The Fleece

From The Knitter’s Book of Wool, by Clara Parkes:

Imagine if all the wine in the world – red and white alike – were mixed together and sold as generic “wine.” Think of how many centuries of craftsmanship and flavor would be lost, and how mediocre it would taste compared with how it would taste if the grapes had been kept separate or selectively blended. Such an act would be almost unthinkable in the food world. But in the knitting world, just as much nuance is lost every day when flat, bouncy, long, short, matte, and lustrous fibers from ancient and modern sheep breeds alike are bundled together and sold as generic “wool” yarn.

I’m not a big collector of knitting books, but a friend loaned me this one. Now I’m going to have to go buy my own copy before I can give it back. I think it’s meant as a reference book mostly for looking up breeds of sheep, but I’m reading it cover-to-cover it’s so wonderful.

I’m really excited about my Montadale fleece, not the least of which reasons is because I can look it up and tell you that Montadales are a medium wool breed with fiber ranging from 24-31 microns (merino coming in at 17-22) a high crimp, medium luster, and suitable for next to skin and midrange garments.


My big bag of wool is really REALLY full. It was even several pounds heavier then Amy’s fleece. After we left the farm we headed back to her house, spread an old sheet on the floor (to protect the floor, not the fleeces) and sorted through our purchases. Since they’d only been minimally skirted we pulled out all the really dirty bits, the poopy bits, the hay, and the burdocks. I’m sending it off to be cleaned and carded this weekend and when it comes back we have plans for all sorts of dying and blending projects.

fiber bath

Not wanting to wait in suspense I took a few of the cleanest locks and washed them up myself. Holding the cut ends I swished and washed them in several changes of hot, soapy, water* until it stopped turning brown. Then I set them in a pot of water on my stove keeping it at a low simmer to remove the rest of the grease and lanolin.


The washed locks dried quickly by the stove revealing pure white fibers with just a touch of creaminess at the tips. I don’t have any carding equipment of my own. But it didn’t take any more effort then pre-drafting ever does to pull the locks out into long, thin strips and begin spinning.


The feeling of going from sheep to spindle in less then 24 hours is hard to describe.

*neat fact: wool doesn’t felt as long as all the fibers are aligned just as they were on the sheep. So you can wash them more vigorously in lock form without worrying.


5 responses to “The Fleece

  1. Such a great adventure! I’m excited to see the resulting projects (and the steps along the way). I imagine it is all very satisfying and fun.

  2. I’m going to vicariously live through you while you work with this fleece. I hope you don’t mind. Any plans as to what the yarn wants to be?

    • I’m thinking I’ll ply this little clump of white with some purple I have to make a bright barber poll yarn. I’m not sure what that’ll become, it’ll depend on the final yardage.

      I actually don’t have any idea what the fleece will become – there A LOT of it though! I’m considering everything from spinning for another sweater to maybe dying different colors and making up some little blended batts for accessories. Last time I made little blended batts I really enjoyed the whole process and I could even see trying to sell a few of them!

      So really, this could go anywhere. Right now I’m trying to avoid having a stinky sheep fleece in my living room. I must get to the post office Saturday.

  3. I did not know this about different kinds of wool (although it is painfully obvious if you give it a half-minute of thought). As I am currently back living in the 10th century in a wool-based economy I find it fascinating.

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