Susie Benitez; ACRE Student: From Fleece to Yarn

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            The first step in cleaning any fleece is picking all of the organic matter (hay, seeds, plants, poo, etc.) out of it. The point of this is to get as much dirt out as you can before you actually wash it. Any of the smaller pieces that you can’t get out eventually come out through the washing, carding, and spinning processes.

            Professor Trimpey and I took the fleeces that we got from the Snowy Mountain Sheep Creamery and picked the organic matter out of them. We were lucky because both of the fleeces that Sue gave us were pretty clean. First, we laid out the white ewe’s fleece. We began grabbing chunks of it and shaking it to see how much dirt we could get out that way and then we picked out any larger pieces that we saw. When you work with a fleece, it is important that you pull it apart rather then cut it because you don’t want to shorten of cut up the fibers in any way. Although this part of the cleaning process doesn’t sound all that glamorous, it became really fun and exciting when the neighbors and people walking by came over to see what we were doing. We were able to share with them everything that we learned so far and our experiences of visiting sheep farms and speaking with shepherdesses. One of the neighbors even pulled up a chair and helped us pick out the organic matter.

            When Professor Trimpey and I laid out the ram’s brown fleece, we could see which parts of the fleece came off of certain parts of the ram’s body. He had a collar of clean white hair around the neck region.  We noticed that the large, cleaner portion of the fleece must have been from the back. The fleece that came off of the stomach had a lot more seed/hay matter and, much like the fleece that came off the rear, was a bit muddier. We could see the large amount of crimp in the fibers which makes it so much easier when you go to spin. We also saw where the shearer had gone back for “seconds.” Seconds or “chops” are short little cuts that result when the shearer can’t cut all of the fleece in one shot.  Seconds are too short to be useful in spinning.

The next step in the process is the cleaning and washing of the fleece. Stay tuned to read about our experience with washing and how we managed to make a “contraption” on which to dry all of it.

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