The upside of the fleece washing

I have more to say about my recent fleece-fermenting experiments, but for now, I’ll just say that having washed fleece on hand has proven to be a Good Thing(TM) and I want more of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I started obsessing over the Boardwalk sweater (and colourway), and (since I’m still trying not to buy stuff), I figured I had a chance of blending it from undyed fleece:

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I’ve been pecking away at the initial batt-building: a bit of this, a bit of that, in the mornings before work. My first-pass batts (not blended at all; just together’d) contain wool from three different fleeces (a mostly-white shetland with some grey, an almost-alpaca coloured Manx Loughtan, and Bolshy), plus some pale fawn alpaca (which seems to be way nicer than I expected – must investigate further):

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(The dark brown is over-represented in that photo). This morning, I divided, subdivided and recombined the batts and carded the first truly blended batt that has a bit of everything in it. The light was too poor to take a photograph, but I’m pretty enamoured with the result. Probably a bit cooler than the original target colour, but a fabulously interesting heathered oatmeal.

I’ve also enjoyed the batt-building/drum carding process way more than usual; probably because it’s been an experiment, and an adventure, and I’ve not been aiming to ‘finish’ a fleece or stick to a deadline.

In short: I want to do more carding and blending like this, so I’m going to need to get lots of fleeces washed so I have lots of fibre to choose from. (I also want to play with dyeing more of the fibre before blending, but that’s another story)

The very best in all that is stinky

It is well past time for me to tackle the fleece mountain.

I’ve actually lost track of how many fleeces I have, let alone what kind of sheep they’re from, or what state of processing they’re in, so I’m hoping to get to an audit before the cold weather truly comes back.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with the fermented suint method of fleece cleaning.  “Fermented” may sound like a good start, but when you remember that ‘suint’ is sheep-sweat, and a raw fleece is full of all the other joys of the field as well as suint and lanolin, the fermentation starts to sound less tasty.

And indeed it is.  Here’s the theory:

Getting up and running
The basis of this method is that you take a nice, greasy, raw fleece and put it in a barrel of rainwater for a week or two, leaving it in a reasonably warm-for-outdoors place.  It should be a good and stinky fleece, as well as high grease.  (And the barrel should be light-proof, to ward off algal growth, and sealed against bugs to ward off infestations).

And then the fermentation will happen.  Think about it: you’re hardly going to be able to stop it, are you?

The salts in the suint and the lanolin saponify.  This means your fleece is actually making its own natural soap!

Now you have your fermentation bath up and running.  You’ll know if it’s working well, because there is likely to be a milky film on top, maybe some bubbles, and if you stir it up, bend over, and get your nose right in there …  it will just about fall off from the stink.

(I’ve heard the smell described as everything from ‘portapotty’ to ‘river sludge’, and honestly, somewhere in between is pretty accurate.  And not surprising, since you’re intentionally letting farmyard materials go stagnant).

That first fleece is the ‘starter’ fleece; it’s unlikely to be very well cleaned by the bath.  In any case, this method is best suited to fleeces that aren’t heavily greasy (after all, you’re not going to make *that* much soap!) – so you’ll likely want to wash it using your usual methods.  Believe it or not, that *distinctive* smell dissipates completely when the fleece dries (or so I have been assured…)

…and Go!
The magic starts now.  Each successive batch of fleece only needs to stay in your soapy fermentation bath for a couple of days.  And each fleece makes the bath stronger and better.  When you remove a batch, all (heh) you have to do is rinse it, and let it dry, and voila! it’s good to spin.  (Before rinsing, drain it as much as possible and return the liquid to the tub.  You want to keep it for next time!)

There are people who have gotten this working so well that their fleece comes up sparkling white, and actually makes soap suds as they rinse it out.

In practice…
I took the starter fleece out of my bucket last Saturday.  It’s certainly cleaner than when it went in, but even with a detergent wash, it’s still greasy.  But that’s to be expected for the first one.

I took the next fleece (a Shetland) out yesterday after 5 days in the bath.  Definite suds, though not loads.  It still clearly had plenty of grease in the fleece, so I gave it a hot water and detergent wash, and it’s drying now.  The tips are still clearly discoloured, but then it wasn’t a pampered fleece to start with.

