Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Wool Washing, Part 2

Now we're on to STEP 2: WASHING  , but before we proceed please be sure you have read Step 1 here (especially the disclaimer that this is how I do it, in my own home, taking my own chances with the entire procedure.  How it works for you is entirely your responsibility and I make no claims or guarantee of your success)

First wash
First of all, you want your wash water VERY hot ~ to hot to put your hand in comfortably ~ mine is 160 degrees.  (NOTE  If needed,  you can boil water on the stove and add to your tub to increase the temp. You can also fill a large stock pot with water; bring to the boil; shut the water off; add the soap then fleece; cover and let soak right on the stove.  I find this works well for mohair. The hard part to this is lifting the heavy pot when it comes time to change water!) Anyway, fill your container with this hot water and then be generous with the soap (use enough to color the water) Do not swish the soap around, you don't want lots of extra bubbles, just good soap and hot water.  Cover your container somehow to help hold the heat in and then let the fleece soak in there for maybe 10 to 15 minutes (don't allow the water to cool much)  Drain the water away, take your wool out and repeat this process (filling the container with hot water, then soap, then wool).  You will probably need at least two, maybe three, washes.  In this case, Daniel's fleece required two wash cycles.

Second wash
Now comes STEP 3:  RINSING  No matter how many wash cycles I have put the wool through, I always do at least two rinses.  Sometimes there are more rinses than washes, just to get all of the soap out!  The first rinse water is as hot as the wash water and has a generous "glug" of white vinegar.  I do have a water softener, but it just seems to help cut the soap to use the vinegar (maybe that is just my imagination though)  Anyway, into the hot water and vinegar goes the fleece to soak for about 10 minutes.  Drain, remove fleece, refill container with hot water (no vinegar this time) and rinse again without agitation for 10 minutes or so.  Repeat if you are still getting soap bubbles in your rinse water.  Please do not ever add hair conditioner or softener to your wool!!!  I don't know of any fiber mill that will take wool that has been "conditioned" without re-washing it.  Wool is NOT hair!

Daniel's clean fleece, fresh out of the rinse
STEP 4:  I like to remove the excess water as much as I can.  If the fleece is in my washing machine, I spin it out with no water - I have an older machine that allows me to do this.  For small batches, you can dedicate an old salad spinner to spinning wool ;)  Now you will lay the clean fiber out somewhere to air dry.  Its hard to wait, but you want it to be completely dry before you start processing it.   You will notice that although the tips of this fleece remain slightly discolored (see the photo above), it looks nothing like the dirty tipped fiber it started out to be!  It might be important to mention that because this fleece was coated, although it is dirty (sweat, lanolin, dirt and mud) it is NOT full of vm and chaff, so is relatively easy to get clean.

Now, remember that dirty fleece we started with (above)?  See how beautiful it is now (below)?

What a joy and a pleasure, with very little effort!  Especially if you are experimenting with only a few ounces at a time.  Here we have this lovely lambs fleece, ready to prepare to spin - in this case, Daniel's very fine Corriedale wool is destined for the wool combs and then on to spinning.  I hope these few tips of a simple way to wash a fleece will help someone out, and if you experiment with just those few ounces if it gets ruined or doesn't turn out you won't have lost an entire fleece trying.  I'd love to hear how it turns out for you if you do try, or if you have any questions I'd be happy to try and answer them.


judith said...

Thank you for the useful tutorial :)
I processed my small batch similarly, except that I used cold/luke warm water instead.
I'll link to your tutorial in my post, hope it's ok?

Kate said...

Thanks Carrie! I have been waiting for this. With Mary Kate doing such a great job spinning I need to make sure I can keep her in fleece!

Homesteading Wife said...

Where can I find wool combs? Looked at TSC and they didn't have any!

Cary at Serenity Farms said...

Absolutely Judith, feel free to share ;) And thanks for reading!