If you don't like process stories, if you just like looking a pretty things, then skip this. This post is about the step before the step before the step before something beautiful happens to drape around the neck.
Sometimes I buy yarn. It is colorful and textured and ready to be woven into something new. Sometimes I buy white yarn and dye it just the color I want. Sometimes I buy fiber - wool, or silk, or alpaca - all clean and nicely aligned and ready to spin. And sometimes, not often, but occasionally, I buy a fleece right off the sheep. I never buy the sheep, though. I live in the suburbs, and that would not work.
I'm trying to be more intentional about the fleeces that I buy. That also means not letting them sit around in a heavy duty plastic bag in the garage, waiting to be cleaned and processed. A bag of dirty fleece is like a dirty gym bag - it doesn't get any better with age.
Last fall, I bought a lovely, natural brown fleece directly from a shepherd who has a spread in the north eastern Sierra Nevada. A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to get down to it and wash the fleece. Washing a fleece so all of the locks stay neat, and not felted, is a time consuming affair, but when all was said and done, I have two bankers boxes full of carefully cleaned wool.
The next step is to tease open the locks of wool and feed them into my drum carder. This aligns the fibers, making it easier to spin a consistent yarn. The locks feed in, are brushed between two rollers with teeth like a dog brush. When the large roller is full, I carefully remove the wool, into soft, fluffy batts, ready to be spun.