It is no secret most of my fibers and yarns in my shop have not only been dyed and spun by me, but also processed by me.
It is a lot of work, but I just love it. I love to see the transformation from raw and dirty fleece to wonderful yarn.
So I was thinking: maybe someone else would love to see that transformation!
And here we are now, writing/reading this blog post.
I will take you along on the journey of about 250g raw fleece, from start to end. Please note, this is the way I do this. There are many different methods for cleaning raw fibers out there and everybody has their own special recipe. This works for me and I think it is a good starting point, as you don't need any special equipment or soaps.
|Our 250g raw fleece at the beginning|
This particular fleece is from a Corriedale cross. The whole fleece is almost 13 lbs, the locks are around three inches long. And it is so greasy! Lots of lanolin in there.
Sadly I do not have the space to wash a whole fleece at once and so I grab small portions of it and wash it like that.
Unless I intend to comb the fleece, I do not carry much about lock integrity and so I don't take extra precautions to keep them intact.
However, I do sort out parts that don't look nice enough, like the really dirty parts (if they are even included).
I can wash two to three 250g portions at a time, but I prefer to do two.
I have a nice big plastic box that I can put down in the bath tub and use for the washing.
Usually I start with soaking the wool.
For this I fill the box with water that is around room temperature, maybe slightly lower. I add a little bit of clear dish soap and then add the wool, gently pushing the locks under water.
And that's it for this step. I simply let it soak for multiple hours or even over night. No stirring, no attention at all.
After the soak comes the first bath.
I remove the locks from the box and empty the now dirty water. After that I refill the box with hot water. As hot as the tub will heat it up. I also add more clear dish soap to this, how much depends on how greasy the fleece is. This particular fleece requires quite some soap.
I then carefully place the wool back in the water, gently pushing it under water again with something that is not my hands. The bottle of my shampoo usually does the trick.
20 to 25 minutes later I return and remove wool and water.
I repeat this process at the very least one more time, usually two more times, sometimes even more. It depends on how dirty the water is after the bath.
When the water is finally clear, I start rinsing.
Rinsing is very similar to washing, except I don't add any soap. No holding the fiber under running water, just gently pushing it into the water filled box. Usually I do two rinses.
I know some people add special conditioners at this point, but I don't.
Next is drying.
I use a herb drying rack, on the balcony if possible, otherwise in the bathroom as well.
I like to use it because I can close it, so wind will not blow the wool away and because it is mobile. So if someone wants to take a shower, they can easily remove my drying fibers. It also allows air to move freely around the fibers, which makes them dry a lot faster.
|After washing, rinsing and drying|
As you can see washing really brought out the beauty of the fleece. Sometimes it is hard to believe these are the exact same dirty locks I started with.
You might also notice all the little pieces of straw and other plants.
Washing will usually not get those out as they are stuck to the fibers themselves. If some big pieces happen to cross my hands I take them out at this stage, but I really don't worry about it right now.
Picking, carding and dizzing
After the washed fibers are all dry it is time for picking!
|My wool picker|
I have a small box picker (I have also heard the term bench picker). You place it on a table, put washed locks on the first row of nails, move the handle (which also has nails) back and forth and fluffy wool comes out at the end.
|All fluffed up|
A LOT of plant matter and remaining dirt falls out all on its own in this stage. And there is quite an increase in volume as you can see on the pictures!
Be careful though:
Wool pickers are very pointy, so please make sure no hands/kids/pets get anywhere near the sharp ends. In fact I specifically got a box picker because it would be easier to secure even with my dear Fiberdog Hestia around.
Luckily she is usually more interested in stealing from my fiber supply or cuddling up with me while I am picking, so I don't need to lock her out during my work.
After picking comes carding.
I have a Hero by Woolmakers, a small starter model that is operated by a crank. No fancy motorized drum carder here (yet... a woman can dream)!
|My drum carder|
I like to create fiber braids of about 50g, so I take around 55g at once and card them into a batt. That is about the most my little Hero can hold as well.
Again a lot of plant material falls out on its own, but now I also pick out things by hand: bigger pieces as I am slowly feeding the fiber into the carder and as many as I can see after I pull the batt off. Everything I see in the batt that I don't like gets taken out. It doesn't matter if this destroys the integrity of the batt, as there will be a second pass through the carder anyway.
