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Today I was invited to shearing day at Hopeful Hills Alpaca Ranch.

Jane breeds alpaca for color. These animals have gorgeous fleeces!

I got to pick my fleece. The deep browns were so tempting, but I opted for white, thinking that if I get tired of working with the same color all the time, white is easier to dye.

So, she introduced me to Obie.

Isn’t he cute?

He has a beautiful fleece!

Due to the inconveniences of going to work, I couldn’t be out at the ranch while Obie was sheared, but I did get to see the process with a few of the others.

And I got to bring Obie’s fleece home with me.

There are 2 bags, one with the really good fleece, one with the lesser parts, such as the trimmings frim his legs, second cuts etc. I plan to make dryer balls and other felt projects with the lesser cuts.

Obie is a little cold after his haircut, but still looks pretty dapper.

I’m excited to get going on all this new fiber, but May is such a busy month, it may have to wait a bit.

Stay tuned.


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While my first small batch of wool was scouring, I thought I’d try to spin a bit “in the grease.” I just pulled out an ounce of fairly clean looking, but completely unwashed locks.

You can see how dirty the locks are. They are also shiny with all the lanolin coating.

I put the plastic orifice back on my Electric Eel Wheel. (I have a newer, metal one, but decided to get the older parts dirty.

The lanolin made my hands shiny…and oh so soft!

I actually really enjoyed spinning in the grease. The only real problem I had was with the dual coat. The transition between the long, outer coat tips and the downy undercoat was not smooth. It may have spun better if I had carded it, rather than spun the locks individually, but I did not want to get lanolin all over the hand cards.

The finished yarn was 3/4 of an ounce since I pulled out the dirtiest parts and didn’t spin them. After washing the spun yarn, (Hot soapy soak, hot vinegar water soak, warm soak x2) it weighed 5/8 of an ounce. The lanolin had added some weight, but not as much as I thought it would.


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Fleece Cleaning

I soaked the lingerie bags with the wool overnight in cool water.

That loosened the surface dirt. Then I removed the bags from the dirty water and gently squeezed out the water.

I filled my top loading washing machine with HOT water and a little bit of Dawn dish soap and soaked the wool-filled bags for about 30 minutes.

After gently squeezing the water out of the bags, I drained out the water, and refilled the washing machine, this time adding a “glug” of vinegar. Another 30 minutes. I followed the same procedure several times with fresh water.

Then laid the wool out to dry. It looks pretty good.

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I got a little time to play with Carl’s fleece tonight.
Before pulling it all apart, I measured a few locks from various locations. Being a primitive breed, it is expected that there will be great variation throughout the fleece.
And there was.

The locks where I started (I think that part was from low on the sheep’s side) had 4″ down fibers and 6-6.5″ outer coat.
The locks are very crimpy (wavy) and will be fun to spin.











The locks from the center of the fleece had 4″ down, and almost no outer coat.


The other edge of the fleece had very 3″ down and 7″ outer coat.
The down was less crimpy here, but still lovely.
This will be a good area for me to separate the coats to try to spin them separately.


I started by pulling off the edges off the fleece with the most vegetative matter. I will save it for now. I might get ambitious about cleaning it later – or find another use for it.


The inside part was mostly free from debris.

I was able to pull out any cockleburs by hand.

Then I flipped the piece over to check the inside for debris and second cuts (little bits of wool made by making a second pass with the shears).img_8826

Then the fleece went into lingerie bags for soaking.

They will soak overnight in cold water to loosen dirt before I really wash them tomorrow. The water was turning dirty already!

I’m only experimenting on a little at a time. I have LOTS of wool left for further experimentation.

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Meet Carl. He came to live with me today:

Actually, this is Carl:

Isn’t he cute? Here he is with his shepherdess.


Photo by Stacy Kron Photography

Carl is a dual coated Shetland sheep and only his FLEECE has come to reside with me.

Carl the SHEEP will continue his happy life on his farm. That’s one of the best things about sheep, we can harvest their wool without harming them.

I have been hand-spinning for a few years now and it has been a dream to take a project from sheep to finished object.

It will take quite a bit of work to get it all cleaned and ready to spin.

So here we go!

This is Carl’s fleece out of the bag:

Step one…. lay out the fleece and get a good look. I set up a big screen door between two card tables in my basement. The fleece is larger than my screen door. It also weighs over 4.5 lbs.

The first thing I realized, is I don’t even know which end is which! I think the fleece wrapped around him the long way.

I know that the best wool is at the neck, followed by the shoulders, the sides, then the back.

The more I look, the better I can guess the finer parts. It will get pulled apart and washed in sections.

Here is one of his beautiful locks. The very long hairs are the outer coat, the fuzzy part is the downy under coat.

Today, I just laid it out to look. The next time I can get to it, I will start to pull off any matted parts, cockle burs, hay, seeds, sticks etc. It is a pretty clean fleece, but it is from a sheep that is allowed to be a sheep, so a bit of vegetative matter is to be expected.


My goal is to use this fleece to experiment with several different spinning projects.

I will spin samples “in the grease” unwashed, and clean samples of yarn made from just the outer coat, just the downy coat and one of a blend of both.

I will try to separate the fleece into different zones and see if I can tell the difference in the fibers.

I will try “tail spinning” locks into a yarn.

And I will see how different processing methods change the final yarn.

I also intend to make a large enough quantity of consistent yarn to knit at least a few small projects beyond the samples.

I will post my progress here…follow along if you are interested.

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Ok – so I am kinda getting into the natural dye thing. Today I tried mountain ash leaves and walnut husks.

First – The mountain ash.



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img_5098 The girls and their friends helped me pick a big bag of New England Asters on the prairie.






I hadn’t seen New England asters on any dye lists, but thought the bright purple flowers might yield a purple dye.

I forgot to weigh the flowers before setting them to boil.

img_5099  The dye bath looked kind of greenish. I was really surprised by the results.







The yarn turned a beautiful yellow!

The other thing I learned was that even though the yarn is super wash, I should be a bit gentle with it. I was not as careful with it this time – and it stretched out a bit compared to the first yarn I dyed.











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