Sunday, March 16, 2008

Oh Frabjous Day!

"Calloo, Callay!" she chortled in her joy.

Snicker-snack. We've made short work of my little Jacob fleece, the Frumious Bandersnatch and I. Here it is, my new Strauch Petite drum-carder, with its big teeth that clack. It was a thrilling Christmas present from world's-most- patient-husband, which I'd been itching to put through its paces. (But it wasn't the only thrilling fiber-related Christmas present, more on which another day!)

We began once the scoured fleece was clean and dry.

I decided to sort the wool to enjoy the separate colors rather than let them blend into a single mid-range tone.

I got to work, gingerly at first, loosening up the locks of wool with my fingers, picking out bits of straw and weeds as best I could, and laying the locks on the intake tray to be picked up by the toothy rotating drums and carded into batts of fiber. I learned as I went. Peeling the rectangle of carded wool off the drum, I would primp it and put it through again until it seemed reasonably smooth and well blended. When the first few batts were done, and drawn out and wound up into balls of roving ready for spinning, I was ready to burst with excitement.

As I got a little more practice, I noticed the lumps and little matted ends of the locks were taking several runs to untangle, and quite a bit of loose short fiber was collecting on the surface. Some locks had an awful lot of dried vegetable matter that was hard to pick out. Naively, I hoped that what I couldn't get out with my fingers would fall out on its own as the drum's teeth combed through it. Some did fall out, but more actually got broken up and distributed efficiently through the batt as I cranked.

It was time for some research on-line. I found that experienced carders recommend teasing as the best way to get the dry grassy bits out. Teasing, as they meant it, was more than just opening the locks of wool by hand as I had been doing. I needed a secret weapon.

This. A dog brush, a relic of my dearly loved fellows who have been gone for a while, though they lived to a ripe old age. I don't think they would mind. They'd have been very curious about all this wool and the creature it came from, and would have given it all a good sniffing over. Oh, I do miss them.

But the dog brush worked wonders. In a process called flick carding, it took out all the tangles and mats, sorted out the too-short fibers, and swept out the vegetable matter. The locks were so beautifully brushed and fanned out, once I'd been after them with the dog brush, that I half wondered at the necessity to run them through the drum-carder at all. But of course the drum-carder blends the colors beautifully, which vary significantly even within the separated colors, from one little lock to another, and from base to sun-bleached tip. And the rovings that result from drum-carding are the form I want for spinning, rather than individual locks, lovely as they are.

So, my later balls of roving were much slower to produce, but cleaner and more finely prepared than the earlier ones. Once I had worked out what it really took to prepare each bit for the carder, the pile of raw wool seemed to loom taller than ever. But I chipped away at it day by day, and now... victory!

I did lose quite a bit of weight in the processing (or rather, I didn't, but the fleece did). I started with 1.6 pounds and ended up with just over 1/2 pound. Some of this was the lanolin that washed out, and the weedy bits that I labored so hard to remove. Some of it was little tangles from the sheep just going about the business of being a sheep, getting rained on, drying in the sun, maybe getting stuck in a thicket, or scratching his itchy back up against a tree or fence-post. But there also seemed to be a surprising number of those unusable short clumps of fibers called second cuts, resulting from a certain, shall we say, insouciance in the shearing. Novice that I am, though, I'm sure a lot of the loss was due to inexperience, and I'll do better next time!

But now I have 1/2 pound of wool in three beautiful colors from one little sheep, lovingly prepared for spinning by yours truly. I'm so proud of it!

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