Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Washing Wool

Today was a beautiful sunny day in the lower 70's so we decided to quit procrastinating and wash our wool before winter hits.  Last Christmas, my DW's presents all sort of ran toward natural fibers.  First, *C* and I made a hackle and comb set.  After seeing how much they were selling for on the internet, I decided that we would build them ourselves.  We made them out of solid oak and I was quite pleased with how they came out, especially considering that we only had pictures to go by.  Her next gift was a circular sock knitting machine.  If you've never seen one, look these fascinating devices up on YouTube.  We've played with it some but there's a real knack to actually cranking out something that resembles a sock.  Her last present was a box of Jacob sheep wool.  I have to admit that I know very little about sheep but I'm pretty smitten with this breed.  They're so unusual with their polycerate (more than two) horns and multi-colored wool.  I think that I'd like to get some when we get out to the homestead so I figured we could try some wool out first from e-bay.

  The wool came pretty well skirted when we got it.  That means that all the sticks and cockle burrs and poo were picked clean.  We decided to give it another once over.

The smell wasn't so bad once it was out of the box a while.

My DW may have found a few pieces from the nether end!  She was a trooper though.  We did quite a bit of research on how exactly to wash the wool and got a whole spectrum of methods ranging from Ruth on BBC's Edwardian Farm just chucking it into a stream to numerous "serious" wool people taking temps with thermometers and using special soaps.  We kinda split the difference.  Two common pearls of wisdom that we found over and over were that you have to have the water hot enough to melt the naturally occuring lanolin in the wool and that you can't agitate the wool too much or you'll end up with felt.  First, we filled a five gallon pail with water as hot as I could stand putting my hand into and added a generous amount of dish soap.

We gently put the wool into the hot water, taking extra care to not agitate it too much.

Without shaking things up too much, I just kept gently pushing the wool back under the water as it floated up until it was time to lift it out and let the nasty water drain.

At this point, you may be noticing the color of the water as it's draining out.  It was a lovely color of brown and I do mean brown.  I suspect that it was a combination of lanolin, dirt and, oh yes, POO!

This is what the water looked like after the first wash...

And then the second was a little better...

And the third was better still.  After three more rinses without soap, the water didn't look too bad.

We took the wool out of the final rinse and laid it on a couple of metal garden fence sections to dry.  I figured that it was a good way to get air underneath to help it along a bit.

As of this evening, the wool looks great.  It's fairly clean, except for some small pieces of grass and these should come out when we comb it.  The white portion of the wool is really brightening up as it's drying and I couldn't find any sign of felting.  *C* and I ended up having to move it into the garage since it's supposed to rain tonight.  All in all we were really happy with how it turned out...poo and all!


  1. You said you weren't going to use that picture of me!

  2. A little warning next time please, I was eating damn it! Kind of cool to see, but eww. I don't envy you doing this.