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Fibers and Fleece
Essay by Carol Ann Rak

I have encountered many people who tell me they are allergic to wool, and yet when they handle the wool that I spin and try on the articles, they find they have no reaction. Most of the time the allergic reaction is to chemical residues left over from the chemical cleaning process.

The mills, washing and cleaning large amounts of wool, use harsh chemicals, usually sulphuric acid, to dissolve the dirt, and vegetable matter in the wool, without damaging the fibers too seriously. Wool is thrown into the large vats, complete with the paper cords used to tie them into bales — the cords and any vegetable matter dissolves in the acid solution. Wool that has been cleaned in this manner is termed as carbonized.

The fibers I use are hand washed in a mild detergent and rinsed thoroughly, leaving them soft and without any irritating residue.

I have worked with many different kinds of fleece and fibers, including dog hair and buffalo wool. The yarn for many of the articles available through my business is spun ‘core and ply’. This term relates to a yarn which is bulky but soft and lightweight.

Instead of spinning fibers into themselves I use a fine commercial, wool yarn as the core and fluff the different fibers onto it while spinning. When my bobbin is full I then ply with another fine commercial, wool yarn to anchor the fibers so they are securely an integral part of the finished yarn. The singles in some of the samples are fibers spun with traditional spinning, but not plied.

Not all sheep produce wool of a quality used for clothing. Most meat sheep breeds have a courser wool as their protein goes predominantly for the development of muscle meat. Sheep with soft fine fleece are usually a smaller built animal, where the protein is concentrated in fiber production.

The fleece I use for most of my work these days is high quality Border Leicester. Soft, long and curly although a long wool, and not as fine as other fleece certain animals can carry a lovely soft fleece with good luster. This is perfect for the core and ply spinning I do, where I can let curls extend out, as I fluff on the fiber, giving a wonderful textured look and feel, along with the kid mohair, silk and alpaca.

The fleece takes dye well and sometimes a basket of curls looks too pretty to disturb and spin!! I have worked with the two friends who produce most of the fleece that I use, for a good number of years, teaching them: how to feed their sheep in a way to lessen the possibility of seeds and vegetable matter entering the fleece; knowing which sheep have high quality handspinning fiber from their feel and appearance; having someone who knows how to shear for handspinning without second clips and how to skirt off the tags, hair and lesser quality fiber to leave only the highest quality wool to market. It has been satisfying for me to see their wool develop into such beautiful fiber, and the satisfaction they gain from the end result!

Call me and lets make something!- 724-253-2299

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