Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adventures in Wool: Step 2, Scouring Fleece

In the last post I talked about 100%, just off the sheep, raw wool and how to clean that stinking mess.

Only after you have fully skirted the wool should you even think about dunking it in any kind of water at all... so if you have any bits of anything pickable in your lovely fleece, go back & see the post on skirting. Really & truly, it's best to have all that stuff gone before Lady Lovely Locks takes a bath.

So, without massively disturbing the lock structure, make sure all the VM, tags, bugs & hopeless dreadlocks are gone.
They are gone?

mesh laundry bags / strainer / container with a way to drain water
Dawn Dish Detergent (blue) / Laundry Detergent / critter shampoo
2 Totes, basins, washing machine, sink or bath tub
drying racks / screens / towels
a place to dry wool.
rubber gloves
salad spinner / spin cycle on washing machine / screens

- First step in scouring your wool is to break the fleece into chunks & grade it according to hair/wool type & the amount of cleaning it needs. (If you are using a bath tub you can leave it in whole fleece form). I am NOT using my bath tub, or my washing machine at this point in time... so I break the fleece into chunks according to type & dirt level. Approximately 8"x8" chunks of lock structure - Do not disturb the lock structure!
- Really dirty bits go in one pile, cleaner bits go in another (or like fiber with like fiber).
Note: I was using the term classing and the correct term is grading, but you can still read more about classing here: and
You can also grade based on where the wool grows on the sheep. Butt Socks are made from britch wool (the back legs) and are the best socks - so I've read. It's tough wool. Put that in its own bag until you have enough to do a batch.
"The nice, even staple wool that grows on the sides of the sheep is what spinners love" - apparently... that was a quote.

Really Dirty Bits: Pre-soaking
Sheep are nasty, dirty, filthy critters. Even the clean ones. Some of their wool/hair is much dirtier than the rest of it. When (not if) you run into some very dirty, very nice quality wool, it should be pre-soaked.
- Fill a basin (tote) with cold water & add some Dawn Dish Detergent, Laundry Detergent (no bleach, no color safe), or critter shampoo. NO SUDS!
-Let the water go still
- Put the wool bits in mesh laundry bags loosely & carefully & gently lay them in the water. DO NOT AGITATE! You may have to very gently sink the bags. (in theory it shouldn't felt with cold water, but it's best to get in the habit of not poking at it).
- Walk Away!
- Let soak over night.
- Gently remove laundry bags in the morning & let drain.
- Repeat OR Dry on a rack / towel / screen OR proceed to scouring.

To spin in the grease to to spin nice clean wool? That is the question.
Quite frankly, you do what you want. Me, I wants clean wools.
- Put wool in mesh laundry bags & set aside.
- Fill tote with hot water (you may want to boil some water on the stove to further heat the scouring water if your heater is like mine... the recommended temp is between 120F & 160 F, but never over 180F).
- Add detergent of choice (not soap! soap = felt).
- Let the water go still
- Gently set the wool into the hot water, gently push under if necessary (usually it just sinks)
- Set timer for 15-30 minutes & WALK AWAY!
- When the timer goes off, come back, check the temp. If it's still hot, set timer again & walk away. If it's cooled off a little, gently remove the wool & either re-heat the water & add more detergent (if it's not gag-inducing) or change the water.
- Repeat until water runs clear or mostly clear.
- Gently remove from water, let drain in bags.
- Conventional wisdom says this takes anywhere from 4 - 8 baths. The Dorset was clean in 5 baths.

I used about 1 large bottle of Dawn to clean the Dorset (long staple, lots of grease, chunky locks).
Avoid agitation at all costs. Don't even pour more hot water in the tote when the wool is in there. Take it out, set it aside, give it a warm-up & then put the wool back in. No dunking, no poking, no swishing. If using a bath tub, gently move the fleece to the back of the tub, drain & then slowly refill.
Heat + Agitation = Felt
Maintaining lock structure will help you avoid felt for as long as possible (until you want it to felt).
Apparently if you let the water cool down after the lanolin has been heated off, it will re-adhere to the fibers & become a sticky mess. How this doesn't happen when you pull it out to drain & it cools off then is a mystery to me, but I'll bow to conventional wisdom & just pass it on. Don't let your water cool.

- Hot water into the clean tote.
- Gently place mesh bags with fleece into rinse water.
- Let sit 15-30 minutes. Walk Away.
- Check temps & water cleanliness.
- Repeat until water is clear & wool floats.
- You can add a little vinegar to the last rinse water, supposedly to condition the wool. I'm not sure this has any effect, but again, conventional wisdom.
Rinse water can get progressively cooler & it won't hurt anything - your hot water heater has probably given up by now anyway & is filing a complaint with OSHA regarding unsafe & unreasonable working conditions.

- Remove wool from rinse water & let drain in mesh bags (spin in washing machine).
- Remove from mesh bags & set out on a screen, towel, tarp or rack OR spin out in salad spinner. I just set it out on screens and tarps to let it dry in the sun.*
- Make sure it's DRY. Wool holds a lot of moisture for a very long time.
- Continue to maintain lock structure, as in, "don't pull it all apart!"
It took about 4 or 5 days of screen drying & tossing about for my Dorset locks to dry. Note that I did not spin the water out though.

Once it's dry, if it needs to be scoured again (it's sticky or still really dirty, you can do that now, or you can wait until after the pre-carding, or even after carding or spinning - if you want to spin in the grease**)... but no matter what, that lanolin must come out before it's usable because after a couple years (months) it will harden & stink. Think "nasty old gym bag that you forgot about in the closet for 8 months."

At this point, after everything is dry, you are ready to pre-card the wool. It's no longer raw wool, but may (in some cases) still have to be scoured again.

Funny notes:
*Controversy over "drying in the sun." Where, pray tell, do you think the sheep lived for the last year? A few hours in the sun aren't going to hurt that wool one tiny bit. Nor is it going to hurt my sweater if I wear it out in the daylight. They aren't vampire sheep after all, the wool isn't going to go up in flames - though it does, occasionally, spontaneously combust. Just so's ya know... which could be explained by vampire sheep... possible.

**"In the grease" vs. "squeaky clean" folks are quite territorial about their spinning, felting & dying methods.
Amusing, but for my purposes "squeaky clean" is the way to go. As I'm not sure if I'm going to use this wool for spinning, batting, stuffing or dying OR how soon I'll get to it; I'd rather have it be clean.

Storing at this stage:
You can store the wool in cloth bags at this point - the feed bags from before should be OK if they aren't too dirty, mesh bags, or muslin bags. Store in a cool, dry place. Not in plastic. Don't compact the wool, let it be "fluffy."

1 comment:

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

I don't have pictures of "how to" for this stage yet... I have lots of pictures of "how NOT to"

It wasn't wrecked, but it was a lot more work than it had to be.