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From sheep to garment...? Some advice, please

Posted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 2:52 pm
by Melons de Cantilupe
We've just acquired something like 19 freshly shawn fleeces, which were cut about 7 days ago.

If anyone can give practical advice from experience, about how best to wash it, first of all, it would be appreciated.
I understand I need to wash them soon, before moths, mice and hardening of the lanolin have an effect.
Although I'm interested in authentic 14th century techniques, I'm OK with using a modern technique if it'll help me get at least some of them cleaned before they go to grungy. After all, it's the stuff we can present as part of a LH exhibit that we're interested in - carding, combing, spinning, or using them to stuff akhetons etc.

I've read some web pages, but they get very contradictory. Some say use detergent, not soap, as soap is alkaline. Others say use soap not detergent. Confusingly, some websites (US I guess) suggest Dawn Dishwash Detergent, yet others call it Dishwash Soap. Skev will have us all using stale urine if we're not careful!

We may have a few fleeces spare if people can collect from the Notts/Derby border - 19 bags of the stuff is taking up a lot of room in our hay store - we originally thought we were getting the fleece from just 2 sheep!


Posted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 4:03 pm
by Kate Tiler
Hi Nick! Panic not!!!

It all depends on whether you want your fleece 'in the grease', which is easier to spin but yellow & smelly & then you wash the skeins of thread once they are plyed together, or whether you want to wash it clean & then add oil back into it it before you spin it.

Personally, I have many many fleeces which I've left untouched, just placed them in a plastic bin bag & then some of that green garden netting, slung them up hung high on the wall in our side passage which is glazed like a conservatory. Moths etc haven't touched them & I have some fleeces which are 15 years old & I still use them for demonstrations & kids etc spinning lessons.

We do call that passageway 'The Sheep Dip' though, because of the way it smelt for the first 2 years...

I think that whatever you use, Boots soap flakes, some of Sally's authenti soap, washing up liquid very diluted, you will always get an alkaline soap, the way to wash fleece so that it is not felted & therefore still cardable & spinnable, is to make sure you don't have any sudden changes in water temperature, i.e. don't use too hot a water & even if you use warm water to wash, keep it warm when you rinse. When you dry the fleece, lay it to air on a rack.

I have had washed fleece given to me before & I must say I find it a pain to try & card, like using weetabix. I think that is why you are meant to put oil back into it.

But anyway, don't feel you have to rush off & wash them all at once, a little fleece goes a long way - I'm still using the same fleece that I started with almost 20 years ago now...if I was trying to make decent thread for knitting or weaving then I'd probably start with something a little fresher, but for my demos & kids it is still serviceable.

There is always a third option too - just rinse it in fresh water to get the worst of the dirt out, which will leave you with the original lanolin & is probably closer to what the C14th cloth was woven from. Fulling used to be done using fuller's earth to felt the cloth & absorb the grease, once the thread was woven, so perhaps you only really need to use soap to get the grease out if you are going to dye the yarn.

Washing fleece & yarn & seeing the difference in colour is a great activity to do as a demo & the kids love it - I had a feltmaking demo set up at Barrow in Furness a couple of years ago & the kids loved washing lumps of fleece!

anyway thats my take on it :) love Kate

Posted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 6:25 pm
by sally
Agree with all Kate has said, you don't *have* to wash it straight away. What can be more helpful, especially if the house is suddenly full of fleece, is to sort it all. Basically you have two choices with fleece, use it all regardless, or pick out the better quality parts and save those for good projects. With several fleece at your disposal this makes sense as you can put all the really fine soft stuff in one pile, the 'stuffing' grade fleece in another and so on.

So, if I was in your shoes, what I would do is undo each fleece one at a time on an old sheet or in the yard, pick off all the clods of dirt, sh** or any other unuseable bits first, then have a good hard look at whats left. usually the best, finest wool is over the shoulders, so I would maybe sort the fleece into three grades based on what I can see and feel. This isnt rocket science, just sort according to what you think will be helpful for what you want to do with it eventually!

Do this to each fleece and put all the similar fleece together. You'll probably find that not only has your mountain got a bit smaller, but the best fleece really doesnt need a wash, the coarsest might, but depending what you want it for will dictate how carefully you wash it.

Type of fleece also makes a difference, if you have lots of rough stuff that you know will felt, I wouldnt wash it al all until I wanted to make felt with it, but if you wanted the rough stuff for padding jacks or pillows, then a good scouring would be helpful.

Bag and label each grade and wrap it up tight in several layers of bin bag. No moth will get into that, and it will hold for years and years.

Put the reject fleece under the roses or on the compost heap!

Posted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 12:30 am
by Melons de Cantilupe
Thanks very much ladies, that's been most helpful.
Luckily I'm working from home at the moment, and with the good weather, I'll probably find a long lunch-hour to go through a couple of bags.

Posted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 3:55 pm
by m300572
Technically these are called 'dags' Remove them and put them in the compost heap.

Wash it in the bath, that way you can do a lot at a time, and if you can do it on a sunny day you can spread it out in the sun to dry, otherwise you end up with a house full of damp sheep smell (which may be OK if you are another sheep out on the fells but not a good one for a suburban semi-)

If you want to go absolutely mad with the sorting there are several grades of wool on some single fleeces so you could end up with sevral heaps for different uses.

