Sometimes fleece happens. Sometimes I buy more than I can handle. Here is how I handle my unhandleable amounts of fleece, through note taking, sorting, washing, drying, picking and storing.
The most important fleece buying period for me is the late autumn. This is usually when the best fleece is shorn in Sweden.
The first shearing of the year is usually in late winter when the lanolin content is higher, the sheep are in the stable and the lambs take a lot if the energy from the ewes.
Come October the sheep have grazed on fresh pastures all summer and without lambs in their wombs. The wool shorn this time of year has usually grown since just before lambing and the tired, greasy and vm-y fleece is all gone. Read more about shearing in this blog post.
The autumn is also when the Swedish fleece championships happen. After the medalist have been revealed most of the fleeces are sold on an auction. This is an event that I won’t miss – the best of the best in one place.
For a few tips on finding a fleece, check out this blog post, Finding a fleece.
So autumn with the general autumn shearing and the fleece championships is the a time when I buy lots of fleeces. I tell myself that it’s my only chance this year and I tend to buy just a few more than I have time and space for. I still end up buying in the spring. As it turns out, fleece happens in the spring too.
Sometime too much fleece happens. The oldest fleeces get brittle and and the fibers break. They end up as mulching in the garden. A terrible waste spinwise. Therefore I need to think twice when I buy a new fleece, store them wisely and plan the order in which I spin them.
I also need a way to organize them while at the same time sharing the house with the rest of my family. I need to take note of the fleece, weigh, wash, dry and store the fleece. If I have the time I also sort it before storing.
I use the stash tab in Ravelry to make notes about my fleeces. Parameters I note are:
- Weight: I weigh the fleece when I get it, so that I know the original raw fleece weight. That way I can see how much dirt and lanolin is in the fleece. I also calculate the yield from raw fleece to finished yarn. Nerdy? Yes. But it’s also a way to estimate how much raw fleece I will need for a project I have in my mind.
- Shearing date: I want to know what season the sheep was shorn (see above about autumn and spring shearing), but also the year. That way I can keep a fleece queue where I spin the oldest fleece first. Sometimes I keep the queue order. My goal is to not keep fleece for longer than a year. Sometimes it works.
- Sheep owner: As far as possible I want to know who the sheep owner is. I keep a record of sheep owners I like and have contact with. They are usually very friendly and I can ask them questions about the sheep.
- Breed: I take notes of the breed or cross.
- Fun facts: Occasionally I know more about a sheep, especially if I have an ongoing contact with the sheep owner. It can be little things like the name of the sheep, age, what the pastures are like or a picture of the sheep. The more information I get the closer I feel to the sheep. And the closer I feel to the sheep the more I feel gratitude and a responsibility towards it to make the best of its gift to me.
- Plans: Sometimes I have a plan for a fleece before I buy it and sometimes I get an idea when I work with it. Either way I make notes of ideas for the whole or parts of the fleece.
If I have time I spread the fleece on the floor or the ground. If it’s shorn in one piece I try to arrange it in its entirety to see what type of wool has grown where. I make a rough sorting of the fleece. I remove visible bits of vegetable matter, felted parts and second cuts. If I see portions of different colour, quality or staple type I sort these roughly.
I don’t want raw fleece in the house together with washed fleece longer than necessary, so washing is my first priority when I get a new fleece. For the short time I have a raw fleece in the house I keep it away from my washed fleece.
In the summer I soak the fleece outdoors in cold water only. If I have several fleeces to wash I use the fermented suint method. During the winter I soak the fleece indoors in warm water for 15 minutes. You can read more about all these methods in this blog post.
After the soaking (any of the methods I mention above) and usually three rinsing waters I give it a ride in the spin cycle. When spin cycling the drum moves while the goods stay still on the moving walls of the drum, so it doesn’t felt. This works in our washing machine, but do make a test in yours if you want to try it.
I dry outdoors in the summer, we have lots of space to do that. In the winter it’s a bit trickier (again, I share the house with the rest of the family). I have some mushroom containers from the grocery store that I place underneath the heat pump or close to the fireplace. I only have four of these containers though and it’s not nearly enough for a whole fleece.
For my most recent fleece I spread the fleece on a compost grid on top of egg cartons under a sideboard in the living room. It’s open and airy and doesn’t take up too much space.
If I have the time I also pick and fine sort the fleece after it has dried or just before I start working with it. I simply pull the tip end staple by staple from the section of wool.
There are several benefits with picking a fleece:
- Air comes into the fleece and it gets easier to handle.
- Vegetable matter comes out of the fleece.
- I can make a more thorough sorting and methodically remove felted bits, second cuts and portions with too much vegetable matter.
- By going through the fleece staple by staple I get a better understanding of its condition and possibilities. Perhaps I see different colours, qualities or staple types that I want to sort by to make different preparations. If I sort for different parameters I roll each pile in newspaper, label them and place the rolls in a labeled paper bag.
There are lots of great tips for storing and I’m sure you have read about many of them. But the best solution is the one that is possible in your home. We don’t have many options. I keep the fleece in labeled paper bags in the storage of our sofa bed. It’s not optimal, but it works. I could say that the limited space I have in the sofa bed prevents me from buying too many fleeces, but that just isn’t true. I keep emergency fleeces in other places in the house too.
Fleece will happen again. The 2021 Swedish fleece championships have taken place and I’m eagerly waiting for the auction. I have allowed myself to buy two fleeces from the championships auction. I also have my tentacles out for a rare breed that might come my way.
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