Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Felting Fleece

Episode 21 of the Yarnspinnerstales podcast is posted here and it's all about intentionally doing something that spinners fear will happen: felting fleece.

It all started this summer when I was asked to evaluate some Icelandic fleeces for a breeder unfamiliar with hand spinners needs in fleece. Although many of the fleeces were usuable, there were several that due to delay in shearing had let the undercoat mat. The fleece would not be spinnable, since the fibers were not going to be easily opened and removed.

However, in the true thrifty attitude that I have, I started looking at that matted undercoat, and started explaining how it was often easy to felt wool, and these fleeces had a good start of that already. What if....we just helped it along some, and made the fleeces into something that would at least be lovely to look at, if not usable.

And the rest is, as they actually don't say, a podcast. I thought that this podcast would benefit from lots of photos, so here they are, with some short explainations.

First I had to set up a work area, that would allow the soapy water to flow through the fleece, serving to keep the front from felting, and also to help actually clean the fleece. I came up with saw horses, a screen door frame, and a piece of wire fencing that had left over from making rabbit cages. Put all together it looked like this:

The source of water was my garden hose, so it was not hot. However Icelandic is not a high lanolin breed, and even with cool water, there was very little lanolin noticeable in the final clean fleece. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid for the soap, and a small circular piece of plastic needlepoint canvas, as my felting tool. I worked the soapy water into small areas of the back of the fleece, scrubbing in circular motions with the canvas. Here's how it looked, just getting started.

Now this was all an experiment, and so at this point, because I was getting very wet and soapy, I stopped taking photos. I really did not want to ruin my camera, it's the lifeblood of this blog. If you listen to the podcast I go into great detail about the whole process, from this point of felting all the way to getting the final fleece looking like this:

Here's a photo of the felted back:

It amazed me how well it worked. It doesn't amaze me that wool felts, just that I was able to put that felting to such an unusual use. The whole process let lots of soapy water run through the fleece as I was working, and I also let lots of water run through it, in the final rinsing. All of that made for a very clean fleece. After it was totally dry, I used a metal dog comb to fluff and raise the locks, not really combing, just gently using the comb to fluff and open the locks.

The deal was that I would take two of these fleeces, and try this experiment, and if it worked, to let the breeder pick one and I would keep the other. So when I was doing the second fleece I took more photos, knowing it would probably be the one the breeder kept. I was right. It's a smaller fleece, but an beautiful brown color. So here's a few more details on the process, with that brown fleece.

This is the fleece, lock side up, laid out on the screen, before any water has been applied.

This photo shows the back side of the fleece, before any water was applied. You can see the matted quality of the undercoat.

This is the actual felting process in progress. This is of course the underside, and the entire fleece has been saturated with water, and the soapy water is applied in smaller areas. I would work the felting process in sections, overlapping them, to make sure the entire area was connected by the felting.

This is the fleece after all the felting work is done, and before I did any rinsing.

And finally (drum roll please, this really is a lovely result)

OK I know it looks like a bear skin. It's not. It's wool and I could not be more proud of how lovely it looks.

For the second part of the podcast I put felting fleece to a more convention and practical use, a hat. Several years ago I attended a guild meeting and we spent the entire day making a felted hat from wool/llama batts. Again, all of the details are in the podcast. It's the same concept, soapy water and rubbing will felt and shape the wool. The guild was lucky in that the teacher had a wide variety of hat forms for use to use. These varied in style and size and shape and it's still amazing to me that she had that many to share. I later snagged one on Ebay, that is an antique and technically was probably used to steam shape wool hats after cleaning. But it could be used for the same process as we used that day, and I enjoy having the antique as part of my collection. Here's a photo.

And here's my hat from the class:

The wool/llama batts were dyed the green color before we started felting. The hat band is knitted in a lace pattern from hand spun silk. I used the same silk to do a blanket stitch around the edge of the hat for a more finished appearance. I have worn this hat now and then and it is very warm. It's especially wonderful on those days when it can not decide if it wants to rain or snow. The moisture just does not get on my head due to the wonderful thick wool.

So in spite of it being Halloween, and the time of spookiness, spinners can now see that felting fleece is not scary at all.


cyndy said...

riverrimGreat looking Fleece!

I love that it looks just like a tanned hide, and yet all the sheep had to do was have a hair cut!

Beautiful hat...and thanks for posting to the blog, my computer sometimes has trouble with the podcasts...but the blog comes through just fine!

Jody said...

Yes that hat is lovely and so are the felted fleeces...I luv the white one. I have alot of alpaca fleeces and I wanted to make some kind of cat bed thingy for my kitties. Do you think there is a way to do that with alpaca?

Cindy said...

Unfortunately, alpaca by itself does not felt as readily as wool. If the alpaca fleece will stand up to a good shake before you start, you might be able to do the same thing. But the key really is the fact that the fleece I used was matted together to start.

I think you could lay your fleece out on a screen like I did and run lots of soapy water through it, let it dry and then line a wide open basket with it for your cat bed instead of actually felting the fleece.

Your photo looks like you already have a nice kitty bed for them :)

Viki said...

you know, now that I've seen both the fleece, I like the white one best!
Great Job Cindy!