Cleaning and Sampling a Sheep Fleece | Fleece Series Episode 1

Video Notes:

This is the first video in a series about using a sheep fleece to make clothes. In this video, I clean the fleece and spin some samples to get an idea of what kind of yarn I want to make with it.
IG: barrowsandwights

00:04 Introducing the Fleece
04:00 Cleaning the Fleece
05:25 Information – How I’m cleaning the fleece, different fiber preparation methods, my plans for sampling the fleece

Cleaning the Fleece:
1 hot water bath with Kookaburra Scour. I place the locks into the hot water and do not agitate them. Wait until the bath cools. Squeeze the water out of the locks, then rinse in a room temperature water bath.

Preparation Methods:

Spin from the Lock – Use a small flicker brush to open up each end of the fleece lock, then spin directly from the lock.

Combing – Using specialized fleece combs, comb out the fleece so that the hairs are parallel to each other. Pull the fleece off the comb and then spin.

Carding – Carding can be done with carding combs (wide flash brushes) or with a drum carder. Card the fleece locks with wither tool, then spin from the result.

Sampling Plans:

Spin a single ply yarn, a two-play yarn, and a three ply yarn using each of the preparation methods described above. I also ended up doing a chain ply yarn for the samples, but it’s not mentioned in the video.

12:00 Spinning from the Lock
16:16 Combing
18:56 Carding
21:26 Analyzing My Spinning Samples


Title Card:
Photo by Anton Atanasov

Logo designed and drawn by A.R. Gergler

Background Music:
Romantic Contemplative Nature by MusicLFiles

My Sentimental Positive Piano by MusicLFiles

Mellow Sweet Traditional Piano by MusicLFiles
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Artist website:

Joyful Waltz by MusicLFiles
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Artist website:


End Screen:
Photo by Anton Atanasov



Hello. My name is Adrian. My pronouns are he/them and I bought a fleece.


Oh, dog. Dog heard me talking. Hi Audrey. What are you doing?  You can’t- you can’t see her in the camera.

[Metal Gear alert sound]

So today is Sunday, October whatever the date is 2021. I have spent this weekend in Rhinebeck, New York for the New York Sheep and Wool festival. I wasn’t planning on buying my new friend here, but that happened.

So if you don’t know, I enjoy many different aspects of fiber work. I knit. I crochet. I weave. I spin. I have processed fleeces before. Do I know what the ultimate goal for my new friend here is? No, I don’t, but I’m going to bring you along as I process and make decisions about this fleece because historically, this is how you do wool things. For much of human history, you kind of did it all or in small groups shared the responsibilities of raising sheep, shearing the wool or whatever fiber animal you have, and then felting or spinning or whatever you need to do with it. This is gonna take a while, so this will probably be a series.

Let me tell you a little bit about this fleece. This wool came from a Coopworth/Blue-faced Leicester cross sheep, according to my documentation from the Duchess County Fairgrounds. The age of the sheep was two years and five months. This wool is five months of growth. It was sheared off of the sheep in February 2021, late February, which is around the time when you start shearing sheep. 
You shear them in the spring when they don’t need as much warmth as over the winter. There is eight pounds and four ounces of this.
The weight of that will change once it’s been washed and kind of degreased and this is what a portion of the fleece looks like. So 
it’s a naturally brown fleece. The tips are more blonde because they do get bleached by the sun. It’s a very lanolin-y fleece. Lanolin is the the grease in the hair. So this is very greasy and you can see there’s bits of hay and things and this has not been cleaned at all, so I will be washing my hands after handling this. The staple length, which is the length of the fiber- it’s about five inches and it’s got this lovely crimp, which will likely mean a very springy wool that likes to stretch and contract. So this is what it looks like before you do anything with it.

I ripped a hole in this garbage bag, so I have to stick it in another garbage bag until later this week when I can start cleaning it.

[piano music]

Hello and welcome to my semi-permanent fleece washing station. It is Saturday, November 6th and I have started washing this fleece. There are several different methods that are used for washing fleeces. So I have washed two other fleeces before, all at the same time. They were cheap from a local farmer and it was kind of an experiment to get to know how to process a fleece and the hardest thing I found was figuring out the best way to clean the fleece. Because I was doing this with like makeshift setups outside, it was kind of a mess and it took ages. And the method that I found works best for me is to do one hot water bath with a fleece specific soap. I use Kookaburra Scour because I got a 3.78 liter jug of it when I was working on my last fleeces. So one hot water bath with that and I just put the locks in and let them sit there until the water is room temperature, as you’ve seen in these clips, and then take the locks out, squeeze the water out, and put them into a room temperature water bath just to dislodge any dirt and stuff that may still be in there. And the water comes out pretty clean after that room temperature water bath. A lot of the dirt and like grass and stuff will come out of the locks as I process them for spinning, so I’m not really worried about dislodging like grass and stuff. It’s more the the heavy duty grime that I want to get out of there before I start processing.

