A few months ago, I promised to post what I did with all that raw fiber I purchased at the WI Spin-In last fall.
Why bother washing and processing raw wool? Some people don't want to bother with it--They just want to spin and knit. Here are some reasons to consider washing your own raw wool :
* It's about 1/2 the price of washed and carded roving.
* I get a lot of satisfaction out of taking the wool from sheep to finished yarn.
* It's a chance to get to know the sheep farmers, too.
* Some people prefer to "spin in the grease" as it makes their hands soft.
* The smell of raw wool is earthy and "clean"
* It makes me feel closer to the earth (I grew up on a farm, but now I'm a city-dweller.)
What is "the grease?" I've heard some people describe it as sheep sweat. It's really lanolin exuded by the sheep, that gets onto the wool. It can make your hands nice and soft as you spin ... The washed and carded wool is rather dry, but it's clean.
This is a photo of wool locks. The ones on the left past the center are clean and dry. The siny, crimped locks on the right are still "in the grease." This gives an idea of the color the lanolin adds to the raw fleece. It's kind of golden and shiny--a nice luster. This can be deceiving, as it will wash out.
I asked my friend and Fiber Artist, Lynda Collins, for her favorite method of washing raw wool, without felting it. Here's what she recommended (with my photos, comments, and suggestions) :
Lynda : "As for washing wool, I would be very careful about using the washing machine. If the washer fills with water or in any way sprays water on the wool, it will felt. This is what I do to wash wool ":
Lynda : Fill a large basin ( I use my bathtub. It is easy to drain and rinse out afterward) with warm soapy water.
Michele : I used my washing machine, despite Lynda's warning above. I let the empty tub fill with water. I have NOT added the wool yet.
Lynda : Use a mild soap.
Michele : My preference is for Dawn Dishwashing Liquid. It's gentle enough to use with your bare hands, and it lives up to the slogan : "tough on grease."
I used about 2-3 Tablespoons for about 3 pounds of raw wool (I was starting with relatively clean wool, so you may need more or less depending on your circumstances).
Other gentle soap options might be Orvus Quilt Soap or Orvus WA Paste that can be purchased at a farm supply store. This is wool from sheep, a farm animal, after all. Let us know what you like to use ...
Lynda : Spread out a fairly large piece (compared to the wool to be washed) of loosely woven fabric (gauze, organza, etc.)
Michele : I'm using a piece of scrim, because that's what I had on hand.
Lynda : Place the wool in the center of the fabric.
Michele : I used about 1 pound of raw wool in this bundle.
Lynda : Gather the corners of the fabric and secure them.
Michele : I tied a knot and made a sort of hobo-bundle.
Michele : Here's the under-side of the hobo-bundle :
Lynda : Lower the bundle into the warm water. You may have to press the wool into the water to get it wet, but after that, DO NOT TOUCH the wool. Walk away and let it soak for 20 minutes or until you remember to get it, whichever is longer.
Michele : This is the color of the water after about 10 minutes of soaking in the warm soapy water.
Michele : This is the water after soaking for 2 hours. I elected to repeat the soapy wash.
I know you're thinking "Ewe! [pun intended] It's not really muddy water--remember, these were tidy fleeces from sheep who wore jackets. Most of this "mud" is the lanolin.
Michele : This is after the 2nd soapy soak.
Step 5 - Change the wash water.
Lynda : Pick up the four corners of the cloth and raise the wool out of the water in the tub, basin [or washing machine]. If the water is really dirty, gently lower the wool bundle into a bucket to get your hands free. Drain the wash water and refill the basin with new clean, warm soapy water without moving or touching the wool. Move the wet wool bundles back into the warm soapy water. Repeat the soak.
Step 6 - Rinse
Lynda : When the wash water looks reasonably clean, remove the wool, drain the wash water and refill the basin with warm rinse water. Repeat the soak, taking care not to move or touch the wool, or it will felt.
Michele : This is the water after the rinse cycle. Much better, I'd say!
Step 7 - Spin Dry
Lynda : After the rinse, take the wool out of the water using the corners of the fabric again. Hold a bucket under the bundle and take it to the washing machine. Gently lower the bundle into the washing machine and put it on spin dry.
MAKE SURE THAT NO WATER SPRAYS ONTO THE WOOL! THE SPRAY WILL FELT THE WOOL!
Michele : I took the bundles out off the washing machine, let the water drain, then put the bundles back in for the spin-dry cycle. This way, the water rushing through the bundle on the spin cycle was limited, which in theory limits possible felting.
Lynda : Once the spin cycle is over, take the wool bundle out of the washer and spread it out on an absorbant surface like a towel, ironing board, sweater drying rack, whatever you have ...
If the wool has bunched up, gently tese the wool out to be loose and fluffy. Handle the wool as little as possible. COme back the next day and you should have clean, dry wool. I have used this technique on very fine, easily felted wool with good results. I get very little if any damage to the fibers.
Michele : I spread my clean wet wool out on a window screen so that air could circulate on the underside and help in the drying process. This screen is set over the bathtub to allow for air circulation on top and bottom.
Drying times may vary. It's winter in Wisconsin, now, so the air is dry and cold. If the racks are by the wood fire, they dry rather quickly in a day. In the bathroom, where it's cold, it might take longer. In a humid summer, it might take days to dry.
Look, Ma! No felt! Just clean, dry fluffy wool!
This fleece lost about 1-1/2 pounds in lanolin after washing. I started with 6 pounds of wool. Now I have about 4-1/2 pounds of clean and washed wool.
Stay tuned for the carding process ... aonther day.