Meet Pixie Girl, a crossbreed ewe who lives on Newland Ranch in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her mother is a Corriedale and her father is a Shetland x Rambouillet cross. I purchased two pounds of Pixie Girl's 2010 fleece and I have learned a lot about wool washing and prep working with her fleece.
The wool had been cold soaked by the shepherd, so it arrived to me free of mud and other cakey barnyard materials (you know what I'm talking about, right?), but it had plenty of grit and vegetal matter in it, and still had all of its original lanolin. I tried a new method to wash her fleece, using a bathtub in order to wash all of it at once without having to sort out individual staples of wool. I bought a few yards of tulle from Joann Fabric and used that to line the bathtub. I filled the tub with extremely hot water and added simple detergent to the water (Fleet Farm show paste, which is the same thing as Orvus paste), not agitating it very much because I didn't want lots of soap suds in the water. I dumped the fleece into the water and let it soak for 20 minutes, then used the tulle to pull it out of the water, hooking the ends of the tulle over a towel rod in the tub to let the water drain from the wool. The wool still felt a little too sticky, so I knew there was still more lanolin in it than I wanted. I emptied the tub and refilled with with fresh hot water & soap to soak the wool one more time. Two washes seemed to take most of stickiness out of the wool. I decided it was ready to rinse, and I used the same process with fresh hot water (and no soap, obviously) until any residual soap seemed to be gone. Each wash & rinse cycle got rid of an amazing amount of grit in the fleece. I spread the wet wool on a couple of sweater racks and let them dry. The cleaned wool:
Pixie Girl's heritage of Corriedale-Shetland-Rambouillet gives her fleece some interesting characteristics. There was definitely a lot of lanolin in the raw fleece, more than I would expect in a primarily Corriedale fleece, so I assume that the Rambouillet (which is basically French merino sheep) contributed to the quantity of lanolin in the fleece. I got most of it out in the washing process, but I wasn't fanatical about it. The clean fleece has a trace of lanolin, which I like in this instance. The wool is actually very soft, which I tested by touching a bundle of the clean wool against my neck to see how scratchy it felt. There was no irritation against my skin, and I'm pretty sensitive to any kind of scratchiness against my skin.
Pixie Girl's mixed heritage has also given her fleece some very different staples (or locks) of wool. The staples range from about 2 to 3 inches, some of which have a more pronounced crimp that definitely seems more Corriedale to me (see the middle staple in the picture below), while some staples have a much finer, almost spiraling, crimp that would seem to come from the Shetland-Rambouillet portion of her genetics. The wool has a lot of bounce to it - a lot of natural springiness. Here are some very typical examples of the kinds of staples that I have gotten out of this fleece:
Because this wool has lots of different staple sizes and characteristics, plus it is very soft and bouncy, I have decided to continue processing this wool in a carded preparation for woolen spinning. This process will blend the fleece together, and the spinning style will create a very lightweight, lofty, bouncy yarn that will be perfect for hats or sweaters, or any other garment that would benefit from a very warm, insulating yarn that is lightweight. It wouldn't be as successful for something like socks, because woolen yarn isn't as durable against abrasion as a yarn that is spun in more of a worsted style.