Monday, April 20, 2009


The first time I got a free fleece--a lovely black one--it was because the black would could not be included with the rest of the fleeces. I was delighted. I also had a lot of labour to help me clean it--exuberant pre-school age children who thought tromping up and down on something in the bath tub was great fun. I spun the wool back when I had a spinning wheel sitting in the living room of my three bedroom apartment in a brand new development in the southern half of the state of New Jersey. To say that folks thought I was eccentric would be understatement.

Now I live in the middle of sheep country, those preschoolers are on the cusp of middle age, and I don't have a spinning wheel in the house. Spinning is one of the things I have decided is not for me. I do, however, have a fleece. Well, two actually, plus a bit of black wool from a third fleece.
Now rather than spinning, I am hoping to use these for felting.

Merino wool is what most crafters use for felting. It is a very fine wool and has good sticky properties--the fibers will catch easily on each other and make a good, strong fabric. And it is soft and readily available in many colours or undyed for your own dyeing at about £3 for 100 grams--if you buy it in quantity, or, as I did, you get the smaller bits you need from a tutor who bought hers in quantity and passed the savings on to her students. Merino sheep, however, are not the kind of sheep that thrive in Scotland. Up here we have mostly Cheviot and cross breds and mules (Blue faced Leiceister daddy on a Swaledale ewe). They are raised primarily for their meat. Their wool is a byproduct and for some time--at least since I have been up here, producers have been saying that the price for wool barely covers the cost of shearing them, but both for kindness and by law they must be sheared.

As with many of the things up here about governance--official government or quangos, administration is centralised. The wool marketing board has the responsibility of promoting that wool and selling it. All the wool goes on a lorry and away from here.

Of course there have been comments made about the relative effectiveness of the wool marketing board. These comments have even appeared in the usually mild mannered, a-politicized hand knitting magazines, prompting a defensive letter from the wool marketing board saying that they have not been able to do much because they are short staffed.

The wool board is not alone as a centralised administrative organisation with little local presence or perceived effectiveness. The local food produce movement has had its funding pulled because the quango designed to encourage local food production decided that it needed to concentrate on larger markets "outwith the local area"--leaving the very strong impression that both as producers and consumers we are overlooked.

So despite the passage of time and distance, I am back to my first black fleece experience and looking for the value in something small enough to be overlooked by the big guys.

The fleeces are in the big plastic tubs that cattle mineral supplements come in. They are soaking in warm water with just a touch of detergent in it. The nastiest bits of the fleece were removed before it came into my hands for which I am very grateful.

I have the fleece in tubs to be washed to see if local wool (Cheviot in the tub on the right; Crossbred in the tub on the left) can be felted with good effect. Next, I want to see how much effort is involved in washing the fleeces. I'll give an update tomorrow.


At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon!! This is serendipity! I've been thinking about you, and even asked Cindy about you a couple weeks ago. Today, I just decided to try to find your blog again on my own, and there you are talking about having a fleece! If the laws permit it, and if you want to, you can send me a few ounces of your fleece, and I'll spin it and knit you a hat or scarf or mittens or something like that. Now back to reading your blog--I'm excited to have found you again!
Kathy T (Cindy's sister in Indiana)

At 4:41 AM, Blogger india said...

sounds as though your wool board is just as dodgy as ours...
BTW Leicester felts very nicely, although mine aren't bluefaced.

At 7:03 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hi, Kathy! so good to hear from you. You are the catalyst for the Northernmost (Mainland) Britain Stitch n Blether. Your beautiful scarf that you gave me as a farewell present got a friend back to knitting and she and I found a few others--trawling with knitting needles is good fun--and now we meet pretty doggone informally on the third Saturday of the month.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

India, welcome to my blog. I had a quick peek at yours--wow. I look forward to seeing more of your work. I have been to NZ and some of my favourite photos are of colours of plants there that I thought made a lovely combo. Of course I have not been able to replicate it.

Perhaps it is the job of artists and fabricators to push the administrative side of things into new areas or more action.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Sharon
I have several buckets for my fleece and each is undergoing a different cleaning system! I shall report the succees tomorrow when I see you if I remember :-), and isnt it frustrating that we cant buy local fleece and get it here and keep it here.
lol ruan

At 10:32 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hi, anon, I look forward to hearing about your bucket experiments. I am getting eyes dilated today at the eye doctor but I should be fine by the time we meet.

Sometimes it just means really really reading the instructions. I did the motif for the hat in 3.5 hook just to get the sense of it--now I'm doing it on 2.5. Still may not be small enough for pattern, but hey, that's what arithmetic is for, right?


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