Saturday, July 2, 2022

I have a bad habit of collecting fleeces.

 July brings the Tour de France and the Tour de Fleece.  Spinners and other fiber folk have for some time had an event that runs concurrently with the Tour de France bicycle race. Some folks group together in teams and compete with other teams to see how much yarn they can spin in the 3 week event. The spinners are suppose to spin on the days the cyclists ride and rest when they do and usually are on the honor system to report their production, in weight or yardage. Knitters and those who crochet can also set project goals and work along and this year I am joining with a different focus.

I have a bad habit of collecting fleeces. Back before I had sheep, I "cornered the market" in free fleeces. Any time I say mention of someone giving away a sheep fleece, I jumped on it like fleas on a dog and soon had a virtual flock in my back room. Getting them washed, carded and ready to spin mostly did not happen and eventually I hauled many huge bags to a commercial mill near by and got it turned into roving to spin. Which I did, at least some. 

 I was overjoyed when they had been dropped off at the mill. The room was empty! It totally did not track in my brain that, eventually most of it would come back as roving, to haunt me. LOL

L to R Major Tom, Enterprise, Rigby
I spun, shared, sold a bit and in the end, gave it away as I began accumulating fleeces from my Icelandic crew, Rigby, Major Tom and Enterprise. Icelandic sheep are sheared twice a year, in case you did not know. Two fleeces per sheep per year.

Yeah, it addes up. 

I have no idea how many fleeces I have but I have declared my goal for the Tour to be preparing them to take to a wonderful small mill in the western part of the state that I like, Underhill Farm.

Getting fleece ready to be processed into roving -- a  long and narrow bundle of fiber from which one spins -- is not just a matter of giving the sheep a buzz cut (like cutting your hair, it does not harm the sheep) and throwing it in a bag. I suppose one could do that, but most mills these days expect the shepherd to remove anything that we do not want in the yarn. Such foreign matter can include bits of hay (especially in a spring fleece), cocleburrs and other weed seeds (fall fleece after a summer on pasture), and since the whole sheep is sheared, bits of poo. Sometimes the shearer needs to make a "second cut" to get the fleece left on the animal even and chose shorter bits of fleece are not able to be spun and need to be removed, as well as any bit of fleece the the sheep has felted by rubbing up against a feeder or such. This is called "skirting" because much of the less desirable bits are found around the outside of the fleece, when it is intact and nicely laid out.

Wool, you see, tends to hang together, both because of the lanolin in the wool and the nature of the hairs as well. When a sheep is properly sheared, the fleece can be rolled up in one piece and then unrolled to look much like a pelt, minus the hide. So the "skirt" is  around the outside, from the wool underneath the sheep, up around the neck, down under the other side and then back around the tail. You can see where there might be some sheep droppings caught up in a long coat.

So, for my Tour challenge this year, I will be finding and skirting all of the white, brown and black fleeces that are lurking in my back room. Hopefully I can get done in time to grab a friend for a road trip to deliver them to the mill.

...while still tending, weeding, picking and mulching the garden (I brought home 24 bales of straw today, to begin the mulching), sending meat chickens to "freezer camp" two at a time, putting by spinach and -- soon == peas, caring for the critters and getting the second batch of "nuggets" as we call the baby meat chickens, started enough to transition to outside.

Wish me luck!