More wool, Raw wool

December 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

When I first started felting, some 3 or 4 years ago, I had very little connection between the wool I was using, and the sheep that it came from. The wool I learned with was very clean, perfectly evenly dyed a rainbow of colours and packaged in plastic. After working with a material such as this for a few years, the idea of raw wool straight off the sheep was very daunting.

But I came to realise that if I really mean to make the things I want to, then I need a lot of wool (and I mean a lot) and buying it washed, dyed and carded of the internet simply wasn’t economically viable. Hence why I bought a kilo of washed mule sheep fleece off ebay – see my previous post here

But that fleece was still washed – not as clean as commercially bought wool, but still cleaner than it is raw.

And I was still slightly afraid of buying raw wool, but I knew I had to!

I browsed ebay for a few weeks, almost bidding on several raw fleeces, but I held back still unsure. Then I emailed Windmill Hill City Farm, the local community farm in Bristol where I live, just asking if the ever sell fleeces from the Jacobs sheep they keep. I received a reply the next day saying they had a whole bag of fleece lying around that they needed to get rid of ASAP. With nothing to loose, I hopped on my bike and cycled down to the farm to pick the fleece up.

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I had brought with me only a small bag, unaware of how much fleece they actually had. Turns out the bag of wool there was huge, and I was told by the farmer there that they were going to throw it away on Saturday as they had nowhere to store it.

I took what I could, deciding to come back the next day for the rest. There was a lot, and I had no idea what to do with it, but I couldn’t let it get thrown away!

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The wool was greasy, smelly and full of hay. When I had finally picked it all up, I weighed it and found I had 7 kilos! I now faced the mammoth task of washing it all. I decided to do it a bit at a time, as I have nowhere in my house really to dry it.

I have nowhere to store it either, and have been keeping it in bin bags, which is not good for the wool as it sweats and so needs to be kept in a breathable bag. Unfortunately if the bag is breathable then the smell can get out, and I live in a shared house, my house-mates already have to put up with wool everywhere, I want to spare them the pain of having a house that smells like sheep poo.

I washed the wool in the bath (when my house-mates where out) first picking out all the most pooey bits!

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Boy was that wool dirty. The water came out dark brown at first. I rinsed each load several times, and left it to dry by the radiator, but it is still not completely clean and will all need washing again!

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Drying wool on the washing line.

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I have a lot of work to do before this wool is usable, and I still have not washed it all. But I am very excited about experimenting with it.

On my second trip to the farm I photographed the sheep that the wool had come from. It was nice to see them, and to be able to connect the wool to a particular animal.

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Jacobs sheep have brown and white spotted fleece They are an old breed of unknown origin. Here is and extract from the Jacobs Sheep breeders association about the breed:

‘Jacob Sheep have graced the large estates and country homes of England for many centuries. Their impressive horns, black and white faces and spotted bodies have no doubt contributed to their popularity and survival.

Their actual origins are not known. However, documentation throughout history indicates that the spotted or pied sheep may have originated in what is now Syria some three thousand years ago. Pictorial evidence traces movement of these sheep through North Africa, Sicily, Spain and on to England.

There are many romantic stories about the Jacob Sheep being direct descendants of the flock of sheep acquired by Jacob during the time he worked for his father-in-law as mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 30), or that they were washed ashore from shipwrecks during the attempted invasion of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I.’

I like how these sheep have romanticised stories about them, and I really can’t wait to start felting with their wool!

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§ One Response to More wool, Raw wool

  • Leonor says:

    Welcome to the world of raw fleece! I know exactly what you’re going through, having eight fleeces waiting to be processed at the moment. It’s so worth it in the end though, when you finally get that fluffy, beautiful wool.

    The brown you see in the water isn’t actually dirt, most of it is just lanolin – fancy word for “sheep grease,” but it turns your hands wonderfully soft 🙂

    Happy wool processing!

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