Fiber Processing Surprises and Lessons Learned

By Kathleen Davidson

To a shepherd, homegrown fiber is priceless so sending it off to be processed can be stressful, to say the least. All the effort in growing and harvesting our wool should be reflected in the perfect processed product. But sometimes the returned product doesn’t meet our expectations.

What went wrong? Hopefully I give give some helpful hints to prevent surprise or catastrophe with your fiber. Lessons I learned by mistakes in my 25 years of fiber processing.

LESSON 1: Be very specific about what you want and label all the bags of wool in the box. One time I sent 5 batches of dyed wool for roving expecting 5 batches of roving to be returned. To my surprise, all 5 batches had been carded into one big technicolor cloud. I thought I had labeled everything clearly enough but I guess there was ambiguity somewhere.

LESSON 2: Even thought it costs more,separate boxes could be a good idea. Years ago I stuffed my precious Targhee fleeces that I had accumulated for 3 years in a box with Romney fleeces. Yup, they were carded together even though my directions clearly said, make Targhee roving and Romney roving.

Don’t assume the processor knows breed characteristics in fiber. Label, label, label.

LESSON 3: To wash or not to wash before shipping. You will save both shipping and processing money sending washed fiber if you can get it done at home but don’t be surprised if your fiber is rewashed at the mill because it was “sticky”. Mills value their expensive equipment and sticky fleeces can do damage.

Test your washed fiber by letting it sit in the sun for a day. If it feels sticky it will need to be washed again. Rewashing at the mill is sometimes a surprise expense but not a bad thing for the final product.

LESSON 4: Pick through your fleeces, removing as much vegetation as possible. A lot of vegetation falls out in picking and carding but if there is too much it will show up in your yarn. Check fleeces for weak tips and breaks.

It hurts to toss a fleece from your favorite ewe but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and chalk this year’s fleece up as a loss if it has weakness that will ruin a yarn run.

LESSON 5: Check the mill’s minimum weight requirements. These vary. Make sure you send enough fiber to meet the requirements. Calculate for loss in washing and carding. I usually send 32 pounds of greasy wool to make 15 pounds of yarn.

Some mills will call you if you need to send more fiber but others will just charge the minimum rate and surprise you with fewer skeins and a bigger bill. There are mills with no minimum weights for processing if you only want a few fleeces turned into yarn.

LESSON 6: Talk to the folks at the mill and tell them how you want your yarn to finish. Discuss weight, yards per skein, ply and whether you want it in cones or skeins. Don’t be surprised if you get a different weight than you had hoped for. Be flexible.

One mill I use lets the wool “tell her how it wants to be spun”. Another mill surprised me with the most gorgeous bouncy BFL yarn I have ever felt. The people that run the mills know the process much better than I do so I give them creative power with my fiber. I have never been disappointed.

The best thing to do is look at the yarn of other breeders. Buy a skein or two and knit with it. When you find the yarn that works for you ask who their processor is. Some breeders sell soft lofty skein while others have a more crisp yarn for definition of cables and Aran patterns.

It’s all what you like and want your yarn to be. I use 3 different mills and although they spin different yarns for me, I would recommend all of them. Ask me about my yarn anytime!

News From New England… from Joan Chapin

In spite of back-to-back snow “bombs” in January that resulted in building losses around the area, New England sheep and wool folks are looking forward – to several planned activities that signal spring.

Connecticut Sheep Breeders and the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture will hold its Blue Ribbon Sheep Forum on February 19, 2011, at the campus in Storrs. Margaret Howard will speak on color genetics. Her seminar will present concepts and techniques that can be employed to control, replicate and predict the fleece colors you produce. An overview of pigment production will precede a discussion of how to identify your lamb’s color pattern. Curiosity and a pen are all you need bring! Margaret will probably have copies of her book on this topic available. Other workshops will be held on wool quality, grass-fed lambs, and predator control.

The New Hampshire Spinners’ & Dyers’ Guild is ready for its annual fashion show, pot luck, and afternoon mini-workshops on February 13th. The fashion show will operate differently this year and I will report back later on how it went, as it will be my first time attending.
When NHS&DG meets in different available halls (fire dept., church) for its activities, a new and difficult issue has been raised. The president of the Guild wrote in the last newsletter, “Some groups have been asked to have liability insurance if they wish to use a facility. We have a picker, wheel and dyepot to lend out which makes us open to additional liability. We looked into insurance and found that in addition to this type of insurance, the board members must also be covered in their role of running the guild…I would not be willing to put myself and family at risk of legal action against the guild, nor would I expect any members to be at risk. The board decided not to lend out equipment until the issue is resolved.”
Since we have been thinking about this issue, I’ve learned that vendors at the November New England Fiber Festival (Eastern States Exposition Grounds) must show proof of $100,000. liability insurance for the two days of the show including the day before and day after.

