Fleece to Finished Object: The Sheep Heid Kep designed by Kate Davies
Original write up: May 9, 2019
In April 2018, I bought a beautiful Romney fleece from Lochan Mor Farms in Cato, NY. It was a bit muddy, but we’d had a “build an ark” rain all spring, and it rained in the days before shearing. The shearer did an amazing job, so there wasn’t much I needed to do before washing.
I laid the fleece out on the barn floor and pulled anything I wouldn’t want to process. It wasn’t much- maybe 8-10 oz from the britch and rear legs. My plan was to take this fleece home, sort it, & sample the different areas of the fleece. Life got in the way, and the poor fleece sat, unwashed and ignored for 3 seasons.
I made several false starts. The weather wasn’t cooperating, and I didn’t have a good space to fit the fleece under cover. Washing a large fleece can feel like a monumental task, and I spent a fair amount of time mentally willing the fleece to wash itself while I wasn’t looking. Amazingly, this didn’t work.
Finally, I scolded myself for being wimpy and grabbed fleece from the top of the bag. I didn’t do much sorting. I just broke the fleece into 6-8 oz sections and put the wool into mesh bags with the tips facing the same direction. I have a LOT of mesh bags, and I think I used them all!
THE WASH PROCESS:
Overnight soak in room temperature water and a bit of soap
First wash: 20 minute soak in 140F water with Power Scour (Full strength)
Second wash: 15 minute soak in Power Scour (1/2 strength)
I followed the washes with two hot water rinses.
I spun out the bags of wool in spin dryer and then laid the fleece out on towels and mesh racks to airdry.
The fleece wasn’t perfectly dirt free after washing, but I chose to flick the tips as needed rather than wash more. I prefer a bit of lanolin when I spin. I also didn’t want to risk overscouring and losing the shine from the locks.
Overall, I lost about 30% during washing which is pretty fabulous considering that I could have planted in the sink after the first soak!
The wool is on the soft side of romney- I’d guess in the 25-28 micron range. Within the areas of the body, the fleece is very uniform in length and is well within 10% across the whole fleece with the exception of some of the shorter, extra crimpy leg and some coarser, less crimpy britch wool.
5.5 staple, 6.5 crimps per inch
Bright white, strong locks with well defined crimp
Small areas with weathered tips
I combed the fiber with extrafine Valkyrie combs using some combing oil on my hands and the fiber to keep the static down. This green herbstripper/diz is one of my favorite tools.
Spun forward draw from the cut end on a Hansen minispinner and on a Schacht matchless. Plied on the Hansen minispinner. Soaked in warm soapy water to remove any spinning oils before dyeing. Rinsed in warm water. Hung to air dry. 3 ply; 14 wpi; 6.5 tpi
I made a test sample of Kate Davies Sheep Heid hat in some Shetland 2000 from my stash. The hat was too small and a bit too thin for our weather and for the way I treat my hats. Upping the needle size to adjusting gauge as suggested made a slack fabric that let too much wind through. I spun some samples of the white Romney until I found a sport weight that increased the gauge swatch enough to increase the hat size to match my head.
I wanted the colors to have more pop and definition similar to a Scandinavian colorwork rather than Fair Isle’s softer colorwork. I also wanted a more durable hat that would stand up to getting snagged by trees and being left in the backseat of the car. I decide to spin a worsted, 3 ply. The firmer fiber led to some puckering in the long float areas, but some of that was the way I wrapped the long floats. I like the shine and the way the colors stay distinct in the final project. I spun 500 yards of a lightly compressed worsted 3 ply & separated the yarn into seven hanks for dyeing.
I also spun 25 grams of a naturally black Romney cross to use for the sheep legs. The black Romney cross was spun in the same manner as the white, but it bloomed less during washing. I decided stay with the slightly thinner yarn rather than spin a thicker yarn because I was worried about how floats from a rougher, firmer body yarn would sit.
I needed 6 dyed colors for the hat plus the two naturals
Oak Acorns collected at Great Bear Park in Fulton, NY in November. Put in jars to ferment.
