How to Prepare your Fiber for Processing

If you don't want it in your roving or yarn, don't send it to us! 

These sayings point out that we can only produce lovely, clean roving for you to make yarn with if you send us lovely, clean fiber to begin with. True, we have lots of services to offer you that will help get rid of dirt, manure, foreign objects, and what is commonly called VM (vegetable matter, or vegetation--a fancy term for hay, burrs, stickers, seeds--you get the picture!). However, the longer it takes us to work on your fiber, the more it costs you.  Also, if you take time to prepare your fiber before sending it to us, you don't have to pay to ship poo and veggie matter!  Perhaps more importantly, because we charge on incoming weight, you are giving yourself a discount when you remove the yucky stuff at home. There may also be less fiber loss when you skirt carefully at home--you can determine what to take out instead of leaving it up to us. Finally,there are even cases when  we need to reject fiber for processing because it's in such poor condition that there's nothing we can do with it. So for the best processing experience, take time to prepare your fiber before sending.

Below we share some guidelines for preparing your fiber for the best processing experience.

Skirting Your Fiber
One of the best indicators as to how your final roving and yarn will look in the end,  is the condition of the fleece you begin with. Many farmers choose to coat their animals for the best quality fleece available. However, this is not an option for all farmers. Even if your fleece came from coated animals, take a some time to skirt the fleece. If your fleece came from uncoated animals, it's going to have some amount of manure, dirt, dust, hay, straw, grass, seeds, burrs, stickers, etc. Occasionally there will be some foreign object in the fleece, as well (like a piece of wire, a stick, etc.) "Skirting" is a fancy name for getting as much of this stuff out of your fleece as possible Maybe you're an old pro at skirting, or maybe this is your first experience. Either way, here are some guidelines to help in this task: 

NOTE: It's good to do this somewhere like outside or in a garage--somewhere that can get really dirty! Also--IF YOU FIND ANY EVIDENCE OF MOTHS  OR LICE IN YOUR FIBER, WE CANNOT ACCEPT IT FOR PROCESSING!

1. Take the fleece and unroll/open it, and give it a good shake. Then lay it flat on a large table, or even a piece of wood or screen on sawhorses. Once it's laid out like this, you should be able to tell where the front and back of the animal was. The first step is to go around the edge and remove the dirty, nasty edges. This part of the fleece will have a lot dirt, dust, and manure tags. 

2. Next, make a decision about whether you want to remove the coarser fiber around the legs (the "britch" wool) or whether you want it processed along with the rest. If its sent to us it will get processed with the rest of the fleece.

3. Make the first "pass" in skirting by removing large, obvious pieces of vegetation and any foreign objects that might have found their way into the fleece. 

4. The next step can be quite time-consuming and not particularly thrilling, but it can do a lot towards making your final product spectacular. Carefully go over the entire fleece and remove as much vegetation as you can. Here is a difference from how you may have skirted for home processing: IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO KEEP THE FLEECE IN "LOCK FORMATION" FOR PROCESSING AT OUR MILL! Feel free to take it apart in handfuls, shake the handfuls out and really get in there and get the vegetation and dirt out. Squeeze each handful (carefully!)  to see if there are burrs or stickers hiding in there, and if so, remove them! You may come across areas that are completely filled with vegetation. When you start to reach 50% vegetation/50% fiber,  please REMOVE IT! This part of your fleece could be reclaimed as garden mulch or can add an interesting dimension to your compost heap, etc., but it doesn't belong in your roving or yarn!

5. Next, if you're not washing the fleece at home,  pack it up and ship it to us to transform into beautiful products! If you would like to wash it yourself, see the section below for some hints. 

NOTE:  Part of our processing services include some basic skirting of your fleece. We include a few minutes as part of your washing fee. After that, we charge $30 per hour for additional skirting. We reserve the right to do as much skirting as we feel is necessary for the fiber to run through our equipment without damaging it. We also reserve the right to return fiber to you that we feel has too much vegetation and other foreign matter to process successfully. But if you follow these guidelines, you're much more likely to end up with a product you're thrilled with! 

Washing Your Fiber
You may prefer to wash your own fleece before sending it to us for further processing.

Normally, fleeces come to us skirted and unwashed. Washing is taken seriously as we feel it is one of the most important keys to an excellent final product. If you wish to wash your own fleece anyway, we offer a few tips for you here. However, keep in mind that even if you send us washed fiber, we need to reserve the right to re-wash any fiber we feel is not clean enough for running through our equipment.  That said, here are some guidelines for washing your fleece so it's ready for further processing:

1. Feel free to break your fleece apart before washing it. Our machines will remove the lock formation. We have found, though, that keeping the fleece in some sort of net bag (like a lingerie bag) makes for a nicer washing experience with less danger of felting. So--we recommend placing your skirted fleece in lingerie bags, in batches of no more than 1 lb. per bag. (If there's more than that, it may not get clean enough). 

2. Fill a sink or bucket with water that's as hot as you can get it. At our mill, we wash our wool in water that is 150 degrees F (145 degrees F for alpaca).  Aim for at least 150 degrees; otherwise, the lanolin or wax in your fiber (if it is sheep's wool) won't be able to melt, and you'll end up with sticky, dirty fleece instead of soft, clean, lovely fleece! Use a thermometer to check the heat, and add some boiling water if necessary to raise the temperature. If you're still not able to get the water hot enough--no problem. Just pack up the fleece and send it to us. We would be happy to wash it for you! 

3. Add some detergent to your water. Use Dawn dish washing soap or a product made specifically for scouring wool. Just be sure what you use has no bleach or enzymes, both of which can damage wool. 

4. Submerge the bags of fiber into the sink or bucket, making sure not to agitate (otherwise, you'll end up with felt, not fleece, and felting is forever!) Cover the sink or bucket with a big pan, a towel, tin foil--anything big enough to cover it and  to keep the heat it. Let it soak for about 20 minutes. You don't want to leave it too long, because once the water starts to cool, the lanolin solidifies again and can re-deposit on the fiber. 

5. When the time is up, lift the bags out of the sink or bucket, being careful not to burn yourself (we suggest using tongs for this). Carefully push on the fiber with the tongs to drain out the dirty water. If the fiber is still really dirty, try a second wash, but you could use less detergent this time.

6. Once the fiber is clean, you'll want to re-fill your sink or bucket with hot water again, but this time add no detergent. We recommend at least one rinse in clear water, and a second rinse with a 1/4 cup of vinegar, to balance the pH. It is important to rinse thoroughly, as detergent can leave residue in your fiber which may interfere with processing. 

7. (Optional): If your washing machine can be set just to spin, you can spin some of the water out of the fiber in the washing machine. But be sure not to allow the rinse cycle to spray water on the fiber--just spin it. Otherwise, it may felt--and felting is forever!!

8. Spread the fiber out on the floor or a table to dry. You could put a fan set on low next to the fiber to speed up the drying process. The fiber should be dry in a day or so, depending on weather/humidity/etc.

9. Once the fiber is completely dry, pack it up and send it to us to be processed into gorgeous roving, batts or cloud!