Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rumors Of My Death...

We've had a bunch of fun company and too much work to do (better than not enough...I suppose) and I had great intentions, like 3 days ago, to post a wool washing blog. I'm up to my armpits in some really pretty fiber - perfect for pictures.

Here goes - first of all, start with nice wool. Unless it's a favorite sheep and you just have to spin some yarn from her, if it's not a sound fleece (watch for fragile tips, a break in the fiber...), don't waste your time. Dirty wool makes great mulch and I've heard you can stick a big handful in the bottom of the hole when you are planting trees. Both excellent choices.

Take your nice fleece and spread it out. A fuzzy sheep's fleece will unroll and stay together looking much like a pelt. A curly sheep's fleece won't hold together. I use a smaller wire mesh to skirt curly fleeces so the locks don't fall through.

You don't need a fancy skirting table, but they are pretty easy to make. You just need something sort of solid/stable, but with holes for short second cuts and dirt to fall out.

I shake the fleece (shorn side down) and pull off anything I wouldn't want to spin myself. This includes not only the second cuts, but dirty tags, belly wool, wool from around the legs, britchy wool from around the hind legs...

It's very important to keep a cat around to hold down the sheets you use to store the raw wool. As a side note, plastic bags sweat/don't breathe and can ruin your raw fleece. If you have to store in plastic for any length of time, poke some holes in the bag. The big paper lawn refuse bags from the grocery work very well too. We gather the fleeces in old sheets as they are shorn and then transfer to paper bags as they are skirted and ready to wash.

I use my trusty old top loading washing machine. I used to do this all in the laundry room in the house and used the porch to skirt and dry wool (aka "How to get your very own wool house away from the real house" ;-). I have not had any trouble with wool damaging my machine (but I've heard it could happen) and I didn't notice any residual gunk on our clothes following a big wool washing event either. If it really creeps you out though, run a load of barn towels or dog blankets before you wash your 700 Green Bay Packer t-shirts. Don't ask.

So, how exactly do I go about the washing process? First a disclaimer - this is just how I do it. I could be completely nuts. Shut up! Do some research, see what everyone else is doing, experiment on your own...

1. Turn the temperature setting on your water heater to 135+ degrees.

2. Fill the washing machine about 2/3 full with only hot water. Don't stick your hand in there. Trust me on that one.

3. I use blue Dawn dishwashing detergent. I've tried Orvus, Power Scour, Kookabura, Tide...I like Dawn the best. Plus, as a sucker for marketing, they used that to wash the birds after the oil spill. Big points ;-).

4. I use around 2/3 cup for the first wash cycle. Just pour it in and swirl it around without sudsing it up. The water should look a bit blue.

5. Take your well skirted, nice fleece (or part of it if it's big - like don't try to stick all of Woolliam in the washer at one time. Heidi, yes. Woolliam, no.) and gently set it down into the soapy water.

6. Use something (the Dawn bottle works well) to push the fleece down into the water. NOT your hands.

7. Close the lid and let it soak for 20 minutes.

8. Pay attention to this step. After it's soaked, you want to spin out the dirty, soapy water. You do not want your washer to throw any rinse water onto your fleece. You don't want any agitation of any sort. If you don't have a setting that SPINS ONLY, shut off the water and force it to behave.

9. After it runs through the spin cycle, pull the fleece out of the washer. The first wash will probably still be kinda funky, dirty and greasy. I personally like the smell of wet sheep. This may prove I'm crazy. Shut up!

10. Wipe down the inside of the drum and then refill to 2/3 with more super hot water.

11. Add 1/2 - 2/3 cup soap for the second wash and repeat the above steps.

12. After your second wash has spun out, again pull the fleece out of the washer.

13. Usually two washes will do it. If not, wash one more time and cut the soap down to about 1/3 cup.

14. I rinse each fleece two to three (usually three) times - same fill, maybe use a little less water, but same temperature, soak 15-20 minutes, spin out, remove... If it seems a bit soapy still, rinse a third time. This is pretty water intensive, but we have the wool house machine set up so I can redirect the rinse water into buckets and tubs to use to water trees, flowers, lettuce growing in the driveway (don't ask)...

15. When your fleece is clean and well rinsed, set it out to dry. I have a couple drying racks in the wash room - the deluxe system - but you can just as easily use an old screen door, hammock... A simple box fan helps speed things along.

16. Make sure your beautiful fleece is completely dry before you bag it up. I do store washed wool in plastic bags.

17. Important!!! - turn down the water heater before someone takes an "exciting" shower. Seriously.

I'm going to post this and walk away. I'll review it later this afternoon (more company here) and see if it makes sense. If you have any questions, leave me a comment.

Good luck!


DayPhoto said...

Favorite Sheep Lady, this was very well done! I enjoyed it, learned lots and wished I could be there JUST ONCE to see it in action.



Anonymous said...

Placing the dirty fleece in a mesh laundry bag:
1)Keeps wool from clogging up your pump.
2)Reduces risk of felting.
3)Makes removing the fleece from the washer easier.
Debbie B.

bj from LaColline said...

Whew! Glad you're enjoying your company. I was getting worried about Ms. Esther. I really appreciate the walk-through about cleaning a fleece and very clear instructions, too. I'll pass along to Guild members who have been asking about different methods, crazy and otherwise.

Christine said...

Okay, so, like, um, how do you expect me to do this in my front loader?

Deb W said...

Thanks for the instructions. I won't confess how many fleeces I have here (full disclosure to others reading - I do not own any sheep) but this should get me on my way to spinning and knitting my brains out all Fall and Winter.

flowerweaver said...

Well, I was beginning to wonder if you were still alive, but now I understand. Looks like a lot of work! I wonder how many people have real wool houses?

Leah said...

I think that is way less crazy than cooking the locks in an old roaster on the stove in the kitchen, like I have read elsewhere, that's what I think. (Although, in fairness, I think she was preserving the locks so she could spin them directionally or something fancy pantsy.)

I don't have sheep, I don't spin yet, but I can sure imagine the stench. I am very curious about what you pick out. Perhaps you will show that as a result of tomorrow's comment?

Susan said...

This was very, very helpful. I have bags of fleece to be skirted and washed, so I will be referring back to this post a LOT.

Peruby said...

What a load of work! Wait. You plant trees, too?


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