Fiber Preparation De-Mystified
If you’re involved in fiber arts, you’ve likely heard about fiber preparation. If you’re seasoned in the world of fiber arts, you’ve likely participated in a fiber preparation endeavor. Whether you’re new to the wool world, or a seasoned pro, it seems everyone is always looking for the best fiber prep method. The truth is, there’s no one way, no right or wrong way to prep your fiber, but rather a demystification of how it’s done. There are actually several fiber prep methods, because despite popular belief, all wool is not created equal.
This means the initial step in determining the best prep method is to first identify the wool you’re working with. The way you process a fine, short-stapled fleece will be different from the way you process one that is long-stapled and coarser in texture.
Some other things that will help determine the best prep method include your wool preference, your level of experience with processing, and even your plan for the final outcome using said particular fleece.
Additionally, you’ll want to think about the value of your fleece, whether you will be processing it yourself or just preparing it for the mill, the type of equipment you have or will need, the type of cleaning solution best suited for wool, your water temperature, the size of your fleece, and how you intend to use or spin the fiber. Will you be spinning the fiber for knitting, crocheting, weaving, or using it for felting? The answer to that question will also determine whether the yarn you spin will be lace, fingering, woolen, worsted, bulky, or even art yarn.
As a person who was new to processing not all that long ago, I can tell you I’ve made my share of mistakes. Part of those mistakes were simply just not knowing, and some of them occurred because I was being frugal and working with what I had. There was the time I felted an entire alpaca fleece in the washer and the time I used a swing picker on a fine fleece and ripped it to shreds. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid, Tide laundry soap, and even tried a suint baths for washing my fiber.
I quickly discovered that I needed to learn from those who knew more about it than me. I read several books, watched several videos, took classes, and asked a lot of questions. The fortunate thing about fiber people is that they are almost always willing to share their knowledge, and they really want you to succeed.
So, in keeping with sharing what we know, here are the steps I generally follow, keeping in mind that I may need to adjust slightly depending on all of those things I mentioned previously. My best advice is to begin with your end in mind, and process your fiber accordingly. Once you’re done that, the steps below will help you along your journey.
Step 1: Try to be present for shearing and be allowed to skirt your fleece.
Step 2: “Pick” your wool diligently. If you’re sending your fleece to a mill to be processed, you will be
charged on incoming weight. Debris and vegetable matter can add up, so be meticulous when picking through your fleece. If you leave it in, you’ll not only pay more, but you will have debris in your roving, yarn, or however your mill processed your fiber.
Step 3: Send your wool to the mill or begin washing at home. If you’re washing it at home, use the best method for the type of wool you’re working with. With any type of wool I process at home, I do it in small batches using Unicorn Power Scour, with the appropriate temperature water, lingerie bags to hold the fiber, and a tub or bathtub.
Step 4: Make sure to rinse your fiber completely. If there is soap or dirt still in the water, repeat steps 3 and 4 until the water is clear at rinsing.
Step 5: ALWAYS let your fiber dry COMPLETELY before moving on to combing, carding, etc. In small batches outside in the sun, it generally takes 3-4 hours per bag. If you have a fan and it is inside, it may take longer. Don’t rush the process.
Step 6: Based on your desired outcome, comb, card, flick, or blend your fiber.
Step 7: Leave the fiber its natural color or dye it.
Step 8: Use your perfectly processed fiber for the project of your choice – and enjoy.
Prepping fiber isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. It happens to be one of my favorite things, not only to do, but to teach. If you’re interested in learning more about fiber processing, please consider my upcoming class at the 5th Annual Copper K Fiber Festival in July. I’d love to meet you, and if you’d like to chat before then, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org