Monday, February 05, 2007

Shetland Fleeces No.1

Last fall in the monthly newsletter from North Country Spinners I spotted a notice from a shepherd in Garrison, NY, offering Shetland fleeces for sale. Having grown up in Garrison, I was intrigued and decided to call. Cynthia, the shepherd, answered. She was very friendly and lots of fun to speak with. We discovered several coincidences. Not only did we have Garrison in common but we'd both attended the same college. And, Cynthia's husband is a distinguished author of dictionaries, essential in every library (and I'm a librarian). Over the course of several conversations and e-mail exchanges I ended up with my first fleeces. Yes, fleeces, not fleece. I couldn't help it -- they sounded so yummy.

When the fleeces arrived in early November in my small city apartment, I was somewhat taken aback. They were much dirtier and smellier than I expected. Properly so, it turns out. The cats were just fascinated by the strong aromas of the farm animals they've never seen. I did some research and discovered that Shetlands tend to get awfully mucky. Although I'd handled raw fleece before in workshops and such I was unprepared for the real thing.

Molly's fleece, a light gray mix, seemed the right one to start with. I was wrong. It was probably the dirtiest and had the most sunburned tips, most of which I pulled off as I teased the fleece. It took a couple of hours just to pull the tips off and tease.
Did I mention that I didn't begin this process until about 9 pm in the middle of a busy work week? It took about 4 hours and still there's plenty of grease and grit in the fleece. The first water of each scouring turned as deeply brown as a good cup of coffee. And, the fleece, in my airless apartment, took days and days to dry. On top of that, it looks as though I may have felted it slightly. I hope not!

After posting inquiries on Spindler's and my knit list, I got the names of some reliable wool processors. The person who answered the phone at the Zeilinger Wool Company laughed in the kindest, most supportive way when I described my apartment-dwellers's predicament. She reassured me that she processes the fleeces belonging to many urban spinners reluctant to clog their buildings' pipes. And, additionally, she told me that if I waited until January I'd get a 25% discount. Who could resist such a wonderful company.

Again I called the nice lady at Zeilinger who explained just how to pack up and label the fleeces. She explained that Shetland was not fine but medium to coarse fiber. And, she seems awfully intent on saving me money, for which I'm very grateful. All four fleeces are squished into one carton. Off they'll go to the post office tomorrow morning.
I'm posting photos of two of the fleeces' skin sides because the colors are are not compromised by the sunburned tips that the processing will mostly remove.)

When the roving comes back -- the lovely lady also told me I didn't want pencil roving -- I'll post the pictures. Can't wait.