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Sheep to Shawl: A Year in the Making

Fall of 2021, we sheared our Icelandic Sheep for the first time. Icelandics are one of the few breeds that need to be sheared twice a year to yield usable fleeces. The breed will typically grow their fleeces 4-18 inches in length. If sheared twice a year you will average 6-8 inches in staple. They will naturally roo their fleeces if not shorn. These fleeces that we sheared were all lamb fleeces, very soft and averaging about 7-9 inches. Here is a picture of the ewe whose fleece was used for this project, the sheep after their first hair cut, and finally a picture of the fleece during sheering.

After shearing, came the task of skirting and washing. Skirting was very easy as these sheep had been on pasture and the amount of VM and manure was low. This yielded a great fleece to work with. The next daunting task was to wash the fleeces. After looking at many different methods. I had decided to ferment the fleeces in water for two weeks to help break down the amount of water that would then be used to wash the fleece, Suint Bath. It was a horrible smell removing them from that water. I then brought the fleeces into the house and proceeded to wash with Unicorn Power Scour and rinse multiple times. Being a beginner I was worried about felting the fleeces. Icelandic wool felts amazingly fast and it was a great fear that I was going to run my water too hot and proceed to ruin the wool. Well, after washing, rinsing and drying it was time to take it to the mill to be processed. February 2022 I had reached out to Theresa Bentz of Badgerface Mill and asked if I could be walked through the process of how her machines work. Once I arrived she inspected the fleeces and gave me the bad news. I had lanolin still remaining in my fleeces. We still ran the machines that day for a preview and I returned home feeling defeated. I returned to washing, rinsing and drying all my fleeces again. This time it seemed I had felted my lovely fleece from Freya. We still ran it through the mill and when the roving came out the machine it had neps. Not a sellable product but I was determined to still utilize it in some way. Over the course of the summer farmers markets, I brought my spinning wheel along and spun all of her roving into yarn. The roving was hard to work with at times, drafting was difficult and the neps were here, there, and everywhere. But, in the end, I finished a little under 900 yards of handspun grey-white yarn.

After the yarn sat for the last few months, Kathy, a dear friend who has taught me so many new skills, asked if I would like to try a triangle loom. The loom can adjust to as large as 7' span and as small as 4' span. The 7' span would need almost 400 yards to produce a shawl. This was the perfect project for Freya's wool. I caked up my first hank of the yarn and we started to work on the loom. The handspun was a bit difficult at times with the loose neps and the varying size, but the shawl came together very quickly. The shawl took all of three days to complete.

Once I removed the shawl from the loom it was time to wash and block. I ran a sink full of warm water and fibre wash. The shawl was placed in the water and I was shocked to see the water turn so dirty! Lanolin and dirt. My wool was still dirty and that is what caused the neps coming off the machine.

After a wash and three rinses it was time to block the shawl. It was dried and ready to use by the next morning. It was amazing to feel how soft the yarn was after being properly washed. I set to work making a second using Freya and her twin sisters fleece.

What a great experience it has been to take one of our fleeces from start to finish. So many learning experiences throughout the year. One key element that I have taken away from this experience is the washing technique. It is crucial to have your water temperature hot enough to remove the lanolin from the wool. Yes I can say that I have spun in the grease now but ideally that was not suppose to happen. I am hoping that this coming year we can offer this experience to other fiber artist as well.

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