After the second pass through the carder I am usually satisfied with the result and roll up the batts.
Finally I take my little diz (basically a curved disc with holes in it) and pull the batts through it to create roving like slivers.
I use a 3mm hole, resulting in a thin, fluffy sliver.
For easier storage I finally braid the slivers. If you are familiar with crochet, this is basically creating a chain with the fiber sliver.
|The braided fiber slivers|
After all that work we now finally have fibers that are a joy to spin!
However, I like to have colorful wool on my spinning wheels and so I rarely spin the natural fiber like this. Instead I dye the fiber!
Oddly enough I like to stand while I'm dyeing and so I usually set up my workstation on our little chest freezer. Paper protects the walls and freezer.
There are two things missing on the picture above: hot water to mix the dye solution and my dust mask. Dye powder is very fine and even though I use non-toxic dyes, you certainly don't want to breathe in any of the powder.
To dye I unbraid my fibers and then soak them in a mix of water and a little bit of citric acid (which is in the labeled Tropicana bottle).
Next is the mixing of the dye solutions.
I take hot water and powder and mix them according to the instructions (by weight). In this case I used red and black and then created a toned down red by mixing some of both solutions in a third container. The syringes are for dyeing only and I used them to apply the dye in a controlled way. In general you should not use any pots or spoons or other tools for anything other than dyeing once you have used them for dyeing once.
|In the oven|
After I am happy with dye application and I have added enough water and acid, the fibers end up in the oven. 350F, for 90 minutes. After that I open the oven door and let the fibers cool completely. The water is now completely clear again.
To get rid of any dye that didn't go into the fibers, I give them a nice hot bath, very similar to what I did with the raw wool, except it is only one bath and one rinse and I use only a drop of soap.
|Drying on the balcony|
After the bath it is drying time again, this time hanging free in the wind.
As you can see I have decided to dye the fibers mainly black, with different shades of red popping through.
|Dyed, dry and braided|
For easier storage the dried fibers get braided again. If you are wondering why these wheels are so much smaller than the undyed ones: I folded the slivers in half so I had a thicker sliver to work with. I just LOVE the result.
The final step on the long journey is spinning (and plying) the fibers into actual yarn.
I used two different spinning wheels for this: my small Ginny Aurelia (a Majacraft Little Gem) did the actual spinning and my bigger Sextus Aurelius Propertius (a Lendrum) did the plying.
Yes, I name my wheels and yes, they have Roman names.
I loved spinning this! Halloween was approaching fast during this project and I feel the dark black and red really fit my mood.
Only problem: the colors never show up right on the camera. It is either too dark or too light, completely swallowing the little pops of bright red and the much more subtle parts of dark red.
For the ply I decided to do a 2ply, meaning I would ply two singles together, in the opposite direction of what I spun them in. Sextus has a WooLee Winder on him, which will automatically wind the yarn on the bobbin evenly (Ginny has a sliding hook that I need to move myself from time to time). As I still had a fiber braid from the previous experiment with this colorway, I decided to ply that braid with the remaining single from our 250g fiber. You might call it cheating, I call it getting evenly sized skeins at the end 😉.
As a result I got two skeins of yarn, each around 100g (3.5oz) and 110m (120yd). The WPI is 13-14, so a DK weight. Naturally neither skein is perfectly even. I feel you should be able to see the special texture of handspun yarn. If that texture is not a good fit for a project, simply choose a commercially spun yarn. I do find however, that a lot of the irregularities will vanish in the finished project anyways.
|The finished yarn: Beyond the Veil|
So here we are at the end.
Well, almost. Of course this yarn needs to become something else now. And because I can't use up all my yarn myself, these two skeins ended up on my shop.
It is one of my repeatable colorways, so make sure to check back for restocks or send me a quick message if you need more than I have.
I will also add fiber braids in this new colorway soon, so make sure to check the shop for those!
I hope you enjoyed this little peek at my daily work and the transformation of some dirty raw fleece into wonderful yarn.
If you have any questions or comments: let me know in the comments! Or find me on Instagram (@FiberdogFibers) or Facebook (Fiberdog Fibers page) or even join our little Ravelry group (Fiberdog Fibers - Ravelry Fiber Pack).
Enjoy your crafts!
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