I'm sitting out here in back carding wool. Not exactly my favorite thing to do, especially this time of year when some folks in the fiber guild thought it would be a good idea to have the November program be washing fleeces in preparation for December's wool felting program. Washing a whole sheep fleece is great do in the hot summertime or when there is no rush about finishing and you haven't anything else to do. Winter months and the holidays do not lend themselves well to this sort of activity. I have Christmas knitting to finish, too. I've probably washed 35-40 fleeces since I first learned to spin at the living history museum. I've had to demonstrate this delightful activity during all seasons and in all sorts of weather. I certainly have my preferences for when to process whole sheep fleeces.
Someone in the guild was given eight or nine fleeces by a farmer who raises meat sheep and just throws the fleeces away after the spring shearing. Free fleece. Sometimes that can be a real deal. Sometimes it can be a real ordeal. These fleeces are in pretty good shape. Not too dirty. Not a huge amount of trash in the fiber. The idea was to wash as many as possible at the November meeting, then have the participants take home the washed fleeces to finish processing, including carding and dyeing, for use in the December meeting where we will make felted balls and other silly things. There were only about six of us at the meeting. The weather was mild, but we only got five fleeces washed. The washing was done outside with cold water in a baby swimming pool. Cold water is not the greatest thing even in summer if you want to remove lanolin, grease, and other ick from wool. For the most part, the fleeces would have to be washed again at home in hot water in order to remove enough greasy stuff for the dye to take. Not so bad if you do a little at a time and have nice, hot, sunny days for drying the wool. Sunny days we've mostly had. Temperatures have been mostly in the 60's and 70's, but it hasn't been hot enough for the water to evaporate quickly. And we have had some rainy days. I have done little else than mess with wet wool since November 17. I have tried all the tricks to speed things up, but nothing has helped to any great degree. I have to laugh when I read the newsletter because the editor thanked "Melissa Lehman for her expertise." I was wondering how the ladies who have little or no experience at processing fleeces were managing when I got a couple of WOOL 911
calls. I just hope I've been of help to the distraught callers, 'cause Baby, if it ain't working for me, it ain't working for nobody.
I have not been having fun. This particular fleece has tiny little gnats trapped in the fiber. At first look before washing, I thought they were grass seeds that would come out fairly easily. I shook out as much of the debris as I could before washing.
After the stuff dried and I began picking out debris and carding the wool I discovered the little rascals. Their little legs are really hanging up in the fiber and they won't just shake out. I'm having to pick out every single little gnat. This is really slowing me down. Did I say I am not having fun?
Back to the topic of the title. I'm out here picking out gnats and grass and trash from this wool and carding it so that I can dye it and have colored wet wool everywhere instead of just plain ol' white wet wool. I'm not overly concerned that the dyed stuff doesn't get dry before the meeting next week. After all, we have to wet it in order to felt it. Progress is extremely slow. Ho hum. Pick and card on. And on. Suddenly I realize that the trees in back are filled with the sound of high pitched whistles, trills, and "tseeees." I look up and see small birds flitting around everywhere in the berry-laden cherry laurel trees that line a good portion of the back fence row. As I look closer, what I see takes my breath away. A huge flock of beautiful cedar waxwings
are feasting on the berries. What a sight. I stopped carding and messing with wool and have just been sitting here enjoying this wonderful, sorely needed blessing. Sometimes when things don't seem all that great something happens to really lift the spirits.
Cedar waxwings in my backyard. I am blessed.
click on the link for cedar waxwing info and photos