1 liter of fermented acorns simmered in tap water for 4 hours then left to steep overnight.
Presoaked the 25-gram skein for 1 hour in room temperature water.
Simmered the skein in the acorn bath at 85C for 30 minutes, then added 100 mls of iron oxide water to shift the color to grey and simmered for 10 more minutes.
After cooling, washed the yarn in tap water and dish soap, then rinsed.
Marigolds collected from my dyeing garden in Scriba, NY in October 2018. Frozen until needed.
100 grams of marigold flowers simmered in 2 liters of tap water.
Premordanted the Romney skein using 4:1 alum to cream of tartar solution at 16% WOG
25 gram premordanted skein simmered for 40 minutes at 85C.
This made a bright gold which I toned down by overdyeing it with the acorn exhaust. The yarn simmered at 85C for ten minutes. Cooled then washed and rinsed.
Check out this nifty paint strainer that fits in a 5 gallon bucket. It makes a perfect strainer to pull out most of the dirt and debris as well as the plant material.
Black Walnuts collected from Greenwich, NY in October. Put in plastic bags to ferment and decompose.
2 liters of black walnut sludge to 2 gallons of water. Simmered for 4 hours at 95F, heat reduced to 80C and simmered for 6 more hours. Left to steep for 24 hours. Dye solution poured off from the dye stuff and filtered to remove particles.
Yarn premordanted with alum using 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG
Yarn presoaked for 1 hour, then simmered in dye bath for 1 hour at 85C.
After cooling, washed and rinsed.
I’ve read that the dye is darker with more browns if the walnuts are green/brown when processed. Other people suggest letting the walnuts breakdown before extracting the dye. My guess is that if you pick up brown/black nuts, they have lost some of their color to weathering. Some folks who use black walnut for dyeing leather go to walnut processing locations and harvest directly from the spoil mound which is quite dark and slimy- much like my fermented sludge above.
Queen Anne’s Lace- Green Mist
200 g of flowers and leaves simmered in 2L of tap water for 1 hour at 75C, steeped for 3 hours.
Filtered the dye stuff from the bath.
Presoaked a 25 grams skein which was premordanted with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG
Simmered skein in bath for 45 minutes. Let cool in bath, then washed and rinsed.
Ground 3.75 g of cochineal and mixed into 2L of distilled water. Simmered at 90F for 1 hour. Filtered bath to get dye stock.
Presoaked 25 skein of premordanted wool with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG. Used first liter of the dye bath to simmer premordanted yarn for 30 minutes at 90F. Heated and then added second liter of dye bath and shifted the pH to 4. Simmered for 20 minutes. Added iron oxide water to the bath until the bath shifted to the wine color needed. (125ml) Simmered an additional 10 minutes.
Skein cooled, washed and rinsed.
Dyer’s Coreopsis collected from house garden in Scriba, NY in October 2018. Frozen until needed.
100 grams of flowers simmered in 2 liters of tap water. Filtered plant material from dye stock.
Soaked the 25 g premordanted skein for 1 hour.
Premordanted skein with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar solution at 16% WOG
Simmered yarn in dye stock for 40 minutes at 85C. Allowed to cool in pot.
Washed and rinsed.
I needed a larger hat but I also wanted to have the hat more fitted than the slouchy tam shape. I went up a weight in yarn and kept the needle size as called for. Additionally, I added two extra rows to the body of the sheep and an extra row in the brim. This made a nice, beanie shaped hat with a soft rather than fitted top.
Notes for next time: keep the floats even more irregular behind the ewes.
Edging: Silver – acorns Band: Old Gold – Marigold overdyed with acorns Sheep legs: Black- Natural black Romney cross Sheep bodies: Black walnut brown Sheep faces: Natural white Grass: Queen Anne’s Lace Chain outline, Rams, & Diamonds: Wine- Cochineal
Star on crown: Bright Gold- Dyer’s Coreopsis
Used 2 strands of each color then tied the braid into a barrel knot.