Processing An Icelandic Lamb’s Fleece

Two Icelandic Fleeces to Process

Wool Wash (4)

I made a trip out to Caney Branch Farm located in Monticello, Florida.  They have a beautiful place, are gracious hosts, and great stewards of their land and animals.  They are master beekeepers and keep a beautiful flock of Icelandic Sheep, and Belted Galloway Cattle, not to mention all the heritage breed poultry.  I was in search of Fleece and honey, luckily I found both.  I got three raw Icelandic Lamb’s fleeces and a pound of honey.  I wanted two fleeces for myself and took one for a dear friend.  Icelandic sheep are a primitive sheep.  They are on the small side, and a triple purpose breed.  They’re perfect for fiber, dairy and meat, but I can only attest to their fiber.  Their fleece has two coats and is low in lanolin.  One coat is long and course called Tog, and one short downy and soft called Thel.  When these are spun together they produce what is called a Lopy style yarn.  While technically Lopy yarn can only be produced by Icelandic sheep, made in Iceland, distributed by their official trade  commission and is usually a lofty single with very little twist.  For myself, I intend to spin fine singles and ply them, but I still consider it a Lopy style yarn because its made entirely of Icelandic wool using both coats.  

Right off the bat, the first thing I noticed was the lack of odor.  Generally when you open a bag of raw fleece you’re hit with the smell of the animal.  Much of that is the lanolin, but since these sheep are low in lanolin, the smell was quite low and not unpleasant at all.  It smelled like any other farm animal.  When I was ready to clean these, I first laid them out on the table to shake them out removing any short second cuts, loose dust and dirt, hay and tag along’s.  I used a large container to wash/scour them in so I could use plenty of water and it would have room to move around.  I have a very large stock pot, I used two pots full of cold water, and one pot of boiling water.  I used Plain Ivory Dish Soap as a scouring agent.  It is an Anionic detergent, which is the same thing as Orvus Paste.  There are some rules in using this and its all a little like a chemistry lesson:  

First:  Anionic detergents are useless in hard water, so use soft water only.  Thankfully I have a water softener.

Second: Anionic detergents chemically bond to acids.  So you have to make certain that every bit of the detergent is rinsed out before introducing an acid like vinegar.  If an acid like vinegar is added to the rinse water and there is any residual detergent in the water, the detergent will chemically bond to it, leaving the fiber feeling gummy and it will be there permanently, no amount of washing or rinsing will ever get that out.  Sticky fiber forever.

I got my fleeces ready by pulling off any unusable parts, and shaking them out, I got my container ready by mixing my cold and boiling water, then I added enough detergent to give the water a slick feel when I dipped my fingers in to mix it (it was quite a bit, maybe 1/2 cup).  I put another pot of water on to boil for the rinse.  Then I submerged my fleece, only one at a time.  I have a grey one and a white one.  I used a plunger to help the push the water through the fleece, but not enough agitation that would cause the fleece to felt.  Icelandic wool felts easy.  I lifted the fleece out in large portions and squeezed the dirty water out, and used a garment bag to get all the rest of the smaller clumps out of the water.  I mixed a rinse water close to the same temperature, and submerged the fleece in for a good rinse.  Again I pulled out the fleece and squeezed out the excess water.  I allowed the wool to cool to room temperature then used a five gallon bucket filled with room temperature water for a second rinse while I washed the second fleece.  After squeezing all the water out of the fleece after the second rinse, I laid it out on the patio table that is like a grate and allows for good air circulation.  The fleece looked really good after this.  By the end of the day, the fleece was still too damp to store, so I brought it inside to dry in front of a fan on a bed sheet.

Wool Gathering

The next step is making this mass of clean fiber a product that I can spin.  First I take a handful of fleece and pick it apart, a process called teasing or picking.  Basically just pulling clumps apart and fluffing.  There is a tool for this called a “picker”, a tool that I considered frivolous, but what a delight it would be to have.  Half my time was spent picking, this also helps loosen the fibers and other debris.  The fluff is feed into the drum carder, I have a Löuet Junior Drum Carder, the only thing that I would change about this other than its size, is the fact that the licker-in drum gets loaded with fiber too.  The first pass through the carder is little more than an additional picking and turning the pile of fluff into a solid cohesive mass.  The carder also helps further clean the fiber, debris falls through as its carded.  I pull the resulting batt off and strip it into thirds lengthwise and feed it slowly into the carder, allowing it to attenuate the fibers and brush them out and they start to align a bit better on the second pass.  I use a brush to help and burnish the batt.  I pull the batt off, strip into thirds and re-card as many times as it takes until I feel the fibers in the batt are aligned enough to be spun.  After the last pass, I remove the batt and roll it up into a jelly roll with the wispy ends in the center and blunter end on the outside.  This way I can unroll it easy and pull off a strip when I’m ready to spin.  

I was able to make 22 batts.  There was a lot of fiber that was stuck on the Licker-in and I made an additional batt from that and hand carded what was left into three rolags.  The feel of this last batt and rolags are different and I will spin them separate from the rest.  Over all, I like the way the color of this fleece carded together.  It started off with black, white and grey, and now it is a lovely shiny grey with white and black striations.  Although its prepared in a woolen fashion, it’s my intention to spin this worsted with a short forward draw into tightly spun fine singles, then into a three ply yarn.  I have discovered that fiber has a will of its own, it may speak to me and convince me to go in a different direction.  I will follow its lead since I’m only the instrument that the fiber plays to become yarn.  When I set the twist on the future yarn I will set it in hot water and then change the water and add vinegar then to help neutralize any lingering odor and condition the wool and give it some shine.  This extra rinse will help ensure all traces of detergent are gone.  One grey fleece down and one white one to go.  I have some yarn to finish spinning before this one takes over my wheel.  I’m really excited about it, I can’t wait until I can show you the yarn it will make, or what the yarn will be used for.  Stay tuned….  Here’s the process in a photo montage: 


A website devoted to learning, sharing and teaching a wide range of fiber arts. Inkle, Tablet and Navajo style weaving, Spinning, Knitting, Crochet, Sewing and Lace Making. Silver Work, Beading and Tool Making grace my bench as well.

6 comments on “Processing An Icelandic Lamb’s Fleece
  1. mark johnson says:

    What an awesome process. Looking forward to seeing what works you make out of it.


    • I have plans for it. We’ll see if it spins to the yarn I’m hoping for. If not, I’ll go a different direction with it. Do you remember when it was just bag of fur in the back of the car? I have so much to get done now, I’m nearly overwhelmed. Nearly.

  2. Mark Johnson says:

    Overwhelmed, nearly not. You are just expanding.

  3. Terry Skovronek says:

    Great job explaining. will start on mine today.

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