Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a local fiber processing workshop. I say “workshop”, but it was more of an informal class taught by a folklorist friend of mine. Still, it was a fun and educational day, filled with much fluff, cookies, and spinning.
Being a folklorist, my friend was well-supplied with all sorts of fiber processing equipment. She had numerous carders, combs, at least ten spinning wheels of varying sizes and twice as many spindles. She even had an automatic drum carder!
First, we learned how to distinguish a good fleece from bad fleece. Things to really look out for are any yellow streaks (referred to as yolk, and are indicative of bacterial growths that may have damaged the fibers), any breaks in the staple, and second cuts.
We then learned how to “grade” the fibers, and separate the different quality fibers. On the left in the small green basket was our pile of “best” fiber – with a nice strong crimp and little VM (vegetable matter), and the larger pile in the laundry bag on the right was our “acceptable” fiber. The rest, which were too matted or had too much VM to be not worth processing, we threw into the yard for the birds to use in their nests.
Once our fiber was all sorted out, we had a respectable amount of good fiber that went onto the next steps of processing.
The fiber was washed in a sink full of scalding hot water, mixed with synthrapol. Other things that also work are washing detergent (but nothing with enzymes in it!), dish soap, and orvus paste, but synthrapol arguably works the best. Being careful not to agitate the fibers too much, we soaked it in the soapy water for about 20 minutes. Notice how disgusting the water looks after our first wash…
After this first soak, we refilled the sink with more clean, hot, synthrapol water and immersed the fibers in it for another 20 minutes. During these waiting periods, we mostly sat around eating cookies, some of us experimenting on drop spindles, and some of us (myself included) experimenting on one of her many spinning wheels. Having used drop spindles for a while now, spinning is nothing new to me, but I haven’t had much experience with an actual spinning wheel, so it was nice to get some practice in.
After the 20 minutes were up, we removed the fiber from the water and put it on the spin cycle in her washing machine to remove excess moisture. It is important to note that this can ONLY be done with a top-loading washer; if you use a front-loading washer, your wool will felt, and you won’t be able to use it!
We didn’t get to card the fiber as it had to dry, but hopefully we will get to finish off the process some other time.