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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sheep Study: Targhee-Washing and Analysis

About a week ago, I decided that I needed to visit my LYS and play with fiber. I've been working with some farmers across the nation, trying to find a mutually beneficial way for us to work together to bring you all interesting and/or rare fibers.  It's looking like the best way to do this is for me to buy raw fleeces and then do most of the processing myself.

Before taking a huge plunge and buying several hundred pounds of fleeces, I decided it would behoove me to start small and figure out what I'm really getting into. My first study is of a Targhee ram fleece that I picked up from my LYS. What follows is my experience with the fiber.

(As an aside, if you are interested in doing something like this on a smaller scale, please check out the Fleece Study with Jacqueline Bland. She sends you samples of all kinds of sheep breeds (about 40 of them), and a handy book with information on each of the breeds, as well as space to take notes, and for $70, it is well worth the investment)

raw state Targhee locks
I started with 12 oz of fleece from a Targhee ram that I bought from my LYS. When I was picking through the bag of fleece, I was looking for fiber that was still in its original lock formation, and I looked at the cut end, trying to find pieces of fleece that had similar crimp structure. When choosing a part of a fleece, it is best to look for whole locks, because then you can ensure you do not choose portions with lots of second cuts (those little bits of fiber that are caused by cutting back across a portion of the sheep's body. Mostly unavoidable as a sheerer, but best to be avoided as a spinner. Although, they are handy for pillow stuffing or small felting projects...)

I have a notebook that is now dedicated only to this long term Sheep Study. In this notebook, I wrote down the raw weight of the fiber, which for the Targhee was 12 ounces (it weighed 12.5 ounces inside its original bag)

I then spread it out on the table and started looking through for any big pieces of vegetable matter (hay, grass, etc) and any second cuts.  You will want to pick these out if possible. No sense in washing bits of hay.

Look at the raw locks. Even though they are unwashed, the cut end is still a gloriously bright white. Also, you will want to make note of how much lanolin there is. In my case, this appeared to be a very happy sheep, with lots of lanolin. My hands were even soft after handling it.

Pick out a lock and grab a tape measure. You will want to measure the longest and shortest locks of your collection now. This will give you a better idea of how you may want to process the fiber after it's been washed (ie: combing, carding, or spinning from the lock)

staple length
In this case, the average staple length of this boy was around 3.5 inches. In my reading (research, research,research!) I found that this was about average and true to breed. (Following the post there will be a list of additional sources for breed-specific information for you.)

You will definitely want to do some reading before you wash the fleece, because researching the feltability of your fiber is a good thing to do BEFORE you think about putting your locks in water. In addition to that, you will want to know what to expect as you process your fleece.

 Now take a look at the crimp structure of your lock. With your handy dandy tape measure, you can determine the number of crimps per inch.  A note: when you are counting crimps, you are essentially counting the bends in the fiber. Embiggen the above photo, and you will see all the little bends. When counting crimp, you will only count top or bottom bends (much like a wave, with a crest OR a trough.) NOT BOTH. I decided it was easier to count the top bend or crest of the wave.

The number of crimps per inch for my lock was around 14.  In this case, my chosen lock was again, average for the breed.

Here is the run down of Targhee characteristics:
Staple Length: 3-5 inches
Fineness: 21-25 microns
Bradford Count: 58s-64s
Crimp: fine, between 6-15 crimps per inch
Fleece Weight: 11-16 lbs 
Labeled as suitable for next to skin wear

Now then, because the fiber is so fine, and there are lots of crimps per inch, this is also a highly feltable wool. Care must be taken while washing and processing it. For this reason, I decided to do all the processing by hand. No machine washing or agitation.

Arrange the locks
To wash the fleece, I arranged the locks with tips facing each other, and put it into a lingerie laundry bag. I ran the hottest water that my tap could do, and grabbed a wash tub. In said wash tub went several tablespoons of Green Works dish detergent (personal choice, I like to pretend that my fleece washing isn't poisoning the water table). You can use shampoo, Dawn dish liquid, anything that is labeled to cut grease. Remember, you are trying to remove the lanolin and dirt.

Bath Time!
Make sure the water feels "slippery" before the locks are introduced (taking a page from Margaret Stove's book here from her video "Spinning For Lace")

Once your wash tub or sink is filled with at least 5 inches of water (give or take) and is super sudsy, you can lay your laundry bag on top. Gently push it down into the water, being careful to not agitate the locks.
Rinse it good

You will do the sudsy water thing several times when washing fleece or locks. In my case, it took three sudsy baths to get the dirt and lanolin out.

Then you rinse with water of a similar temperature. It took my locks two rinses.

After washing, you will want to carefully lay the locks onto a drying rack, making sure to preserve the lock formation. At this time I want you to understand that as a dyer and processor of fleeces, the best addition to my equipment has been the Hamilton Beach Quick Dry drying rack. It dried the locks in one day instead of 4. At any rate, a drying rack with air circulation is fine. Use an air filter if you want to lay them out. Anything works.

Now weight the dry locks again. In my case, I got the washed fleece state as being 8.375 ounces

Once it's dry, you will probably want to know what the weight loss was from washing it (so that you know how much raw fleece you need to buy in order to end up with X amount for spinning). Break out your calculator. (I promise this won't hurt).  Do you remember from school, the formula to calculate the percentage change?

                         F- F1                                                F1= fleece weight, unwashed
                                ----------------                                               F2=fleece weight, washed

For this batch, we would plug in the numbers thusly:

                  ----------------  =      .33 or 33%

This means that the percentage loss from washing was 33%. Not bad, considering there are some breeds that can lose up to 50% of their weight from washing.

You will notice that I used 12.5 as my starting weight. I weighed the locks inside a plastic bag, and then used the same plastic bag to contain the washed locks for weighing. The bag alone weighs .5 ounces, so I took that into account for my final numbers, and since I had weighed both the washed and unwashed locks inside the bag, I decided to use those numbers. The math works out the same whether you take the measurements inside or without a bag, so I did the easier math


Here's we've learned from this particular batch of fiber:
Staple Length: 3.5 inches
Crimp: 14 crimps/inch
Highly Feltable
Raw Weight: 12 ounces
Washed Weight: 8.875 or 8 7/8 ounces
Loss from Washing: 33%
Washing: 3 washes
Rinsing: 2 rinses, no conditioner necessary

Further Reading:
   The Knitter's Book Of Wool by Clara Parkes

Fleece Study with Jacqueline Bland notebook

 In Sheep's Clothing: A Handspinners Guide to Wool by Nola and Jane Fournier

Also, a lot of really good information can be found both by taking a look around The Joy of Handspinning and also by contacting sheep farmers directly. Most of them are excited to talk about their flocks and give you good amounts of information. (in this case, the farmer told me that dyeing the Targhee locks directly instead dyeing it after it has been carded into roving will yield better color results. I will be trying that next)

I will be testing samples for spinning using both carded and combed preparations. Stay tuned for another Sheep Study update!

I hope this has been helpful. How do you analyze your fleeces? I'll talk to you in the comments.

Next up in the Sheep Study: Cotswold-Washing and Analysis!

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