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Learning to Process Fleece

Fleece to finished object is one of the most exciting ways I know to work with wool.  Not only do you gain the longest and most varied enjoyment from the process, but you have total control over the yarn you produce!  

While the steps are numerous, the process is actually quite simple.  Your Learn to Process kit contains well near everything you need to create fiber ready for spinning: raw fiber, a mesh bag to scour it in, two types of scour for experimentation, these instructions, and a flick card – one of the most versatile processing tools in the arsenal.

Your first step will be removing the raw wool from its baggie.  Choose whichever wool inspires you most. Shake it out and pop it into the mesh bag.  Make sure the fiber isn’t clumped up but is spread out a bit inside the bag. You’ll want the hot scour water to be able to penetrate the wool.  I use the mesh bags to make it easier to handle the wet wool – but you can use a colander, cat litter sifting tray or anything else with small enough holes to prevent wool from being lost down the drain, while allowing water to penetrate the wool.

Your next step is to take a container large enough to float your packet(s) of wool in.  There should be enough room underneath the soggy packet for about 3-4” of water.  I like to use a clear plastic shoe box for small batches, or one of those sifting kitty litter trays for medium sized batches, or a big tub trug and colander for the really big batches.  Once you have your container, fill it to about an inch from the top with the absolute hottest tap water possible – so hot you can’t immerse your hand for more than a second, the temp should be at least 120F and not above about 135F – and put a couple drops of either scour in the water.  You have enough scour in the sampler to wash all 5 samples separately (you really do).   Now pop the fiber packet into the water and push it down gently with your fingers so it gets totally saturated – it’ll float, but you want it wet. Now, walk away for about 15 minutes.

Gently lift the packet out of the water, which will be quite grimy, and dump it on your plants.  If you live in the city, turn on your tap water – on hot (you’ll need it anyway) and slowly dump it down the drain.  

Then do this step one more time.  

The third and fourth times you do this but skip the scour and just use clear hot water.  These are the rinses. 

After the final rinse, gently remove the wool from the mesh bags and lay it on a towel to dry.  It’s ok to gently blot the damp wool, and it’s also ok to spin the wool in the bag in your shower (behind the curtain, or you’ll have wool water all over your bathroom) as if you’re the spin cycle of your washing machine before you remove it.  If you put it in a sunny spot, it should take a few hours to dry.  If you don’t have one, it takes a little longer. A cat or a dog finding its way to snuggle on it (don’t panic – it happens) may speed up the process even further.

Once the fiber is dry you may card.  A word of warning – I have more than once stabbed my fingers with a flick card while flicking.  I highly recommend you use caution – and make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.  I also recommend a thick cloth like leather, canvas or the leg of an old pair of jeans you can cut off to protect your thigh.

A flick card is used to open up both ends of the fiber locks; unless it’s a long wool or a multicoated wool, this is normally sufficient.  Taking a lock between your fingers and giving it a good twist in the middle to hold everything together, you can either tap the flick against each end in turn as if you were drumming a rhythm on a desk, or brush each end as if you were getting snarls out of the ends of your hair.  The tapping method also works very well by just grabbing a clump of wool and tapping it all over to create a cloud.

Longwools may not respond as well to the tapping method, and may require more of a brush starting at one end and working gently up to the butt end.  Multicoated wools may separate the inner and outer coats.  This is completely normal but if you wish to use the two coats combined, as in a lopi style yarn, you’ll want to make sure your grip is solidly in control of the shorter undercoat and may need to shift your grip toward the butt end where the under coat is more prevalent.  The cloud method works particularly well to open up down/type breeds.  

Once you’ve flicked your fiber is ready to spin!  You may take it to your spindle or wheel and begin the next stage of enjoyment!

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