Monday, October 4, 2010

Readying for Real Wool

 This is the time of year when I start to plan my winter hobbies...the things that keep me from going stir-crazy when outside time is curtailed.  Below is what I was working on this past weekend.  This, is where real warmth begins!  Wool.  Real, honest, wool.  From this luscious fiber I will be able to do a considerable amount of handspinning, and the roving made from it will be perfect for outerwear items--who knows what all!  The wool at this stage is still "in the grease" and is a whole fleece.  It's the fleece of the mean old Leicester Longwool ram we had for awhile! (He's gone on to his just reward!) 

We're talking here about REAL wool.  Not the petroleum-based, acrylic yarn that offers no warmth.  Warmth radiates from real wool.  You wrap a frozen hand in real, uncompromised wool and instantly the live warmth  of the fiber starts to penetrate and ease the bite of the cold.  When I say "uncompromised" I am referring to synthetic blends. 

The long shadows have crept over three of the fleeces last evening which I had put in the sun all day to air out before sending them to Hidden Valley Woolen Mill in Wisconsin.  I am sending 75 pound in the first shipment to Carol Wagner and her family who own the mill.  Hidden Valley Woolen Mill   They do a beautiful job of processing, which, in this case, means washing and combing the fiber to remove chaff, wash it to lovely cleanliness and "comb" the fibers into continuous strands which I will eventually handspin into yarn of many different diameters and quality.  the 75 pounds will yield somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50%,,,meaning, that for the 75 pounds, I will net out about half.  The other half of the weight is the grease (lanolin) and fiber that the mill removes.
Here is one fleece.  Its weight is approximately 12 pounds.
It takes a BIIIIGGGG box to ship 75 pounds of wool!

I'm also readying the cottage where we used to live while we were building our house, to become a dye kitchen.  I'll show it to you as I improve the space!    Right now, it's quite a mess.  It's actually an old granary, built in the early 1900's.  MM and I lived in it for a number of years as we were building our house.  It used to be cute and cozy, but over the years, it's become a junk storage area, and I've now culled the "keeps" from the "nots" and  I'm on my way to re-installing the linoleum (a plumbing leak last year made a total wreck of the floor, so I am in the process of replacing it.)  And, of course, it needs a good sweep-down and vacuum job!
This is my restaurant-sized stainless steel sink and countertop, which we'll install in the kitchen when I've gotten all the junk out!
I was going to show you a photo of my spinning wheel and some of the beautiful yarn the LLW affords, but for some reason I am unable to upload any more photos.  My computer is telling me it can't do, we shall see.  I'll share more on this as I am able! Need to call Frank,The Computer Man.


  1. How wonderful to have a dedicated dye house! And all that lovely wool. A warm and fuzzy winter ahead...

  2. Elora, I could live in that old granary -- it is charming. The stainless steel counters, etc., will be terrific in your new dye house. Would like to follow your process as you head down the road toward your new dye house -- barbara.

  3. How wonderful. I'm ashamed to admit I buy my wool with the hard work already done. But I often buy from local folks who do it from scratch. I love the hand-spooled ones with their marvelous irregularities.

  4. It must be so satisfying (not to mention warm!) to wear woolens that you've created from sheep to sweater (or socks or hat). I'm looking forward to seeing the progress of your dye house---looks like a lovely space for it. I'm also looking forward to hearing about the process from start to finish. I don't suppose I'll ever be doing it myself, but I do enjoy so reading about it!

  5. Vicki,

    You are so right! (warm and fuzzy winter!) I have finally settled into the fact that far and away I prefer working with handspun, so have put all the name brand synthetics in a bag to give away! I'm on my own now to create and see where it winds up! Scary thought!!

    Beth, I haven't done much to brag about with the handspun...yet. I'm getting there slowly. What little I have done, is
    absolutely so satisfying! I am a slow to middling knitter. Lack of practice really. I am also a poor counter of stitches! Can't talk when I knit! So, my production has been pretty modest!

    NCMW, only reason I am not buying my wool "with the hard work already done," girl, is that my porch needed to be cleaned after having stored this mound of wool-in-the-grease for almost two years! We used to keep 500 ewes and their lambs. I learned about the "hard work" of wool years ago, shearing, packing wool bags, trimming feet, delivering wool to the pool,washing it, drum carding it, spinning, etc.

    When we lived in Canada on Vancouver Is., we lived in Cowichan Station, BC, in the old house originally owned by Margaret Moss, who taught the Native Canadians how to knit those Cowichan sweaters that are so commonplace today. You know, the brown ones with animals knitted on them?

    I bought what was then called an Indian Spinner. It would spin the thick wool, in the grease, which provided the waterproofing and warmth so needed up there in that damp (more than DAMP...more like soggy!)climate. (We also taught school in Hydaburg, not far from VI where it rains 130 inches a year. Here,on our WV farm, way back in the 1970's we had Western ewes and Dorset crosses.

    In a way, it's all "hard work" but having found a woolen mill that will wash and process it, I'm addicted! Washing it is the least pleasant of tasks and the most risky in terms of making the wool unusable. It's nice to have a mill I trust, handle that part of the process. Spinning is easy. Dyeing is crazy and fun. Knitting is a challenge ....all in all...a good combo, especially for winter days!

    Barbara, we did have some wonderful times in that little cottage. We moved into the granary when we returned from teaching school in Alaska. We'd moved off the farm, back onto it, off of it, and this was the last time, back onto it. Roots were down and we weren't moving again! All we had on the place (having sold the other side with the original house) was this little shack. So, we set about renovating it. Can't believe we lived in it ten years before moving into our present house. We had oil lamps, got snowed in one winter, running water was a celebration when it arrived....taught me a lot about what two deterined people could do. It was wonderful!

    Thanks all, for the thumbs-up on the dye house! It looks better than the first pictures (above) already. Need to buy some lino strips (that screw the edges down.._) I'll keep you posted as I "move into" it! Lots to do to make it "habitable' for dyeing. I need to find a cheap microwave oven...and the list goes on!