Proud Mary (Also Known as Sheep to Yarn in Pictures)

Here’s a quick and dirty explanation of how your yarn gets from a sheep to a knitted garment. Enjoy!!

This is the story of Mary. She was my cousins backyard pet. I don’t know if my cousin will read this or not…I’m kind of hoping she won’t because this is her surprise for next Christmas.

So, lets meet Mary, shall we?

Mary! She's about 11 years old in this picture.

Mary! She's about 11 years old in this picture.

Mary is a Dorset sheep. Typically this breed is more of a meat-sheep, but she was my cousin’s 4-H project, I think. Mary has lived with my cousin on their farm since 2000.

I got Mary’s fleece a little over a year ago. I didn’t have much time to process it, so that’s why we are just now getting to the end, but it went a little something like this….

Mary's fleece started here. Around 5lbs.

Mary's fleece started here. Around 5lbs.

Mary's fleece was...ahem...DIRTY. This was the skirting process.

Mary's fleece was...ahem...DIRTY. This was the skirting process.

Skirting is the process of pulling off the bad/too dirty/unable to use bits of wool. For Mary…this ended up being….a lot. I could really only salvage the top of the fleece (The part along the line of her back where she didn’t lay in dirt, didn’t roll too much, sit in stick-bushes and didn’t….well…poo. So much poo…*cries*)

Then we started the washing process.

Then we started the washing process.

Washing Mary’s fleece honestly has taken me the better part of a year. I have used every detergent known to man, every wool wash, super scour formula, anything and everything to strip out dirt, grease, stink, and ick. Mary had a LOT of lanolin which is the oil/grease that sheep secrete. Lanolin is great in some ways…it makes your hands super-soft and the wool as well…however Mary’s variety is…sticky. I washed this fleece just under 20 times in the last year. Not even kidding, guys. This is about an hour long process each time which involves boiling water, adding detergent, pouring the water over the fleece that is bagged to prevent it from felting, then draining out the soapy, dirty water, then rinsing it with more hot water and laying it outside to dry, sometimes for days until it’s totally dry.

Moving on.

This is the Picker. It's the only reason I could finish processing this fleece.

This is the Picker. It's the only reason I could finish processing this fleece.

Huge, huge, huge thanks to Natasha at Unplanned Peacock Studios for letting me come over and borrow her picker and drum carder. If she hadn’t have been around to help me out on this bit…I really think I would have quit. Drum carders are WORTH the investment.

Piles of batts fresh off the drum carder.

Piles of batts fresh off the drum carder.

So Natasha’s amazing drum carder made Mary’s fleece in to easy to manage batts. I also added a little merino in to the batts for added softness. As I mentioned, Dorset is typically a meat sheep and Mary…was coarse. Merino will help to soften things up. Also, let’s all take a minute to admire just how clean I got that fleece. Ooooo…..ahhhh…..

I stretched (or pre-drafted) the carded batts out in to roving.

I stretched (or pre-drafted) the carded batts out in to roving.

I pulled the batts apart, and stretched them. This stretching is known as drafting or pre-drafting because I did it all before the spinning process. Most spinners will draft as they spin, but because this fleece was still SO sticky and because my goal was a thicker yarn, pre-drafting was needed here. I also picked out a lot of twigs, burrs, straw, and other vegetable matter (VM) as I pre-drafted. This was probably the most time consuming process other than the washing.

This is some of Mary’s fleece being spun in to yarn on my wheel. This goes pretty fast as I was aiming for thick yarn.

On to the spinning process!

On to the spinning process!

Here’s what the yarn looked like as singles or one-ply bits of yarn.

Spinning Mary's fleece in to singles.

Spinning Mary's fleece in to singles.

This is one of the singles from Mary.

This is one of the singles from Mary.

You can kind of tell that there are a lot of little fibers that come off and go different directions on this yarn. This does tend to make the yarn a little more itchy. Again, this is partially because of the breed that Mary is.

Next I plyed the yarn.

Mary's Fleece is now plyed on to the bobbin.

Mary's Fleece is now plyed on to the bobbin.

Plying is the process of taking the singles and spinning them together to form a doubled up or thicker yarn. My final product here was around worsted to aran weight yarn. Because it’s handspun it does have a fair amount of variation. I wanted that in this yarn to add visual interest in the final product.

Once this was plyed, I then set the twist by taking the yarn and soaking it in very hot water. The hot water causes the fibers to felt a little and stick together. This allows the twist to stay in the yarn and not come undone when you dangle a piece or knit with it. After the twist was set, it was time to dye!!

All plyed and dyed!!

All plyed and dyed!!

I dyed it with two different colors of blue dye. I use a kettle dying or immersion dying technique. My cousin’s favorite color is blue, so that’s what I went with.

Hanging up to dry.

Hanging up to dry.

As I type this, the yarn is still hanging up to dry. Once it’s done I will knit it up in to *something* for my cousin. I know what the something is…but just in case she reads this I won’t reveal it just yet. She honestly has no idea this process has been happening. I hope she will be happy when she does read this and I hope she will understand how much I love her.

You see, Mary passed away this summer. She really was my cousin’s best friend. My cousin is 19 and had had Mary for 11 years. She had been a part of my cousin’s world for over half of her life. So that’s part of what motivated me to finish this project and write this post. Mary was an amazing sheep and I’m glad I got one of her last shearings so I could process it for my cousin so that she can have her sheep with her always.

Much love for Mary.

Much love for Mary.

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6 thoughts on “Proud Mary (Also Known as Sheep to Yarn in Pictures)

  1. What a wonderful, special gift for your cousin! I am standing here, at work, reading this, and I have tears in my eyes. I know how hard it is when a person loses a special animal friend. Whatever it is that you are going to make her, I know that it will be treasured forever.

    Now, as a spinner who has worked with many raw fleeces, I can FEEL your pain with trying to get that fleece clean! 🙂

    • Thank you so much!!!

      Yeah, it was by far the hardest fleece I’ve ever cleaned. It was really gratifying though. I’m glad I did it. Now on to some yummy alpaca!!!!

  2. Wow, this will be such a meaningful gift! Also, as a random stranger stumbling upon your blog, I was very excited to see the whole wool to yarn process spelled out! I’m already up to my ears in craft projects, but I’ve decided this is the year I try spinning! I’ll be taking a few classes at the local yarn shop.

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