunk of it, do some skirting, scour it, and then try out my new Viking combs.

Here is a shot of May's fleece in the bag:


You can see a lot of VM - seeds, grasses, etc., and this isn't even looking deep inside the fleece - there is a lot more in there! But check out the beautiful colors - the thel (undercoat) in the grays and blacks, and the tog (outer, longer locks) in white and gray - yes, I am quite enamored of Icelandic fleece!

So for my trial run, I tore off a fairly large chunk and picked as much VM out of it as I could.





Then I filled up my kitchen sink with scalding hot water and Dawn dish soap, and set the fleece on top of the suds - I hardly had to push it into the water because once the fleece starts soaking up the water, it sinks pretty rapidly. I made sure it all got covered in water, then let it soak for about 30 minutes. I didn't want to wait so long that the water cooled off and the lanolin re-congealed back onto the fleece.



When the water had cooled enough to allow me to put my hands into it, I lifted the fleece out of the soapy water and set it onto a dish towel. Then I cleaned out the sink (made sure all of the dirt, VM, and soap were gone) and ran VERY HOT rinse water, and gently added the fleece (you don't want to shock the fleece by putting it into a rinse that is a drastically different temperature - this can cause it to felt). At this point I had to handle it a bit more than I did with the soapy water - in order to get the soap out, I did some gentle squeezing of sections of the fleece to help it fully rinse. But again, I had to be very careful so that I didn't felt the fleece.

After gently squeezing the soap out of the thicker sections of the fleece, I let it sit for about another 30 minutes. I then lifted it out of the water, gently squeezed as much water out of it as I could, and wrapped it up in clean towels - and continued to gently squeeze the excess water from the fleece. I set up my drying rack in our spare bedroom (where our kitties aren't allowed!), and hung the locks and pieces of fleece out to dry!  By the next day, I had some beautiful, clean fluff:







After only one wash in Dawn and one rinse, I had beautiful, clean Icelandic fleece to start combing! I am a BIG believer in the ability of Dawn to clean dishes and to, literally, get grease out of the way - now I know that it is powerful stuff because of its ability to clean the lanolin out of a fleece so effectively! (And no, I do not work for Dawn, am not compensated for giving my opinion about Dawn, and do not know anybody who works for Dawn!)

So now, in order to comb or card, I was supposed to either do hand-picking or run the fleece through a picker, which is a tool that helps to open up the fleece, allowing leftover dirt and VM to fall out, and to make combing easier. Well, I don't own a picker, so I just played with it for a bit, then started combing it, and ended up with these little nests of combed fiber:





I then began spinning it, just to see what it was like, and I love it!  It's very sturdy because of having the tog and the thel combed together - it is possible to separate the long tog from the short thel and comb/spin them separately, but for this first experiment, I wanted to see what it was like keeping them together.
I was also able to take some of the scoured fleece to Lee's and run it through her picker - after that, I took it home to comb it, but here is what I discovered - the picker seemed to separate the two coats (tog and thel) a great deal, so when I tried to comb them together, I ended up with pills of thel that couldn't be combed in with the tog. So I think that if I want to spin the tog and thel together, I need to skip using a picker.
While at Lee's, I asked her about using combs vs. cards - she said after running her Icelandic fleece through the picker, she just feeds it through her electric carder with no problem, and was really surprised to hear that everything I've read online and in books about working with Icelandic fleece says that it has to be combed. I think the difference lies in whether or not you're using a drum carder (I think that is what Lee has - but one that is motorized) or handcards...whether or not you want to separate out the tog from the thel...whether or not you use a other words, I think that there are a wide variety of ways to work with this amazing fleece, and it's best to try the different preps to see which one appeals to you the most. So yes, I suspect that there will be a drum carder in my future!
Before closing, let me show you some more fleece chunks that I scoured and combed - have I mentioned yet how much I adore Icelandic fleece???  These come from two of Lee's sheep - Goodie and Prima Donna. I've already sold these fleece to a very nice lady in Virginia, but I plan to buy more of these two sheepies' fleeces - the colors and texture are AMAZING!!!


Prima Donna:
Next time...more barn pictures! So much has gotten finished in the last couple of weeks, and I can't wait to share it all with you!



Jill McCullough

Oh my gosh... that pic of Prima Donna.... I love it! She's SO fluffy! Amazing how much work and love goes into this.... awesome!

Jennifer Bogut

She was SO shaggy in that picture - I'm so excited to see the difference between their October fleeces (which I have now) and their April fleeces (which I'll see in LESS THAN A MONTH!!!!)! :D I'm so excited! :D

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