The third fleece is a coloured one – a Manx Loughtan.  Low grease, for sure.  It will be harder to tell, visually, whether this one is clean or not than with a white fleece!

So, thoughts so far:

  • I’m not sure whether this is actually helping the fleeces get cleaner, or whether it’s just an extra-smelly cold soak
  • Maybe some of those folks started out with fleece that is cleaner than mine
  • If I still need a hot detergent wash, is it really worth the stink?
  • Is this a good way of getting a lot of fleece washed quickly, even if the benefits are mostly motivational?
  • If the stink dissipates when the fleece dries, will it come back when it gets wet??

 

A twist of blue

As per usual, I have about five major projects on the go; I rotate through them: wet day projects, dry weather projects, physically demanding projects, slobbing-on-the-sofa projects, thinking hard projects, fibre projects, gardening projects, decorating projects, Really Important And Urgent projects (though that classification is liable to change on a whim).  And I think about blogging every single one of them, then am whisked off on a puff of distraction before I manage to whip out the laptop (or the camera).

Over the weekend, though, I was very, very focussed on the front panel of my current knitting project: the Square Necked cardigan from Rowan Studio 11 (Ravelry links).  The back is already complete, and I’ve been thoroughly charmed to finally make it onto the interesting bit(TM):

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The yarn is the stuff I bewailed hugely way back when.  (Auugh!  Where are all the photos from my old posts?! – never mind, another project…)  I was always quite pleased with the spinning, and it still stands up to scrutiny.  Heathered blue-purple with hints of green, it’s interesting enough to make stocking stitch fun and engaging, and calm enough not to overwhelm the cable details.

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The eagle-eyed may spot that this is a subtly different cable detail to the original pattern – more on that in another post.

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That’s a whole lotta ‘lottment

So, I signed up for an allotment earlier this year.

Thanks to delays getting it prepped, I didn’t get my hands on it until the weekend before Easter, when I was going to London to visit friends.  Then there was Easter itself, when I travelled North to visit family.  Then I got a stomach bug (apparently all the rage), which wiped me out.

So I’ve managed three visits to it since handing over a cheque – in the middle of what should be the planting season.

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A whole lotta ‘lottment

It’s big.  Around 120-feet-long big.  About a tenth of that wide.  And it’s been ‘fallow’ for three years, for which I think we can read ‘neglected’.  It was ploughed and rotivated before I got my hands on it, but that mostly means they’ve buried and broken up the weed mat and roots that were on the surface.  Still, I’ve found evidence of dandelion, bindweed, docken, nettle and some sort of really persistent grass with long, tough, wiry roots.

And parsnips.  I think we can say that the previous tenant really liked parsnips.

This thing is going to be a challenge.  Still, the potatoes are in.

Happy May Day! Joyous Beltaine!

How appropriate that my last post was about Me-Made May.  Let’s ignore the fact that I posted that in November, shall we?  And I have to admit that I’ve done not one thing towards it.

Still, I do have a May Day project to start.  This is the Beltaine colourway from my Wheel of the Year club, issued two full years ago now (wow!  Where does the time go??):

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Allow me to tell you the story of that floor sometime…

This is a rather more variegated colourway than I usually enjoy working with; brighter and more variegated than the colours I usually dye.  I wanted a bright, springy colour, based on the fabulous falls of wisteria blossoms that appear as if from nowhere around this time of year; a surprisingly cool blue-purple in the main, with pops of warmer colour, and the leaves playing a definite second fiddle to the glorious blossoms.

Christs College

The Master’s Lodge, at Christ’s College, has particularly awesome wisteria…

I will admit that I have difficulties matching high-contrast yarns to patterns that really show them off, but as soon as I saw the Spatterdash fingerless mitts pattern, I thought of this yarn.  I love the way Feather and Fan’s strong structure makes clear lines even in the busiest yarn, and for once I’m looking forward to finding a whole slew of pretty buttons to finish this project off…

(c) Ravelry user Blumenbunt, from the Ravelry pattern page linked above)

I plan to lengthen the cuffs of these mitts, so they warm my arms more, because I have issues with the circulation in my hands, and I’ve been told that keeping my forearms warm is actually key.

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