Gritstone fleece

Sitting in a black bag in the corner of my kitchen this morning was one "Gritstone" fleece. I think it's a wonderful name for a sheep breed. It sounds tough and hardy, not to mention a little old fashioned (which I like).

The first job of the morning was to open it and have a good look.

It's always so exciting opening a new fleece because even if it's a breed you know and love, individual fleeces vary between different animals, changing over the lifespan of the sheep and even shifting depending on the environmental conditions in any particular year.

Gritstones were bred in Derbyshire, becoming recognisable in the late 1700's, although the stock from which they were descended may well have been hill sheep tended in the area from Middle ages. They are a polled (non horned) breed and their fleece is of a mid staple length coming in at a Bradford count of 52-56.

It was a good sign to see that the fleece was properly folded. Fleeeces should be shorn and have the worst daggings removed straightaway. They are laid out skin side down and the flanks folded in thirds over the midline. The fleece is then rolled up toward the neck and secured.  I prefer the neck wool to be tucked into a hole in the fleece but it isn't unusual to see fleeces tied up with a twist of neck wool like this one.

As I unrolled it I noticed that the wool was quite dense. I was optimistic about being able to scour a good proportion of it. I was starting to formulate my washing plan..... hot water and detergent, then straight onto the stove to rinse and melt off the lanolin.

Nor was it too dirty, there really was only a handful of dagged wool to throw out. Not a kempy fibre in sight. The vegetative matter (VM) wasn't too bad either, the odd bit of grass and some wood shavings. I've seen plenty worse. I remember one particular fleece that I scoured which was more field than fleece!

The fleece looked so pretty. Uniform, with a regular crimp. Then I tried to grade the wool from the finest to the coarsest, as the shoulder wool is finer than the flanks.

That's when my hopes came back down to earth with a bang.

The fleece was cotted across the back and shoulders. This means that the wool is matted together, usually close to the skin. In essence the fleece has felted to a greater or lesser degree and cannot be pulled apart easily.

Light cotting can be relaxed in hot water and separated (although it's not ideal). Heavy cotting leaves the fleece almost like a sheepskin rug, but without the skin.

Sometimes you can cut the wool again if you have enough length in the staple.

I did my best, starting from the outer margins, pulling and teasing as I went, but I didn't get very much useable wool.

What wool I did get cleaned beautifully, which almost added insult to injury. It is now drying up on the top shelf of my airing cupboard. I have had to reassure my husband that I won't be felting with it but spinning it.

I know it felts! That's the problem!

A little while ago I stepped out of my blogs and turned the lights off.
If I'm honest, I had reached capacity (and I'm not just talking about the photos on my Picasa account here).

Because I couldn't make felt anymore there didn't seem to be any point in carrying on blogging. From where I was standing I could see my peers expanding their practice while my creative bubble was somewhat diminishing.

So after sweeping most of my blog into a little dust heap I put the broom into the cupboard, held a studio sale, packed my sketchbooks away and  sat down to wait for the post operative recuperation to do its thing. I also went out into the real world and found a job outside of the creative industry.

But people keep visiting the few posts left up, and I keep being e-mailed questions about felting, which is rather nice. So while that's still happening I shall answer them to the best of my ability in this blog. I'll probably share a few hat patterns while I'm at it.

I can't promise I'll post very frequently - the new job is keeping me busy and even finding time to draw is proving tricky! But wool still features significantly ... for example there is a gritstone fleece sitting in the kitchen. Perhaps I'll blog about that tomorrow...