Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

In Over Your Fleece.

Posted on | July 20, 2013 | 5 Comments

I had it all under control.  Kind of.

I had 2 sheep.

And 2 fleeces.

Which I washed.

And washed.

And washed.

And set on the counter to dry while I scrubbed and bleached my tub and pretended I had never rubbed my face against those filthy grimy sheep fleeces every morning when I hugged my sheep.  Blech.

I sat on the deck with the fleece to pick out the bits of hay and grain.  This is, ironically enough, called “picking” fleece.  Because in the old days they didn’t have time to make up names for things that meant anything other exactly what you were doing.

Then I excitedly attended an afternoon of fiber fun at my friend’s house.  Where women were dyeing wool.

And spinning yarn.

All the while cute baby Angora bunnies were napping in the rabbitry.  Ooooh, gratuitous bunny cuteness!

Then I got out my nice clean fleece and told them how I wanted to spin it into yarn.  And those ladies started explaining things like crimp, lock, staple, and grade.  Plus, combing, carding, drafting, rolag, roving, and worsted.  All the while their hands were knitting and spinning and my brain was overloading and I only managed to stay calm by thinking to myself,  “cute baby bunnies, cute baby bunnies, cute baby bunnies…….”

But I finally jumped in with a pair of hand carders and slowly and aggressively started forcing the fibers of my fleece into alignment.  Until someone stopped me, readjusted my hands onto my lap, and said, “If your hands are sweaty then you’re doing it wrong.  It should pull easily and lightly through the fleece.”  So I wiped my sweaty hands, started over, thought to myself, “cute baby bunnies, cute baby bunnies….” and produced one small little rolag.

Loaded with hay. Or VM (vegetable matter), as they say in the craft.  I showed my little rolag around.

“Is there still too much hay in my fleece?”  I asked.  At which point everyone hemmed and hawed and looked away until someone said,

“Hey, did everyone see those cute baby bunnies in the rabbitry?!”


But, nonetheless, it was an incredible day of learning and fun.  And I was even more determined to get my fleece cleaned and carded and ready for spinning.  Until I got distracted.

Because while I was putting away my fleece in the knitting section of the craft cabinet, I rediscovered the bag of yarn my aunt sent me.   And that bag looked so sad and neglected that I knew immediately it needed to be pulled out and worked with.  Since there were several individual skeins too small for a large project I decided they were perfect for knitting some summer headbands for Pretty.

So I taught myself to make ribbed stitches using an easy tutorial for coffee cup cozies.

Although mine were not as fancy.

Then I moved on to the headbands, using this pattern:

Which meant that my bag of fleece became the new sad and neglected bag of the knitting section.  And that’s just the way things might have stayed.  1 bag of fleece.  1 bag of yarn.  1 farmer working her way through both of them.

Until I got the call.

My friend and sheep shearer was on his way to shear a flock of 25 sheep.  And he was willing to let me come along and get in the way help.  As an added bonus, no one really wanted those fleeces.  So not only was it irrelevant if I sheared them in random, short, unspinnable chunks of wool, but the fleeces were up for grabs.  As a matter of fact, no one even wanted those sheep.  All those sheep needed new homes.  The family was giving them away.  Free.

Well, I can fill the truck with animal crates and carriers, bags for fleece, and a slew of children, before you can finish spelling F–R–E–E.

Kind of.  In my mind.

Anyway, when we got there we discovered an incredible flock of Suffolk and Welsh sheep on a lovely pasture.

And although there was a sweet dog there, she didn’t turn out be much of a herding dog.

And even though we had 4 children, 4 adults, and a shepherd’s crook,

the sheep knew where all the holes in the fence were located.

Once we blocked the holes and finally managed to herd the flock toward the barn for shearing, there was still 1 black-faced ewe that led a reasonably successful charge right back past us.

By “reasonably successful”, I mean almost half the flock got away.  Eh.

And despite our best efforts, they were never caught again that day.  You can call sheep stupid if you want.  But neither grain nor hay nor saccharine smiles and baby talk was enough to convince them to get close to that barn again.  Just for the record, throwing things and cursing them didn’t work either.

It didn’t matter, though.  We had more sheep contained than we could get sheared anyway.  There was no way that 1 shearer could work his way through 14 sheep, some that were thick and matted with a couple years’ worth of wool, on a 90 degree day with 90% humidity.  Especially when he was giving me opportunities to make pathetic tentative passes through the wool with the clippers on my own.  Inbetween the times when I accidentally released the sheep because I was afraid my legs were clamped around her too tight and I might be hurting her or cutting off her breathing or there was a horsefly on my arm.  Helping and hindering are uncomfortably close together when I’m shearing.

Luckily, The Other Half is an excellent shearer.  Which was annoying awesome.  He even managed several sheep on his own.

The excuses I have chosen to explain why he’s better than I am are as follows:

1.  He’s right handed.  Learning new tasks is always backwards for us lefties.

2.  He’s been using clippers on his own hair since I met him and clipping the boys’ hair for years.

3.  He’s completely comfortable with both soft and hard handed methods of control.  STOP RESISTING, SHEEP!

And the shepherd’s crook came in handy after all.  Because while we we torturing shearing the sheep, it was keeping the kids busy.

