Making Roving out of Raw Fleece

I would have loved to start my Ox-Cart Man series about the products I’ve made for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival in October by talking about making the yarn, as I feel that the yarn is the heart of my wool enterprise this year.

I dropped my fiber off in late May, but I”m not expecting a call to collect my yarn for another month or so. But….not all of the yarn wound up at the mill. I took the fleeces that I didn’t sell on Ravelry to the fiber mill.  Initially, Michael accepted them, but when I went back to the mill a few weeks later with wool from Jake and Priscilla’s sheep, Michael had looked through the fiber more carefully and sent it back with me for more picking and skirting.  It felt like getting a C on a test I’d studied hard for! Some areas of each fleece were just too dirty or too full of Vegetable Matter (VM).  The backs of the lambs, in particular, had large amounts of VM where larger sheep had dribbled it.  This is my fault – because I had more sheep with the same amount of feeder space, I filled the feeder higher than I should have and the sheep were able to sprinkle hay on each other’s backs.  The coats they are wearing this year should improve things, as well as an increase in feeder space.

But what to do with the already-dirty fleece?  I decided I’d take it on.  I separated it into two categories: Dirt-dirty and hay-dirty.  The wool with lots of dirt and oil got washed in the tub at 140 degrees and came out all clean and beautiful.  I set it out to dry in the sun, and then used my mother’s drum carder to make beautiful fleece batts for handspinners.  The wool that was full of hay, however, required a bit more work.  I combed the dirt out of each lock by hand using a single wool card.  I got through watching a lot of Battlestar Galactica as I was hand-combing wool!

sheep and pickle corriedale cross sheep
Peggy’s fabulous fleece!

Doing so much wool-work by hand benefited me in two ways.  First, I am my own best quality-control director, and I’m proud of how well the wool came out.  Spinners will find hardly any nepps (little areas of short fiber where the fiber was torn) and very low levels of VM except when noted.  Second, thoroughly brushing each fleece taught me a great deal about my individual sheep.  Bonnie has shorter wool than I’d like, but the fleece is consistent throughout with a nice crimp.  Esther’s fleece was probably the dirtiest, but once I cleaned it the rich brown/black color really showed through.  So beautiful!   Ida has an attractive fleece, but it is not consistent, with the wool on her rear end being fairly coarse.  I will be sure to note this to buyers of her fleece in the future, and I’ll be pickier with her offspring.

3-5 oz bags of hand-carded wool will be available at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival on October 4th and 5th.  If you are interested in some of this fiber before that time, please feel free to contact me!