And I’ve also learned that local Farmers’ Markets also require that you pay for liability insurance in order to sell your products. I raise this issue, wondering what others have found to be a reasonable solution particularly for sheep shows and for individual vendors.

Planning for the New Hampshire Sheep & Wool festival is gaining momentum. Merrilyn Patch wrote: “New to the NH sheep and wool festival (May 14 -15) this year is the wool breed sheep show on Sunday. This is a chance for NH breeders to show their wool breed sheep. It is being judged by Mr. Joe Miller from Starks, Me. longtime breeder of many wool sheep including merinos, moorits , lincolns, and many others. He will also be giving a talk on how to get the most money for your fleeces following the show Sunday afternoon. The show will be split into fine wools, medium wools, long wools and primitives. We are hoping in the future to expand on this show by adding more classes and opening it up more.” Now that’s exciting! Another place to show off Blues! The other contest that I find exciting is the fleece competition, where the judge gives reasons as (s)he evaluates fleeces, and the public is invited to attend. Now there’s a learning experience, denied to us at most fleece competitions!

President’s Message

Originally published in the newsletter BLU Print; October 2010, Vol. 1, No. 3

The show season is winding down, and the fiber festivals are over, and it’s time to look back on a successful year promoting BFLs. From the 3rd National Show in Oregon, to shows across the country, BFLs have been presented by a growing number of breeders. Fleeces and fiber are in high demand from handspinners and fiber artists.

In early October, semen from seven new bloodlines was imported into this country from Great Britain. These rams come from some of their top flocks – both in the showring, and more importantly, from breeders who progeny test their rams for productivity traits. Offspring from these new bloodlines will soon be available from breeders across the country, bringing genetic improvement and diversity to the US flock. I hope you all support the breeders who will be using this semen in their flocks and take advantage of the improvements they can make in your own flocks.

This marks the end of the first year for the new Bluefaced Leicester Union Board of Directors. The Board has made much progress; adopting bylaws for the association, developing a budget, establishing a newsletter, revamping the website, and working on guidelines for future national shows. There is still much to do, and we welcome your suggestions and requests.

I want to thank you all for your support during this first year. A lot of people have volunteered their time and talents to make this a year full of progress and opportunity for BLU. I look forward to the promise that 2011 holds.

Wishing all of you a blessed holiday season, and the very best for 2011!
Lisa Rodenfels

Using the Classifieds

A message for BLU members

We have changed some things from how they were organized on the old site. There is now a separate piece of software that is being used to run our Membership Directory; we are using this area only for membership information and membership status, and have eliminated the “classified ad info” from each member’s entry.

New Classifieds Section

We have now included a separate Classified Ads area! All BLU members are encouraged to enter their own FREE classified ads here. All membership (FREE) classifieds are set up to run for 6 months, and include up to 4 photographs. Members can enter as many ads as they would like; we currently have the following categories:

  • Sheep
  • Fleece
  • Fiber & Yarn
  • Finished Products
  • Equipment
  • Dogs
  • Services
  • General
  • Wanted

We also have FREE Wanted ads. These are set to run for 6 months, and are free to everyone; members and non-menbers.

BLU also has the ability to accept PAID classified ads from non-BLU members (PayPal accepted). A paid classified ad includes up to 4 photographs, and are organized into 4 packages to choose from:

  • 30 day = $10.00
  • 90 day = $27.00 (a 10% discount)
  • 180 day = $48.00 (a 20% discount)
  • 1 year = $84.00 (a 30% discount)

Character count is quite generous at 1000 characters allowed, and remember, all classifieds can include up to 4 photos.

Please note: All advertisers are required to manage their own ads and photos. Any time you edit your ad, it will need to be approved again before it will appear.

Please follow the instructions in the Classifieds section. Paid classifieds can be paid directly through PayPal while using the system. All classified ads (free and paid) are subject to approval before your ad will appear on the site.