Washing the wool

Well, we had one remaining fleece that we’ve been spinning with the drop spindles “in the grease”, but dear daughters are getting tired of that “sheep smell,” and so we are braving the unknown and washing our first fleece!

This is Matilda, also known as “Daisy’s Mom.”

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It’s her fall 2010 fleece.

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It’s gorgeous.

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Not sure why it didn’t sell at the sheep and wool festival, but in a way I’m glad we still had it since we now have the spinning wheel!

The fleece has been meticulously skirted for vegetative matter (aka bits of hay and seeds) and second cuts (aka short little clippings when I ran the clippers over an area a second time), but we went through it one last time, pulling the fibers apart so that the detergent water could clean it better.

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We then loosely packed about half of her fleece in a mesh bag that would serve to keep it together throughout the washing and rinsing.

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The kids scrubbed out our laundry sink, ready for the wool.

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We put a big pot of water on to boil. We needed the wash water at about 160 degrees. We stirred in about a half cup of Dawn dish detergent, THEN carefully lowered the bag of wool into the water, gently pushing it under with a big spoon. Immediately the dirt started to dissolve in the water, as you can see. And these fleeces are clean relative to many breeds, because they produce much less lanolin.

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GENTLE is the operative word. When the wool becomes heated, the fibers tend to want to all stick and knot together, which is called “felting.” Felting can be a good thing when it is desired, but it was something we DEFINITELY didn’t want to happen to fiber being prepared for spinning! So while the wool is hot and wet, it must be moved as little as possible – no agitation of the water, no running water onto the wool, and also no sudden temperature changes.

The wool was allowed to sit for about 15 minutes, then we lifted the bag, gently squeezed out the excess water, and refilled the sink with water about the same temperature (now a bit cooler than 160) and did a second wash, followed by a rinse. By now the water temperature is about 130 degrees.

After the rinse (sometimes a few rinses are required, but I was too nervous to handle the wool any more than necessary!), we squeezed it out and took it to our spare room and laid it out on the bed atop a sheet under which were absorbent towels.

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Cool – looks like clouds in a blue sky!

Nice clean white wool! Here’s a before picture to show the difference:

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When it’s all dry we’ll be hand carding and making rolags (rolls of carded fleece) from which we can spin, now with clean wool, minus the “sheep smell.”!

We did it! Maybe this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be! Hopefully we can clean the rest of her fleece tomorrow!

P.S. I HAD to show off this beautiful cake made by oldest daughter for her dad’s birthday today…almost too pretty to cut…ALmost!

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One comment on “Washing the wool

  1. Aunt Bernie says:

    Happy (belated) Birthday, Roy. I had you on my mind yesterday and forgot to send wishes before the day was done. Your cake looks very yummy. Hats off to Clare.

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