In February I set a goal to take a project from sheep to finished project – which might be crochet or weaving, I haven’t decided yet. I have an image on my vision board that shows my goal and its even on this awesome t-shirt. It shows the steps to go from sheep to finished work of art.
So when spring rolled around I needed to shear a sheep! I don’t have sheep of my own, so that created an issue. Luckily I was able to visit my friend Miss Julie’s farm for an amazing weekend and shear sheep with her. My brother wrote a 3-part blog series on our whole experience. You can check it out here. And here. And also here.
I hope you visited my brother’s blog because he’s an awesome photographer. But the short version of those blog posts is that I learned how to shear a sheep!
I also learned how to skirt a fleece. You are probably wondering what the means? When you cut a fleece off a sheep (or any other fiber animal), it is pretty gross. Imagine if you lived outside in all sorts of weather, slept in a barn, rolled in all sorts of farm things… and never washed your hair. There’s usually dirt, sticks, bugs, poop, and all sorts of other stuff stuck in the fleece. I really hope you didn’t stop reading at poop. Please stay with me… it gets better.
So now that the fleece is off the animal we shake it out to get rid of some of the icky stuff. After that I stored my fleeces in a sealed garbage bag back home. Some people process their fleeces at home, but it is a ginormous job. Wait until you see all the steps I did at the fiber mill. I can’t imagine doing it at home manually. Many people send their fleeces to a fiber mill to be processed. I knew a fiber mill was the best route, but I did not just want to send it off and wonder why they did. I was really curious about the process.
Lucky for me – Shepherd’s Gate Fiber Mill – is right near my house and I met the owners at Carolina Fiber Fest and local fiber guild meetings. So I asked if I could come and process my fleeces with them! They were so nice and said I could come to the mill! So exciting!
So off I went to the fiber mill and here’s a look at my first day there. I was there for SEVEN HOURS to process about 10lbs of fleece. There is so much detail to this process and they have it down to a science, but seven hours of details would mean a 10-page blog post. Here’s a short recap of what we did:
- Broke my fleece down into chunks and put it in a huge tumbler that had nails inside of it!
- Weighed it on the cutest old fashion baby scale and logged it on my order form
- Broke it down into 6 buckets that each had the same amount of fleece in them
- Filled the bucket with water and let it soak for a bit
- Dumped the water out — ick! Check it out in the video. It is SO dirty!
- Transferred my fleeces to washing machines and ran it on spin cycle with clean water from a hose again and again
- Tufted the fleece into even smaller pieces and pulled out chunks of “stuff” (use your imagination!)
- Put it in the big fancy washing machine that washes it in warm water with soap to finish cleaning it and remove the lanolin
- Laid it out on the big drying racks to dry
Check out this video! Seriously, look at how dirty the water is after you wash the fleeces.
If you ever wonder why handmade items with real wool can be so expensive… this will help you understand. 7 hours and it isn’t even done. Then it needs to be made into roving and then spun into yarn. All before it can be used for a crochet or weaving project. It is a labor of love… but that is how much I love fiber!
The day was long, but AMAZING. I have to go back another day and turn it from the fluffy bits you see at the end of the video into, so definitely keep an eye out for another blog post!
If you have fleeces that need processing, definitely contact Shepherd’s Gate. They are so committed to quality work and every little detail is given so much love and attention.