What do you do on a warm and sunny Bank Holiday weekend? You start the day by getting up to your elbows in sheep muck, that’s what.
And there are some of my friends who think I’m mad.
Last year I acquired my first fleeces, and I’ve been on a very steep learning curve. One of the things which I hope I’ve learned is that no amount of work will improve a rubbish fleece; sometimes you just have to give up and put it in the compost bin / leave some out for the birds / use it to line hanging baskets.
Another thing I’ve learned is not to put fleece in the washing machine.*
And that’s why I spent the recent glut of public holidays hauling wet fleece around the garden. One of the fleeces I’ve been preparing was left over from last year’s shearing (and had travelled all of three miles), but it’s still beautiful. It’s a Blue-faced Leicester / Texel cross. The other was the lurrvly Manx Loaghtan that I bought at Wonderwool.
Weather good. Time to go.
Put dust sheet down on the picnic table, haul first bag out of shed, heave enormous fleece out of bag, attempt to do so in organised way. Not possible in wind. Fleece ends up on lawn.
Assemble fleece again. Fleece now difficult to sort; fortunately generally good and not too hairy (or full of grass). Fleece not quite as well skirted as had thought at first glance, so contains more semi-dried poo than had expected. Ergh. Retrieve rubber glove from fleece, replace hand in glove. Get muck bucket. Get skirting.
Divide fleece into workable quantities and realise this means at least two loads. Put one load aside. Find trugs (whole process improved enormously since purchase of large plastic trugs). Fill first trug with hot water and some green Fairy Liquid; Ecover just doesn’t cut it.
Return to picnic bench and remove next door’s cat from fleece. Place fleece in trug and submerge. Resist urge to add next door’s cat. Remove gloves, make coffee. Drink coffee. Gloves back on. Fill second trug with hot water, haul wet fleece out of revolting manky water, allow said water to drain back into first trug. Put fleece in second trug.
Empty first trug into drain using buckets as trug too heavy to lift without creating interestingly vile waterfall effect (don’t ask me how I know). Put lovely clean water in first trug. Finish coffee. Haul fleece out of second trug, drain, put into first trug. Make more coffee, then drain fleece and transfer to empty bucket. Get drying doobery-whatsit from house, leaving great wet footprints everywhere.
Spread out second dustsheet, place clean(er) fleece on it, gather up ends. Whirl dustsheet around head, spinning like unusual whirling dervish and allowing excess water to spray out everywhere. Fall over next door’s cat. Retrieve fleece from hedge / lawn / tree. Suspend drying-hanging thingy from tree, spread fleece out on it.
And so on, and so on – but I got there in the end. And I have some lovely fleece, fleece that will be a complete delight to work with (plus the cat still lives). This is the BFL/Texel, with a delightful sheen and fabulous colour:
and this is the Loaghtan, which is incredibly soft:
(There is another fleece lurking in the shed – but I’m waiting for less windy weather to sort that one out. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)
*Washing machine not as mad as it sounds. Some fleeces can stand it, but I find my machine strips out too much lanolin and leaves fleece too dry. I may revise my position on this one, or cat-proof the garden and wash fleece in full wet-weather gear.