I love processing wool. Over the years I have processed probably close to a dozen fleeces. Lately I have fallen in love with Shetland wool. It is not easy to come across you just have to look around and be patient. There are different kinds of Shetland wool the "original" ones have a double coat with guard hairs and all that you really do not want. The ones available in the USA have been bred to decrease the guard hair. What is left if a beautiful wool with a distinct shine to it, it is sticky, not because of lanolin but because of the structure of the scales on individual hairs. But that is topic of another conversation.
Here I just wanted to show what I did with Oliver. I found Oliver on the Spin Sales list. His fleece had not been advertised because he had not been coated and had lots of VM. Since I know how to get rid of VM and I wanted to comb the fleece anyway, it really did not matter and the price was more than right.
As soon as the mailman delivered, I took it out of the bag OUTSIDE THE HOUSE just to make sure no unwelcome visitors (read moths) had tagged along. Plus I wanted to lay the fleece out and separate the neck fibers.
The neck is the softest part of the fleece but it also has the most VM. In this picture I had already separated the two halves and had the neck pretty much sorted out. Aside from identifying the neck as the area with most VM it is also helpful to identify the butt end. Even fleeces that have been heavily skirted as this one was, have some evidence of the rear end......
Once the neck fiber had been identified and set aside, I separated the fleece into four "even" parts. Here I flipped one of the four to look at the inside. There is a definite color difference aside form dust and dirt that is more prominent in the outside, the inside also has less exposure to sun light. On the right hand corner you see the bag in which the fleece was shipped. I like feed bags because they save on shipping weight. Just make sure and ask the seller to put the wool inside a plastic bag and then the feed bag, you really do not want a wet fleece at your door step!
This is a staple sample. I should have used a ruler for scale, just trust me that it is about 8 inches long. You can easily see the crimp. A sound fleece test was done at this point. Hold the staple from each end and give it a strong firm .....jerk is probably the word. What you are looking for is a distinct sound that is hard to describe. Also you are making sure that the staple is not broken and has no weak spots. If the staple is broken or weak you are likely to end up with nepps if you card or a lot of waste if you comb.
Fast forward several days during which I put each one of the four parts into mesh bags and soaked the wool in warm (not hot) water several times until the water was fairly clear. I do this using 5 gallon buckets. Just because they are handy and not too heavy to tip over to drain. Once this was accomplished I added Dawn dish soap. The amount is exactly a 'squirt' !
Shetland does not have too much lanolin so the water temperature is not crucial and the exact size of the squirt of soap will get rid of the lanolin and not dry out the wool. Then make sure and rinse, rinse, rinse. Here it is important not to agitate or you will end up with a big felted mess. So drain, squeeze, take out the mesh bag , add more water, replace the bag, let it soak, do not let the water cool down and repeat.
Then to the washer, do not add water, just set it to the drain and spin cycle. At this point I took the wool out of the mesh bags and set it outside on a grid to dry.
The advantage of living in the dessert is that wool dries very fast. Just watch out for an Irish Setter dog (aka Rose) that loves wool! Other critters can get curious too so just be careful.
With a clean fleece starts the first step of dealing with the VM.
Make sure the fleece is 150% dry or maybe 200% dry just to be on the safe side. If not it will FELT . Put it in the dryer on the cool setting and let it spin. There you have it! See all that VM that just falls out? It is like magic. The VM that is left on the wool are large pieces that are very easily taken care of during carding or combing. This fleece will be combed and spun worsted. I have started but pictures have not been taken yet. More to follow soon.