Saturday, June 28, 2008

in which I learn a new skill

I got my spinning wheel today. It's an Ashford Kiwi, a budget wheel but good quality. I bought it unfinished, which lowered the cost by 1/3 and made it even more budget-friendly. Oscar picked it up from Roxi's shop today and I've been trying to wash the fleece that I bought at Black Sheep Gathering. 

For the first time, I regret getting rid of our old top-loading washer. I know the new, front-loader is much more water efficient (even if I have my doubts about how well it works. Sometimes things seem to come out not very clean.), but it doesn't have the traditional wash-rinse-spin cycle of the top loader. With the old washer, I could put my woolen garments in on the wash cycle without actually agitating, then just let them sit there in the water for as long as I wished, drain, rinse again, and gently spin. Woolens cleaned without danger of felting, and they dried much faster!

Oh, I wish I could do that with the fleece that I bought. As it is, I am washing it by handfuls following this technique and it's tedious. I have a four pound (2 kg) fleece and it doesn't seem like a lot but remember that sheep fleece is very fluffy. An armful weighs just about four ounces (about 100 grams) This one fleece fills an entire large plastic garbage bag. I also found out, to my chagrin, that I need to examine the dirty fleece for the bits that have poop on them because that doesn't come off in the wash. I knew that washing wouldn't get rid of the bits of vegetable matter in the fleece (the worst bits are usually discarded during shearing and the rest usually comes out when the fleece is combed or carded). 

I'd wash the whole darn thing in the tub if I didn't have to worry about all that lanolin clogging up the drain. And raw fleeces contain a LOT of lanolin. How much? Almost half of the raw weight is lanolin. My four pound fleece will weigh probably weigh just a little over 2 pounds after it's been washed and dried. (The man from Philosopher's Wool in Canada wrote very eloquently of his troubles with customs. He'd drive his raw wool from Ontario to a mill in Pennsylvania to be washed and carded, and he'd have trouble because the weight of the fleeces would vary so drastically pre-and post-preparation. Plus, sheep fleeces can absorb a lot of water, so if it were a rainy or even a really humid day when he crossed into PA, his fleece weights would be even higher.  He had to go in great details to explain that he wasn't selling any of his goods in the US, and thus didn't need to declare nor pay taxes on these goods he wasn't selling.)

Thankfully, the weather is warm and sunny so the little amount of fleece that I have washed should dry pretty quickly. I guess I could always stain my new wheel while the fleece is sitting in its water bath...

1 comment:

Tactile said...

I wash about 1.25 to 1.5 pounds at a time. I heat water on the stove in every large pot I have. I put water at 140-160 F into a 6 gallon bucket and add enough liquid soap to make the water feel slippery. Add fleece and let it sit. For delicate fleeces I put it into a garment bag first. After 15 minutes, I pull it out, squeeze out the excess soapy water and move it to another bucket of hot water. If it is a greasy fleece (like Rambo), I do a second wash bucket and at least three hot rinses. Let it cool to room temp in the last bucket before you set it out to dry.

I use floating dairy thermometers (instant read thermometers work too) in my buckets to make sure the water is the right temp. The temperature change between buckets can go up, but not down (much). Be sure to use high temp gloves.

Let me know if you have any questions about my method.