Soak yourself clean...

So I did it all. I washed and scoured part of the sheep fleece and a small portion of the alpaca I was so generously given. A messy job, but not as difficult as I originally thought it would be. 
Below are the basic steps to how I scoured the fleece I received.  I used medium sized lingerie bags with large mesh holes. I think large holes were important given that there was so much VM (vegetable matter, that is); they were imperative for allowing all the junk to fall through while containing the locks in the bag. 
The one downer to all this is the amount of water I had to use. I'm thankful that our apartment has scalding hot water straight out of the tap, but I had a strange sense of guilt from using so much. For the first small batch - my test batch - I used my handy 4 gallon OXO bucket. 

I gave the wool two 5 minute soaks in separate hot water baths. I didn't even add detergent at this point. The first two rinses were so dirty, it didn't seem worth while - the second the bag hit the bucket the water turned the color of mahogany or maybe the color of an espresso with nothing added. And this is after I did some intense skirting on this fleece, so no, there weren't any poop tags or muddy locks. I will spare you the first rinse picture.

Fi really had the need to watch the whole process. She had the best seat (and view) in the whole place.

Now comes the detergent. I used regular ol' Dawn liquid dish soap because that is what everyone on the interwebs suggested. I guess if it can clean an oily penguin, it can get lanolin out of some locks.

Then another rinse. Although this one looked a little dirty still, so I repeated the soap soak followed by two clean water soaks. 
Socks couldn't stop watching either. And they were obsessed with the cloth bags I was storing the fleece. (Oddly they didn't want to have anything to do with the cleaned wool.) Before I washed them, the bags smelled like a clean barnyard because I had added lavender packs to the bags to keep away moths and other insects. Classy. Socks wanted to sleep on them!

After the last rinse, I let the bags drain then rolled the wool on a towel to get out the excess water, similar to how I would clean a wool sweater. The result? Clean locks! You can still see some VM, but look how white they turned out! I can pick out the big VM, but the rest will (hopefully) come out when I pick and card it.

After the small test batch, I tackled the whole of it. Somehow I timed it perfectly to be drying in the afternoon sun! 

And the scouring begins!

Today I am dedicating my time to scouring small bits of the wool I received from the infamous sheep shearing.

I bought a few provisions at Bed Bath & Beyond. Spent a lot of time in the beyond section, but came out with fine mesh stainless steel strainers so as not to fully clog our bath drain. I'm hoping the mesh bags will help with containing the locks. We'll see!

Set up the fiber drying rack, and I've got my helper side-kick. I think we're ready to go.

Wish me luck.

Shearing Day

Last Thursday I went to Connecticut to witness a sheep and alpaca shearing. It was amazing. My mother knows a woman who's family owns a mobile petting zoo. What an sweet idea! They travel around Connecticut doing children's birthday parties, visit nursing homes and other events. They were kind enough to offer me whatever fiber I wanted. How cool is that?!

getting ready for a trim!

Jay from Mariacher Shearing was there and sheared 2 alpaca and 5 sheep. I think if he hadn't actually humored me and answered all my questions he could have done it in under an hour. But we all couldn't stop gabbing. He was quite knowledgable, considering he's been doing this for a very long time and shears over 2,000 animals in a year (I think it's actually closer to 4,000+, but I could be wrong).

the fleece comes off all in one "piece"

What I found most amazing was that the sheep didn't put up much of a fight. I suppose you can't if you're sitting on your bum with your legs in the air, and I'm sure they were nervous, but whatever.

all done!
After all is done, the fleece comes off in one piece and looks like this:

He was kind enough to skirt the edges for me, which basically means he got rid of all the nasty matted fiber and the stuff that was too short to do anything with.

Sheep produce a substance called lanolin which, we think of as a grease but is actually a wax. This does a variety of different things for the sheep, including keeping the sheep dry in wet weather. It looks and feels like an expensive tan colored grease-hand-lotion-like product which coats the entire fleece. I was amazed at just how much was present. But wow did it make my hands feel supple and soft and was surprised I couldn't detect an odor. Since it was a chilly day, once off the animal the lanolin would harden almost instantly. Between sheep, the shearer had to chip the lanolin off the shearing head with a  sharp tool. If he didn't, the clippers would clog to the point of not working.

In the end, I ended up taking two fleeces. One is from - wait for it - the lone black sheep of the family:

the matriarch of the small flock
The other I took is a super silky Cotswold mix:
Who's a pretty girl??

Unfortunately, I don't have any good pictures of the alpaca shearing. He did them first and I was so in awe that I forgot to take pictures. I took the fiber from those too. How soft and lustrous! I'm excited to learn how to spin it all!