By now you’re probably feeling sorry for those hot, sweaty shearers.  Or at least those poor harassed sheep.

Which means you’re just not paying attention.

Because I was the one left with overflowing bags of fleece.

Oh, the pressure.  The stress.  The alarming lack of knowledge!

Which fleeces to keep?  Which to share?  Which to use as mulch?

Is this a good fleece?

What about this?

I think this is a fleece with crimp….

….but what is this fleece?  Fluffy?

And I don’t care what the fibers arts calls this fleece.  I see it every time I look in the mirror when the humidity is over 60%.  This is frizzy, people.  I know frizzy.

The boys couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about.  They saw no reason all that fleece had to be skirted and washed and carded.  They thought wearing it in a natural state was much cooler than anything knitted.  Knitted stuff is for girls.  Big woolen coats that you can tell your friends are actually bear skins are much more impressive.

If sorting the fleece was difficult, then choosing the sheep to keep was extremely trying.  I brought home 4 ewes.

I should really only keep 2.  But 1 of the white ewes has a brown face which is adorable and she is particularly interested in us (which is as close as these sheep are to friendly).  1 of the white ewes has a black face and legs, exactly like the sheep everyone drew when growing up, which is sweet and nostalgic.  1 of the ewes is all black—black being one of the few knitted colors my boys might wear.

1 of the ewes has a black face and an awesome fleece with various shades of black, white, and grey. And spots under her eyes that remind all of us of a moth or butterfly’s attempt to fool predators with spots on their wings.  I’ve never seen that before, but it was a prevalent trait in the flock.

I’m sure there’s a name for that marking but I can’t possibly keep all the terms of sheep markings in my brain along with all those fleece terms.  After all, at this time of year I need to save room in there for zucchini and squash recipes.

To make all that decision-making more complicated, there’s still 1 ewe at the farm that is such a compact size with a lustrous black wool that I really, really, really, need to go back for her.  Even though I think she’s hopes that she never, ever, ever sees me again.

All those sheep add up to 5.  Or 7 if you count the sheep I already have.   Did I mention the amount of pasture I own is 0.00 acres?

No one should have to live with this kind of pressure.  It’s almost unbearable.

Plus in the midst of all that fleece, Harvey’s wool was ready for harvest, too.  So we spent a few minutes clipping him on the deck.

And I added his bag of wool to the craft cabinet.

Now renamed the Bags & Boxes O’ Fleece closet.

So now the relaxing days of summer have morphed into frantic fleece processing.  Although there have been some benefits.   I have improved my skirting skills from slowly and hesitantly removing small amounts of wool from the edge of the fleece in an attempt to save as much fleece as possible to quickly ripping away large chunks of fleece that have even the slightest imperfection.  Which means there was plenty of yucky fleece left over to mulch the roses ad azaleas.

The added pressure of all that extra fleece meant I finally got Isaac’s wool all carded and ready for spinning.

So I am closer and closer to finding out how much yarn one of my sheep really makes in one shearing.  Well, I am closer to turning all those rolags into roving.  By pulling them, individually, slowly, through the hole of button.

Which shouldn’t take too long.  Right?

And then spinning that roving into yarn.  As soon as I learn how to spin.

So I’m kinda close to finding out how much yarn one of my sheep really makes in one shearing.  I think.  Probably.  Maybe.

I am also giving my library card a summer vacation.  Since I now carry my bag of fleece and my borrowed carders every where I go instead of a book.

And I have great hopes that carding my way through all this fleece is doing incredible things for those flabby areas hiding my triceps.  Who needs the Shake Weight when you have a closet full of carding to do?  I see trim and toned arms when I look at this.  And if not, I see a nice knitted shrug to cover all that cellulite by this winter.  A win-win, people, win-win.


5 Responses to “In Over Your Fleece.”

  1. shannon
    July 20th, 2013 @ 11:55 am

    welcome to the joy of spinning! with the rolags, you don’t need to pull them into roving, especially no need to diz throught a button. you can spin straight from the rolag. a couple of good references are the spinning videos by maggie casey and abby franquemont. have fun with all that wool!

  2. Dari Bartz
    July 21st, 2013 @ 8:22 am

    You always make me laugh. What could be better than that?!

  3. Annabelle
    July 22nd, 2013 @ 7:22 am

    the complete joy of “watching” someone else do exactly what I do!!! we seem to have all the same animals, but my kids are younger and you are a few steps ahead of me:) I finally gave in to my husband’s liking of lamb to goat this year and took an unwanted Fresian female lamb on mother’s day to add to the goat herd. She is growing like crazy and doing well even though she is pretty clueless.. we might even keep her for breeding instead of eating that tempting rear end! give a man a lamb, he eats for a day… breed the Ewe every year and eat for a lifetime!

  4. Kim
    July 24th, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

    I’m all rolagged out just reading that. Go for a lie down, it always works in my house.

  5. carolyn christman
    July 24th, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

    Because I know you like multi-purpose items: some people who are overwhelmed with raw fleeces turn them into awesome and long-lasting weed control / mulch. They will keep weeds down for a few years and give you space for even more fleeces. Happy New Year!

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