Posts Tagged ‘washing wool’

Part One: Washing Wool

February 20, 2009

First of all, here’s a taste of what raw wool looks like:

Raw Wool

Raw Wool

This is a fleece I bought last summer, from a Shetland/Cotswold crossbreed lamb.  It’s quite beautiful, and I’ve very much enjoyed working with it so far.  The staple (length of  the hairs) is quite long, 6-8 inches, with a moderate amount of crimp (waviness).  Very soft and silky smooth, and takes dye like anything.

Doesn’t look like much in this state, does it?

Raw Wool Detail

Raw Wool Detail

The first step of making this muddy, greasy, sweaty mess into something useful is washing it.  Washing both removes the dirt and some vegetable matter and cleans off the lanolin (sheep skin oils), which would inhibit take-up of the dye.  If it was still summer, I would consider washing the whole fleece all at once in a big tub in the back yard, but it’s still rather cold for that, plus I only need a small amount for this project, so I’ll do a few small batches in the kitchen sink instead.  (Really I should have washed it all at once when I got it to discourage moths, but I didn’t.)

Apparatus:  Strainer from salad spinner, large, deep bowl, old towel(s), Orvus Paste (or Ivory dish soap), raw wool.

Tools

Tools

Step One: Fill bowl with the hottest water from the tap (hot water melts and dissolves the lanolin).

Filling Bowl

Filling Bowl

Step Two: Fill strainer with dirty wool.

Filling Strainer

Filling Strainer

Step Three: Gently immerse wool in water.  Do not swirl, squish, or agitate in any way, just let it soak for 10-15 minutes.  Don’t wait so long that the water gets cold, or the lanolin will solidify back onto the wool.

Soaking Wool

Soaking Wool

Step Four: Remove strainer full of wool.  Pour dirty water onto garden or lawn.  Don’t put it down the drain, it is a) illegal (at least it is in my city), because it clogs them and b) unwise, because it clogs them.  Plus c) it’s good fertilizer.

Fertilizing Lawn

Fertilizing Lawn

Step Five: Repeat steps one through four until water is more or less clear.  For this fleece, I’ll probably do three or four rounds.

Step Six: Fill bowl with hot water as before, but also add a kettleful of boiling water (hotter will melt off more lanolin) and a small amount of Orvus Paste.  Gently stir the soap in last, if you add it first, you’ll get lots of suds that will take forever to rinse out of the wool.

Step Seven: Let sit as before, maybe a bit longer, but again, don’t let the water get cold.  Dump the water as before.

Step Eight: One more round, to rinse off the soap.

Step Nine: Let wool drain for a while in the strainer.

Draining wool

Draining wool

Step Ten: Remove wool from strainer, and lay out on an old towel.  Roll towels up and squeeze (don’t wring!).

Squeeze in towel

Squeeze in towel

Step Eleven: Unroll towel, transfer damp wool to fresh, dry towel.  If you’re feeling really fancy, toss the second towel in the dryer for a couple of minutes so it’s warm and will dry the wool just that much faster.

Step Twelve: Wait.  Cover with tea towels if you have animals that will hop up on the table and try to play with the fresh clean sheepiness (I’m looking at you, Opus!).  Again, if it was summer, I’d just lay it out on the lawn and the sun would dry it out MUCH faster.  Instead, I’ll probably have to wait overnight.

Drying Wool

Drying Wool

Step Thirteen: Marvel at the difference between the dirty wool and the clean wool.

Clean vs. Dirty

Clean vs. Dirty

Stay tuned for Part Two:  Carding!