Cold water washing is authentic - to be truly authentic I think you have to wash it while it is still on the sheep - old maps often have 'sheep wash'es marked and I used to drive along a Sheepwash Lane every day. you then get the lanolin out of the woven cloth using fullers earth and stale urine (which smells a damn site worse than the damp sheep mentioned above) - the urine has ammonia in it which gets the grease out.

Posted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 4:12 pm
by sally
m300572 wrote: you then get the lanolin out of the woven cloth using fullers earth and stale urine (which smells a damn site worse than the damp sheep mentioned above) - the urine has ammonia in it which gets the grease out.
or if you want to keep the lanolin you could plunge the fleece into near boiling water so it all floats off, but this can go disasterously wrong and leave you with a solid lump of felt, so maybe not an experiment for first time round dealing with much fleece :lol:

Posted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 2:13 pm
by Kate Tiler
Yah! I got advice right :)

Makes me want to rush out & get more fleece! Its very addictive stuff, especially because you always have the excuse (when you arrivce back to the words 'Oh No! Not Another Fleece!?') of having diferent brands of sheep - oh this is a Shetland, its Completely Different! And much smaller than all the others!

Just wanted to add that you might want to keep a couple unwashed & unsorted, wrapped in linen/old sheet/hessian to take to events to unwarp & spread out near where the demonstration is going on - they look so impressive, people can't believe that all that came from one sheep!

Jack Greene even used to 'rent' a sheep that he knew by name, used to feed slices of bread to, he was a old fashioned ram who was the biggest sheep he'd ever seen & his fleece was the size a car when it was spread out! Jack would get the farmer to save the fleece each year when he was sheared, to take to schools. It was very sad when the sheep died, even I felt sad & I never even met him, just his wool!

Posted: Wed Jul 05, 2006 8:23 pm
by Melons de Cantilupe
There's no worry about experimenting and wasting wool - we've got 40 fleeces to get through!

So far, I've only had time to hot-soak one sink full (about a sixth of one sack), then cold-rinsed it, and let it dry in the sun. It seems to have come out OK, not too much crud still mixed in, and still very slightly greasy with lanolin. I've hand-teased the wool out whilst watching TV, so am about ready to practice card it.

Now, just where to get some hand carders from? I've seen the Ashton(?) carders, but are they authentic enough?

Are there likely to be any for sale at Tewkes or Rougham?

Some of this wool is going to be heading Conan's way, to keep her blood pressure down whilst the rest of us get to go and fight this summer.
Actually, it's turning into quite a major interest project in the group, with different people wanting to try carding, and drop-spinning, and using the carded wool for padding arming jacks etc. And of course Skev will want to be authentic and use all that urine he's been storing (he can do that at his own house, but not sure what TQO will say!). Even then, we reckon we won't get through more than 10 of the fleeces.
With our candle-dipping pot having gone all pear-shaped (thanks for passing on that advice via Conan, Kate), having various stages of wool preparation will be a nice quiet LH display.

Again, thanks for the advice everyone.


Posted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 9:21 pm
by Ellen Gethin
I got my carders on ebay, of all places, for around £20, and they've been brilliant. Kids love to use them, usually in pairs, and some of the fleece I take with me has been carded at least 20 times!

I also have a pair of dog brushes which look exactly like miniature carders, which one child can use.

And I'm still only half way through my first fleece after two years.

Posted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 11:25 pm
by Kate Tiler
I got a small progress report from Conan when I saw her!

Is where I'd recommend to get carders from, if you have handy peeps who can do woodworking, a cheaper way to get lots of pairs of carders is to buy the card cloth - ie just the prickly bit, then make up wooden bats with handles & nail the card cloth on to it with nice authenti head nails instaed of the staples, which are the main stumbling block in using modern ones.

You can get really authentic handmade carders from Mulberry Dyer but they were about £70 a pair last time I looked, as the wires are placed by hand into leather.

And guess what? I came home this weekend with another fleece! Jack was minding my stall while a sheepshearing demo took place behind me, and the lady sold him a fleece for £1, which I found by my stall when I got back! It's a lovely mixed colour, very long haired and short haired one, all combined, wonderful for arty feltmaking!

I've just been looking for someone who was trading at David's market a couple of years ago, who is a brother of a friend of mine who is an expert on wool & spinning - she eductaed me recently about what I should be using to drop spindle with - a small lead weight on a short pointed stick, rather than the bulky wooden spindles that I've been using for the last xxxx years! Can't find him but I found this interesting site instead,

and this which is mouthwatering:

http://www.archaeologicalplanningconsul ... xtile.html

and this: ... llage.html

but if you google for lead spindle weights you will find lots!

I think Thelma & Mike (TJ & Miel who trade as Excalibur artefacts are making autheniti lead whorl spindles, you will need at least 2 & probably 3 in order to set up & spin two ply yarn. (Their contact details are here: ... ge390.html)

I will try to remember to take some spinning stuff to show Conan when I next pop over, but it may prove as dangerous as housework you know!