Saturday, June 5, 2010

Beautiful fleece

This week we gave the lambs their second overeating vaccination and weaned them. As we held each lamb, we examined its fleece. What color is it? how long is the fiber? How much crimp? How soft?

Of course, the big question is how many lambs are we adding to the flock this year? For the last several years, we have been rebuilding our flock, adding six or eight lambs per year. But we are up to fifty breeding ewes right now. Do we want our flock to get larger?

A larger flock means more variety in our fleeces and more income from sales, but it also means putting up more hay in June and spending more time in the barn in March. Is the trade worth it?

I sell very few fleeces anymore. People don’t seem to have the time to wash and card raw wool, so I sell mostly washed and carded wool. It’s a shame. The fleece is where you can really see what the individual fibers look like – how much crimp (waviness) the fibers have and how long they are. You can look at a lock of wool and know that this fleece will spin up into a fine, white, elastic yarn that will knit into a sweater that drapes beautifully. Or you can look at a brown fleece with patches of dark, light, and white wool, and envision the finished look if you dyed the entire fleece lucerne green and know that you’ll be able to create a felted forest out of just that one fleece – tall evergreens with the sun lightened green needles on the tree tops, dark, greeny black trunks and beautiful variations of green branches everywhere else.

Unfortunately, very few spinners and felters take the time to buy and process a fleece. I wash fleeces in our clothes washer, and dry them on the living room floor. I dye them in a big pot on the stove or over a wood fire in the back yard. With our new carding machine, Dave can card a fleece in a few evenings, separating out the patches of color or blending them together to make subtle variations in the wool.

Perhaps we should sell our time to custom dye and card fleeces for people. Even if that happens, we are still back to that major question – how many lambs can we add to our flock? Perhaps this year, I will restrict myself to just one lamb, Pepper, the quadruplet with the lovely speckled gray fleece and horns.

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