Sunday, October 18, 2009


The Sheep and Wool Festival was fun. The weather was cold and rainy, and after about three hours I'd had enough, but it was very sheep-y and wool-y. There were Ravelry people everywhere! They all looked young and chic, and I knew they were Ravelry people because they all had pins saying so, with their screen names. So many cool sweaters, and scarves, and hats and gloves - all knit of course.

Here's a picture of one team in the sheep to shawl competition. Most teams had 4 spinners, a plyer and a weaver. I didn't stay and watch the whole thing, even though it was riveting (!), but I think only 2 or 3 of the teams got a shawl that was long enough before the time expired. Pretty neat.

Here's my haul from the event. A 5-1/2 lb Romney fleece for $8/lb and a 6 lb Romney fleece for $6/lb plus two 1/2 pound Merino rovings for $17 each. When I first started spinning 6 months ago, I was all excited about turning raw fleece into yarn, and surprised when one of my old high school friends said she starts from roving, not raw fleece. I'm beginning to think that's smarter than what I'm doing. Let's take a moment to do the math.

There's this thing called yield, when applied to fleece means that after I wash it and card it, I'll probably get 3 usable pounds from this 5 pound fleece (removing dirt, vegetable matter and lanolin). I haven't actually finished carding an entire fleece yet because it's a LOT of wool. But when I spun my first 8 ounces for my sister I got 300+ yards from 1/2 pound. Applying the same rate, this 3 pounds would be 1800 yards of yarn. Now, I'm not a knitter, but I think 1800 yards is maybe ~ 3 sweaters worth (?) Knitters, please correct me here!

How much work is this? Washing a dirty fleece takes me all afternoon. I'm doing other things of course, but it's alot of the wool sitting in hot water in lingerie bags - 1 wash and 3 or so rinses at an hour or so each time. Then it takes days to dry in the summer. In winter, over a week. Then, let's say it takes 20 hours to card it all - just a guess, and 6 hours to spin it - also a guess. Total is maybe 27 hours of work for 3 pounds of yarn. (I'll revise these guesses as I work through these fleeces I've got here.) Looking at it another way, it's at least 4.5 hours of work for the same 8 ounces I spent $17 for. There's always the priceless value of the zen experience of carding - uh huh. [Can't you just tell I'm an Industrial Engineer? I do calculations like this for kicks!]


  1. Starting with raw fleece is a lot like any other craft that you do "from scratch." For some people the important part is having done it all themselves, for others it's the spinning itself, and who cares what you start with. I think it's a good idea to try it both ways, because a commercially prepared roving or top does have a different feel than a home prepped carded/combed fleece.

    You can probably reduce your soak time - when I was working with raw fleece I'd do two washes and two or three rinses, each at about 20 min tops. It shouldn't take so long for the fleece to dry - at least in my experience. Are you spinning the water out in your washing machine after the last rinse?

  2. I did try spinning the water out - once. I did it on an Icelandic fleece and felted the whole thing! Now I'm scared to try. I do think I should add another wash. Sounds like you don't work with raw fleece any more?

  3. I haven't had time or need! I bought a total of 6-7 raw fleeces over a period of about two years when I first started spinning, and I haven't used them all yet! Of course part of the reason is that I fell in love with spinning cotton, which is very time consuming, but I'm thinking that I need to pull out my drum carder and get back to work. This year if I can make it I won't buy it, and that includes things like warm socks, mittens, etc.

    RE your Icelandic fleece - they can be prone to easy felting! The Romney you bought won't be such a problem. You did turn off any water that would spray onto the fleece during a spin cycle, right? I always drove DH nuts when I was washing fleece because I'd turn off all the water to the machine for the spin cycle and forget to turn it back on - then he'd go to do laundry and nothing would happen ! :)

  4. I do a bit of quilting. or maybe I should just admit to doing the tops..but I started because quilts are so expensive. Nice ones, that is. and then I went to the quilt shop and bought really nice material and then I spent lots and lots of time putting together the top and then I bought the batting and the backing and either tied it, quilted it, or had it quilted, and if push came to shove, it may have been cheaper to buy one. But I like to control the colors and the quality and the pattern and then change my mind, if I want. It is a bit of therapy and when I'm done I feel really good about it - a gift of love... so I guess what you do is figure out what you do and why you do it. The time I spend on quilts is not time that anyone else is paying me for..if you figured out an hourly rate for most anything you do, it wouldn't ever make sense. But you would have to work while someone else is doing all that stuff you're going to pay them for..
    **Do what you like-Like what you Do!**