Hampshire Down – from Fleece to Fibre

Last year I was given a couple of Hampshire Down fleeces which after many hours were transformed into the blanket shown. I am often asked about the process of going from fleece to fibre so thought I would summarise the steps here:

  1. Sort the fleece by hand manually removing particularly dirty pieces or vegetable matter
  2. Wash the fleece – a couple of cold water soaks then a couple of hot water detergent soaks and then a couple of hot water rinses. There are many approaches to washing fleece, much depends on how dirty it is, how much lanolin there is on the fleece. I suspect that anyone who washes fleeces will have a slightly different approach. Care does need to be taken not to felt the fleece and agitation of the fleece in the water and sharp changes in the temperature of the washing water results in felting and the production of a fleece which is then very difficult to spin and use.
  3. Drying of the fleece. Sometimes I do a quick 2mins in the spin drier to remove the excess water and then it just needs to air dry – a sunny day is preferable here.
  4. The fleece is then woolpicked which results in the fibres being opened up with the removal of some of the vegetable matter.
  5. Carding or combing is then undertaken. I card either by hand or with a carding machine and this results in the fibres being aligned enabling them to be handspun.
  6. Spinning the fibre, first singles and then plying to produce a two ply yarn.
  7. The spun skeins of yarn are then washed.
  8. Dyeing of the yarn (if desired) – some of the Hampshire down yarn was left undyed and the remainder was dyed naturally with indigo dye or rhubarb leaves.
  9. Weaving – the blanket was woven on my floor loom at double width using a twill design.
  10. Finally the blanket was washed and dried.

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