Friday, 23 May 2014

Making a Rug with Blue Texel Sheep Fleece

This is the raw fleece of a Blue Texel sheep.  Although unwashed, it had very little dried grass in it and had been cleared of all matted dirt - in short, no sheep shit. Thanks to this, most of the tail wool is missing, but it was easy to tell the tail end, on the right of the picture, because the locks were so much coarser and full of hairy kemp fibres.
I bought it chiefly for the colours. The blanket, or underside of the fleece, which was close to the sheep's skin when shearing was done, shows the dominant colour of the wool, which is grey.  This photo shows the rolled up fleece. From the photo above, you can see how dark, chocolate black edges shorn from the belly and legs shade through browner greys to reach pale grey along the top of the sheep's back.

The fleece is big, at least 3kg, plenty for a couple of projects.  I pulled off all the coarse locks from the back end, or britch and all the more matted and short staples from round the edges.  Much of it seemed too rough to spin for clothing, so I ended up with a big pillowcase full of skirtings.  Washing raw fleece to remove dirt, lanolin and grease is a science in itself.  Many fine wools felt easily, but I guessed this particular Texel might survive a 40 degree centigrade wool cycle in the washing machine.  


Elinor Gotland was scandalised.  
"Don't play fast and loose with your assets, Beaut.  You won't be told, but they knew how to wash fleece properly where I grew up.  It needs a long soak and no agitation.
Sheep can sustain a very long,  hard stare.

Well, I admit I have been guilty of banging on her bathroom door.  At least now I understand why she always takes so long getting ready to go out.  After Elinor had read me the riot act, I secured the pillow case with safety pins, put a huge squirt of washing up liquid in the powder compartment and those coarse Texel skirtings came out of the wash beautifully clean and not felted at all.  So there.  


Among the many delights of Wonderwool was a visit to Rag Art Studios.  BG and I got a demonstration of hooking fleece through hessian to make rugs.  I treated myself to a rug hook and a couple of metres of best quality hessian.  Although I had seen the basic technique, I made the rest of this up as I went along.  First, I used a dustbin lid to draw a circle on the hessian and used it as a guide to cutting out an approximate oval.  In my experience, avoiding geometrical accuracy from the very start means you can call a design 'organic' rather than getting fraught when it doesn't come out symmetrical.



I drew on a freehand pattern, leaving a margin of a couple of centimetres.  Folding the edge of the hessian over to the front, I hooked around the edge through the double layer.  This was slow going, although it did hem the hessian.  The fabric will flex easily enough for curves, but I should have left a wider margin as the coarse threads fray easily.  There may well be a better way of getting a strong margin for a rug.
I had sorted the Blue Texel into four broad categories of colour.  The darker locks, being from the belly, had shorter staples, some only 5cm long.  They were much less easy to pull out by hand into some form of continuous roving and needed more twist than the longer grey locks.  Once I had hooked in the outline, I filled in each section. I think I could have left more space between each bump of fleece, as the final rug is very dense.  Although it tried to curl up at the edges, once the whole thing was done, it laid flat, because the curl downwards is counteracted by the weight of the rug on the floor.

Having imagined that the fat bumps of thick roving would fill out a big area pretty quickly, I was surprised how little progress I made each evening.  Still, rug hooking is a satisfying process. This is how I did it.


Working from the back of the rug, put a bit of twist into a short section of roving.  Turning to the front, push the sharp point of the rug hook through one of the holes in the hessian.  As the hook comes out at the back, catch the twisted
roving under it. Pull the hook back through, bringing a loop of roving to the the front. And repeat, repeat, repeat ...



This small rug used almost all the skirted fleece.  It measures roughly 49cm x 56cm and weighs 450g.  Expensive craft, if you paid for beautiful, soft, dyed roving just to make a rug, but a great way of using fibre that would otherwise go on the compost heap.  The name of this one is 'The Chicken Or The Egg?'.  It is now a bathroom mat, very warm under foot and probably machine washable, too.



9 comments:

  1. Doesn't the lanolin clog up your machine or pipes?

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    1. My washing machine has been on its last legs for ages and it has had very hard service doing years of rugby kit and pony blankets. If it was all new and lovely, I would think twice, but I have had a Dorset Poll through it before with no obvious ill effects. Could be that a weekly 95 degree cycle keeps it clear.

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  2. I think this is a great idea and would like to try it. I am wondering which other fleeces will survive a machine wash. Does the proddy tool have a hook? Am not clear on how you pull the wool through the hessian....

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  3. I have had a Dorset Poll fleece through the wash with no problem and also a particularly rough coated Jacob. I am going to try some North of England Mule - sooner or later I will be sorry ... The hook I used wasn't called a proddy, it looks like a crochet hook with a sharply pointed top and a fat handle. You catch the twisted fleece in the hook, pull a loop through to the front and pinch it to stop it being pulled back through as you hook up the next bit.

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    1. Just to add, Northern Mule does felt in the washing machine. Luckily, I only experimented with a few locks.

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  4. I wash mine in a pillowcase I adapted especially for the purpose. Turn the pillowcase inside out, hem it leaving a hole at each side seam- thread through this hole cotton string and knot. Fill the cotton pillowcase with loose fleece , do not compact and then pop in some washing up liquid into drum.Pull the strings taught and pop into the washer.Use one cupful of white vinegar in the wash and watch it go - this also preserves your washer and pipes from lanolin deposits, and smells. Wash on a 30 wash and then flatten your pillowcase and dry in a greenhouse if its raining- Happy spinning everyone xxx

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    1. Top plan, better than safety pins! Will also start adding vinegar. Thanks :)

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  5. Fab design... a tip on working the edge....draw your design on a larger piece of hessian and leave at least a 4" border around your design this way you have room to put it on a frame if you so wish but you also have plenty of hessian to work out the hem without it fraying. When working a shape as you have done leave the design on a square or oblong piece as you did in the photo, work the piece and then deal with the hem when you have finished hooking...Happy Hooking Cilla Cameron

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    1. Thanks very much. So would you still bend the hessian under and work through two thicknesses, when you get to the final hemming?

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