Clodagh McDonagh writes the blog about our February Sunday session. Thank you, Clodagh!
There was a great turnout on the first Sunday Session of 2023 , on 12th February, for a very busy `hands on` double session with Annika Berglund, and South African sheep and Alpaca breeder, Grant Bartholomew.
Many of you will have heard about FI’s project exploring the possibilities of sheep`s wool available to us here in Ireland. Annika is to be really commended for the hard slog that she and her wool project team has put in over the last two years studying ,learning and trialling many of the various indigenous and local sheep fleeces available here, with their particular properties, and possibilities. A book is in the works, full of useful information and practical tips, based on the wool group’s research, which will be released very shortly.
Annika had done lots of preparation for the session, she began by showing everyone some samples, pointing out the varieties of colours, tones, and textures of the different wools. All of the wool had been carefully washed, combed (carded) and weighed, and tied into 10gm bundles, with identifying labels.
Personally, I offered early on to help produce a few samples, however, easier said than done! The method of laying out the different breeds is completely different to using the very tame and biddable imported Merino wool `tops’ which leave its native Australia to be processed in China or Germany, Italy or the UK.
Annika had many tips for handling the fibre, including laying it down very finely on bubble wrap using a 20cm x 20cm paper template to help guide the process. Other tips included using a wooden dowel as a roller, using minimal water and even using liquid soap (or melted olive oil `bar` soap) on its own to help tame the rough fibres. To help speed up the process, there was a microwave on hand to heat the wool to encourage felting and even a sander too.
Annika encouraged everyone to have a go, and we were allowed to take the finished square home, or alternatively to cut them up and swap part of it with another participant. There was lots of comparing of notes between participants on their varying experiences, with plenty of ideas for future sessions.
Grant began the second part of the session by setting up his fleece sorting table, a metal framed table with an open metal gridwork top, and placed the raw sheep fleece on it to start the process of judging it to find the best parts before it was to be washed and processed.
Grant gave us a basic lesson in how to sort out the bad from the good, which bits to avoid, and even which fleeces to discard entirely if they had been badly shorn, (double cut), holding a staple length to show us, stretching it to see whether it would break, which would form lumps in the fibre if left in during the process. Some of the fleece might be discarded simply if it was too dirty or if it retained the colour of the farmers identifying marks, purple, for example, by using iodine liquid to stain the fleece. At times up to 20% might be lost on removing vegetation from the fleece, and washing can remove approximately 40% of the weight. It takes Grant approximately 20 minutes to sort each fleece, we were amazed at his speed, and many of us were shocked to see him discarding at least 30 or 40% of the whole amount.
According to Grant, the business of processing sheep and alpaca fleeces for a living can be very trying as there is a huge amount of legislation surrounding the industry, and obtaining a licence for washing fleeces commercially is practically impossible at the moment.
We will do further sessions using Irish wool when the book is published, so if you missed this session, there will be more chances to get hands-on using Irish wool.
Again, Thank you, Clodagh for this write-up!