Now, there are a few ways to prep what is essentially a lock of hair into something that can be used for spinning into yarn. It really depends on the characteristics of your sheep fleece and what you really want to use the yarn for. I’m fairly new to actually processing sheep fleeces. I’ve used a lot of different breeds of sheep yarn that’s already been spun and I have spun from fiber from many different breeds of sheep that has already been processed and is ready to be spun, but the actual processing of fleece is a fairly new thing for me. So what I’m going to do with the amount of fleece that I have washed and dried here in this pillowcase is 
I’m going to set aside some for each technique and spin a single, a two ply, and a three ply with each preparation. Now the first preparation, I don’t know if it’s the easiest but it’s the least amount of steps, which is basically to take a little flicker brush and comb out each end of your locks and then spin directly from the lock. I don’t know if this fleece is amenable to that type of treatment but I’ve never done it before.

What are you guys so excited about? What are you guys so excited- yeah, hi Audrey. Are you gonna help? Are you all gonna help?  
Are you all gonna help me talk about the- yeah, you want to sniff this sheep fleece? Yeah. Hi. Hi. My sister’s dogs are also here this weekend, which if you don’t watch her videos, she is Plies & Hellhounds here on YouTube and on Instagram. Audrey, you’re too short to even show up in the camera. There’s a little bit of your head. Oh thank you, a tennis ball. Do you want to show the tennis ball to YouTube? Can I show it? No. No, you’re just gonna show me.

So I don’t remember where I left off. I think I got it out that the simplest form was to take a flicker brush, comb out this end, comb out this end, and then spin directly from the lock. I’ve never done that before. I don’t know if this fleece is amenable to that, but I’ll give it a go.

Then there’s also combing, which involves using these long broad teeth specialized combs to do what it 
says. You load up some locks on your combs, you comb them out so that all of the hairs are facing in the same direction they’ve all been separated so that there’s air in there, and then you can spin directly from that.  

Or you can card them. There’s two main ways to card fleece. There are card brushes and there are drum carders. The card brushes you may have seen before at historical sites, but they are big wide flat brushes that you just brush the fleece from one side to the other and you can spin from that. The drum carders use that same kind of brush- what do you call that? Like the surface of the brush with those little teeth, but puts it on a big wheel so you can crank a lot more all at the same time. I do own a drum carder and that’s how I processed most of the fleeces that I’ve worked on before. I did do some combing, but I got it into my head that I  
needed to do the combing all at once and then spin, but that’s not the case. Especially not for a fleece. You can comb a bit, spin a bit, and repeat. So that’s the plans for right now is to get some samples done up so that I can see the differences in each of the preparations and kind of get a gauge on what the different yarns might look like.

[piano music]

Now that I have all three ways of processing the fiber sort of laid out in front of me, I have to make a decision on how I’m going to be treating this fleece going forward. Even though it’s all the same fleece and I used roughly the same colors of the locks, the yarns do look slightly different. There’s a lot more variegation in spinning from the lock itself. I don’t know if it’s all that noticeable to viewers of this video, but in the carded locks there are a lot more kind of slubby sections where short little bits of fiber kind of clumped together. Of these three methods, I found the combed locks to be the most enjoyable to spin. I have found  
that there is still, in some of the locks, a significant amount of lanolin, which is that sort of fatty hair grease that sheep produce, even after washing, which made it difficult to card the locks on my drum carder and sometimes made it a little more challenging to spin directly from the lock. I found the easiest way to get the locks prepared was to comb them. The combs  
didn’t seem to have very much issue getting through any areas where there was a lot of lanolin and I like the blending effect that the combing gives these locks. The carded locks are a little bit more heathered, which I think under most circumstances would be perfectly fine. I would probably lean more toward carding the fleece if the locks with the higher lanolin feel didn’t catch in my drum carder and make it very hard to process. I find it’s a little bit easier for me to comb them out in small batches and blend them that way instead of by the drum carder. That’s the main decision that I’ve made at this point- that I will be combing these locks going forward. I haven’t decided if I’m going to wash everything first and then start combing and spinning. I’m- I am a little curious to see how many pillowcases full of washed fleece I will end up with as it’s currently all crammed in a gross garbage bag.
And then I also have to decide how many plies I want in the yarn. I’m not particularly a fan of how my chain plying has come out in any of these samples, so I won’t be chain plying this yarn. Also that is a ply method that is a little bit harder on my wrists and shoulder, which with this much fleece, I would like to be kind to myself and just do traditional plies. I do love the look of three ply yarns. With three plies, they’re very round and three-ply hand spun yarns are great for things like cables or really textured knitting, but I am really pleased with how this two-ply yarn came out. This two-ply is probably the fluffiest and airiest yarn I’ve ever spun and I don’t know if that’s a result of how I spun it or because of the nature of this particular wool, but I may go for 
the two ply if it’s going to turn out like this. It’s surprisingly similar to the weight of the three ply yarn. I wonder if because it only has two plies there’s more room for the fibers to spread out after they’ve been washed and dried because the three ply does have more surface area touching the other plies, so it doesn’t look like it fluffs out as much.

Of course, I don’t have to make any concrete decisions on the number of plies of this yarn anytime soon because I intend to spin the whole fleece the same way. If you were planning on breaking up the fleece into multiple spinning projects, that would be a different 
story. You will get less yardage with a three ply yarn because you use more fiber to create the finished strand. It’s something to keep in mind, but I figure with a whole sheep, I don’t need to be that concerned at this point in the game.

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