Little did I know when my husband and I headed off to pick up eggs at our friend’s farm, that I was about to begin a raw sheep fleece to sock yarn project!
Before he started working from home in 2020, my husband would pick up fresh farm eggs from his coworker at their office building. Since they changed to working from home we had to drive to go get the eggs at the farm.
“Why didn’t you tell me she had sheep?!!!” was the first thing I said to my husband as we pulled up the long driveway. My husband grinned and said, “Oh, by the way, she has sheep.”
A short time later, we were on our way home with eggs and a super dirty Dorset fleece shoved in a feed bag in the back seat.
My husband’s coworker keeps her sheep for lambs but not for wool. She has a shearer come clip the wool but then it sits in the barn until it is thrown out or composted. This is the way a lot of wool, especially on hobby farms ends up. Since this wool was not intended for hand spinning, it was messier than the pristine and often coated fleeces you typically find marketed to hand spinners.
These are the biggest challenges I had to deal with to get the Dorset wool into nice, useable yarn…
Skirting the Raw Sheep Fleece
The first main issue I had to deal with was the fleece being unskirted. It still had the mucky bits from around the tail and belly attached. I made a skirting table to skirt away the parts of the fleece I didn’t want. You can find the written directions for the skirting table here.
Scouring the Wool
Next, I had to wash away the lanolin, sheep sweat, and any muck that wasn’t skirted out. I had a little surprise waiting for me though. When I scoured this fleece, I realized that it had some canarying in the locks of wool. This is a yellow stain in the wool caused by bacteria. After scouring, there is no issue with the bacteria but the yellow is there to stay. I probably could have scoured the wool one more time to work a bit more of the mud out of the tips, but the wool was clean of lanolin and I figured the combs would take care of the rest.
Combing the Locks
Next I had to address the amount of vegetable matter (vm) stuck in the wool. There was a lot! Sheep live in barns, and they graze outside. They get muddy and they get hay and straw stuck in their wool. It is just part of how it all works. But vegetable matter is something spinners hate dealing with. It makes it difficult to spin the wool and if you don’t remove all the flecks of straw and hay, it will become an unintended yarn design feature. Having the right tools is essential. Carders won’t get the vm out, but a good set of hand combs will.
Spinning for Sock Yarn
And finally, my favorite part of the process… the spinning! I decided I wanted to make a sock yarn from this wool. Dorset is nature’s super wash because it is very resistant to felting. This makes it a great wool choice for socks that can be tossed into the washer. I wanted a 3-ply yarn for durability so after spinning up a bobbin full of yarn, I chain plied it.
Dye and Finishing
As a finishing touch, and to hide the canary stains, I dyed the wool using Jacquard Acid Dyes in the colors Chartreuse, Turquoise, Purple, and Sky Blue from Knit Picks. Here it is! My finished sock yarn made from a fleece I got while picking up some farm eggs. What a happy journey! Now to find a sock pattern…