Test it out: the power of sampling

I have a lot of experience working with wool from fleece to fabric. Despite all that experience, I really surprised myself with my last sample.

Let me explain. My neighbour has a lovely flock of Gotland, Shetland and Gotland/Shetland cross sheep. I have three of her fleeces here – the task at hand is to find out which one would make the ideal sweater yarn.

I started by sifting through the three bags, two Gotland and one Gotland/Shetland (GS). I decided to start with the GS because it seemed the softest and had the nicest crimp and staple length of the three.

I was anxious to see what it looked like spun up, so I grabbed a small amount, put it into a lingerie bag and washed it.

When I started working with it to figure out the best fibre preparation technique to use, I found that many of the locks had fused or felted a bit at the cut end. I’ve been washing fibre for years and have always been careful, and this has never happened to me. When I reviewed (admitted to myself) my technique, I noted that I gently squeezed the bag of wet fibre. Was that the thing that caused the felting? Not entirely sure.

When I washed up another batch – I made sure that I didn’t squeeze at all. I let the water drip. It was painful, but I did resist the urge to squeeze. After the final rinse, I let the bags hang until the water was cool. And then I put them in my salad spinner. I gently spun them to remove some more water.

Then I put it to dry and much to my delight, all the locks easily and willingly came apart. Teasing was a dream instead of a struggle.

So the moral of this story: test it out. I was focused on making a spinning test sample – but I was reminded that the way you wash the fibre needs to be tested out as well.

Good thing I didn’t wash the entire fleece!

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