Spinning – Preparing the Fleece

I’m going to do a few tutorials on spinning and the associated tasks that are involved in creating your own yarn and split the whole process up into sections. I’m working on the theory that it will make the information more manageable to read and process and also to find if you want to review a particular technique you won’t have to scroll though a massive post. All of the posts will start with “Spinning” and then a description of the technique. eg “Spinning – Preparing the fleece”   I want to emphasise that I’m not an expert by any means – in fact I’m totally self taught and watched lots of You tube and read books to get this far. This is just how I go about the whole process and others will do it differently and it’s up to you to work out the best method for you. I’m hoping that if nothing else it will get some of you excited about trying spinning for yourselves and creating that beautiful one of a kind yarn or answer some of the questions you may have had.

I’m also endeavouring to use techniques where you don’t need a lot of equipment and therefore a lot of expense. Lets face it – spinning like anything else can be done on a budget or you can spend a fortune. It’s really up to you but personally I like using just what I have at home and quite frankly I would rather spend my money on gorgeous fleece than equipment.

Any fleece whether it be alpaca, wool, rabbit or anything else remotely spinnable will need some sort or preparation in order to be able to spin it into the kind of yarn you want. The amount of preparation is up to you. Some spinners will just get a hand full of fleece, tease it out with their fingers and start spinning. I have tried that but it doesn’t work for me…sigh…so a little more preparation is needed. I should add in here this is my way for preparing a fleece to “Spin it in the grease”. In other words you are preparing a fleece that will still have all it’s sheepy smell and lanolin in it. You can wash the fleece first and I may cover that later but I figure apart from the smell, the lanolin does wonders for my fingernails and I have to wash the fleece once I have spun it so I’m just missing out a step.

Unlike humans, sheep, (and I will use their fleece as the examples in these tutorials – but the techniques will work with just about any fibre) strangely enough don’t have access to showers and shampoo and they have a distressing habit of rolling in dirt and lying in prickles which means for the Spinner that the dirt, prickles and other vegetable matter has to be removed before spinning can take place. The only exception to this, I have found, is some beautiful Corridale sheep’s fleece I purchased, where the sheep had worn coats covering their fleece for the entire growing season which meant there was no prickles or dirt and very little prep time. I’m kicking myself I did not buy the entire fleece and instead, only bought half. 

Raw Fleece

When you pull out some of your fleece, and just work though a few handfuls at a time or you will quickly be overwhelmed, this is probably what it will look like. The Darker tips of the fleece are the “outside” furthest from the animals skin. This is the area that rubs in the dirt and the prickles. ) Like human hair this also can be very dry and I have been known to trim off the driest tips with scissors to give myself better wool to work with. It didn’t matter and you certainly couldn’t see where I had trimmed it once it had been spun. The lighter crinkly bit is the fleece that is closest to the skin and will give you more of an idea what colour the finished yarn will be. Well that’s the theory anyway. I have often been pleasantly surprised by the colour the fleece is when it’s finally spun, washed and ready to use.

Next is to start to separate the “locks” of fleece.

Seperating the Fleece

Grasp a small section of fleece firmly and gently ease it away from the rest of the fleece. You will find it will separate fairly easily. Put it to one side and continue until all the fleece you are working on is separated. If you have to, put one hand on the clump of fleece to hold it in place while you are separating the smaller section. How big a section of locks you pull away at a time is up to you. Just don’t get too greedy and grab huge handfuls. That’s generally when you end up in a big mess and get totally frustrated. Far better to work in smaller quantities and have more success. The added bonus is small clumps are easier to comb.

Sorted Fleece

You will end up with two piles like this. The bigger one is the fleece you will use. The smaller is the rubbish fleece. It’s made up of smaller cuts (second cuts where the shearer has had to have a second go at getting the fleece off), scrappy pieces and just plain rubbish. Throw this out. It’s no good to use – unless you are really desperate to make life hard on yourself and trust me you won’t get quality yarn out of this rubbish. I quite often put these bits in an onion bag and hang it out for the birds for their nests. They love it.

Combing equipment

Next is the combing of the fleece and it’s exactly that. You will comb each section of fleece to remove the dirt and vegetable matter. It will also remove any short fibres and broken ends – a bit like combing your own or your kids hair. The above photo shows some of the tools I use. They are labelled so should be self explanatory. Now I said you can use what is just lying around and apart from the two flickers that is what those tools are. Two dog combs and a human hair comb.

Combing the fleece

Grasp the end of your fleece – the one that was closest to the sheep’s skin and hold it firmly. With your comb of choice – pull it firmly through the fleece. You may need to do this a couple of times on both the top and bottom of that clump of fleece.

Waste fleece in comb

Now swap the fleece around and hold the combed end in your hand and comb out the other (skin side) end. This won’t take as much work and I find it is the most enjoyable. You can see in the dog comb’s teeth the bits of fibre. This is the stuff you don’t want to spin. It’s made up of rubbish. What you want to spin is that lovely clump (wish I could find a better word than that) that is tangle free and ready to go. See photo below. The fleece will fan out a bit when you have combed it. This is a good thing and makes spinning easier.

Finished and combed fleece

Notice also the dirt (that’s that brown stuff on the paper that looks like pepper). There was heaps come out of this lot of wool – all mallee sand.

So that’s it. How to prepare your fleece. Easy wasn’t it….lol. As I said before it’s very easy to look at a huge fleece and start to panic as to how you will ever get it all done. Like eating an elephant – you do it one bite at a time. I generally prepare fleece for 15 mins at a time then walk away. That way my hands don’t get to tired, I’m not stressed but I feel that I’m making progress. Store your prepared fleece in a cardboard box – not plastic. Another way of looking at it is there is no way you can spin an entire fleece in one day – unless you are Superwoman – so you don’t need to prepare the entire fleece in one day.

Now if I haven’t explained anything clearly enough – and I hope I have – please ask. I’m more than happy to try and explain things better.

The next tutorial will be on the Spinning Wheel. The parts of it. The Strange names each part has and even the different types of wheels you can use.

If you have managed to keep reading to this bit – thank you. Just the fact you are reading this sentence makes all the work worthwhile. Ohh and Nicola and James have proof read this post and they both now tell me they know more about preparing fleece than they ever wanted to – so I’m hoping it means all this information makes sense….lol


7 thoughts on “Spinning – Preparing the Fleece

  1. Lovely Catherine you’re an angel for posting this and I love it. I’m really looking forward to learning all about the spinning wheel next and all the bits that make up one.

  2. I just wanted to say thanks for this post. I just got my first raw fleece and this has helped me gain some confidence in tackling it.

  3. My mother passed away a long time ago leaving me with bags (and bags!!!! ) of wool to spin. I am still only part way through it. Looking through the remnants I came across a bag labelled Buttercup. Now I think Buttercup was a mohair goat because the fleece is curly and silky. It is obviously a natural fleece because it contains vegetation fragments.How do I prepare it for spinning.

  4. Thank you. Your description is easy to follow and being able to use combs at hand make it so less of a chore and a relaxing pastime instead

  5. Thank You so much for this information. I look forward to your other posts regarding spinning. I have a lot of raw wool and needed this kick along to get spinning.

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