Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to Process Wool

My banner for the
KY Wool Festival
Have you ever faced a task so daunting that you just can’t find the strength to begin? I know it sounds wimpy; but, for me it is my wool processing (this year anyhow)!  So, I figured if I spelled it out step by step and had to take photos along the way to make the tutorial more interesting, I would already have completed some part of it…..and as they say, “parts do add up”.

These three are each very different-
Shetland, Icelandic,Tunis
So, to process wool, you must first begin with WOOL! You get wool from sheep. (For those who may not know, not all sheep have wool, some have hair and they don’t need to be shorn. These animals are usually raised for meat.)  Just as we all have different hair types, sheep have different wool types.  You cannot say that one type of sheep is better than another, because each has wool suited for a specific purpose. 

For instance, some sheep have very coarse wool. Well, rather than making a soft, cozy sweater to be worn close to your skin, that wool would be better suited for a rug, able to withstand heavy traffic. Some wool has more lanolin, thus being more weatherproof (do fishermen’s sweaters come to mind?)  Some wool or fleeces have a loft or spring to them. These are awesome for snuggly blankets made from thickly spun yarn or multi-seasonal quilt battings (remember that wool is flame retardant).  
Her wool is very lofty and
makes excellent quilt batts.

Some have a tight crimp and that makes it very stretchable for ribbing on a sweater or socks! Some even have a very high sheen or gloss to their locks. So you see, you can’t just choose a sheep and expect it to have all the qualities in its wool that you might ever want. That’s why I have a small (very small) flock!  Each sheep has different qualities and each of those qualities I appreciate.  I really “need” (?) more sheep, but I just can’t do that right now.

Imax's Fiber is very different from
 the other llamas on our farm.

I process my llama fiber the exact same way as the detailed steps of wool processing that I will outline below. And I will tell you, that llamas have as many varied types of fiber as the sheep have of wool.

We won’t dwell on the shearing aspect today. We will assume that it is off the sheep and we are ready to go!

I keep each fleece separate.  Because I have different wool types and colors of fleeces, I don’t want them mixing. So, I am very careful to clean up my shearing area in between each shearing…or move locations.
Wool from Stella (unwashed)

Once I have the shorn fleece.  I take it to a comfortable work area.  I’m going to be there awhile. First I do what is called “skirting” the fleece.  That means taking away all parts of the fleece that are not worth trying to salvage. If urine is on the wool and you are planning on dyeing it, color reacts to urine, even though it’s been washed. So usually right around their rear ends, I discard that wool. Also, a band around their entire necks usually has debris, seed heads, etc., in it and it would be too tedious a task to clean to make it worthwhile. Some years I discard a lot, other years, it’s not too bad. I will never blanket the sheep just to keep them clean, but I sometimes threaten them with that.  I just try to keep them from finding ways to play in the hay, and dragging the flakes across each others’ backs.

Wool from Stella (washed)
The lanolin allows dirt to cling to fleece and
looks like a different color from what it is.
Although it was cinnamon colored dirty,
it is white when cleaned. 

Now comes the important part--When I feel that I’ve done a thorough job skirting, I fill my washing machine (yes, MY washing machine) with the hottest water it will do. When it has filled, I STOP the machine. This is absolutely the most important thing to remember! Then I add about 1/2 cup of DAWN Dishwashing liquid to the water and using my arm, swish it around a bit. Then, I add either 1/2 or all of one fleece (this depends on how heavy or how dirty the fleece is). Keep it STOPPED.

Llama fiber, after clean and carded.
 Not wool at all, but I still process the same way.
There is no lanolin in llama fiber.

I GENTLY make sure the fleece is submerged, but I DO NOT  allow the machine to agitate.  If it does, you have just FELTED your fleece and will not be able to use it in a traditional way. It won’t even be traditionally felted!  Anyhow, do not, I repeat do not let it agitate.  Close the lid to keep the water hot and then set your timer for between 15-20 minutes. Let it SOAK only.

When your timer beeps and lets you know the time has passed, advance the dial to DRAIN/SPIN. Yes, your fleece stays in for this ride. It will drain and then spin out to get rid of all water. (Do NOT let it begin to refill while your fleece is in the machine!!)
When water is gone and machine has stopped, remove the fleece and put in a laundry basket. Your washing machine will be AWFUL looking….but don’t panic.  This is good; this means the wool is coming CLEAN!!  When you begin wiping out the machine drum, I imagine you will think of The Cat in the Hat and that horrible mess! It is VERY simple to clean your machine.  Use a wet dish rag (deemed only for this) and wipe sides of drum. Rinse rag and wipe again. Repeat. Repeat, until inside is clean. You could use paper towels and throw away, but that’s such a waste.
Shetland Wool from Jenna

Now, fill the machine with HOT water again.  Add Dawn dishwashing liquid again. STOP the machine again. Put fleece in again.  Let soak for 15-20 minutes again. Drain and Spin again. Remove fleece and clean machine again.

Now, if you are happy with the cleanliness of your fleece, we’ll move on to the rinsing phase.  If you think you’d like it a bit cleaner, do the whole process again.
But, if you are ready to rinse, still fill the machine with hot water.  Never let the temperatures fluctuate drastically between soaking and rinsing. This time do not add the soap.  NEVER let the water fill while the fleece is in machine; that simple agitation of water landing on it could felt the fleece depending what type of fleece (some felt more readily than others).
How you card the wool will enable you to
blend the colors in various ways.

Now after it has spun out, remove fleece and clean machine for the final time.  I usually run the machine through the rinse cycle just to ensure that dirt doesn’t stay and dry in the machine for my clothing. I run some vinegar through it, too.

Inspect your fleece.   If there is any debris that can still come out, pick it out now.  Otherwise, let it dry.  Do not put in direct sunlight. But, it can be on a covered porch, etc.  Toss or flip it from time to time to ensure it is drying. This can take a ½ day or so.  I usually wash for a few days and the fleeces begin to dry while I am washing others.

Clean and waiting to be picked!

Now comes the “picking” phase.  You will be grabbing handfuls of wool and
“picking” it.  Hold a clump in one hand and pull with the other. It begins to separate and lighten the feel of the cleaned fleece.  While you are “picking”, usually more debris (organic matter as it’s lovingly called) falls out. So, do NOT do the picking over your clean wool.  Stand to the side so that it’s not all falling out only to land in the other wool that you haven’t done.  

Llama fiber not washed yet.
So different from wool when it's not washed.
This should be done OUTSIDE to make you a happier housekeeper! 

When the picking is done, the wool is now ready to be carded. Carding is done with instruments that have many teeth/combs, much like a dog’s brush.

You can use hand carders, or a drum carder.  A very sweet friend of mine has loaned me her beautiful drum carder in the past and it has been so much easier on my arms than the pair of hand carders that I have; even though I love the feel of holding the wooden handles in my hands while carding! 
Small batts ready for spinning.

If you use the hand carders, you roll the combed wool off the carder and they stay in little rolags (Scottish Gaelic – roileag meaning small rolls) until you are ready to use them for spinning or felting.  If you’ve used the drum carder, the wool comes off in small batts, and they may be placed aside until you need them.
Both Fiber and Wool animals
must be shorn AFTER they use the
warmth to get through the winter!

Last note:

Worsted Wool – is thin and flat. The hairs are all the same length and parallel to each other; not overlapping.

Woolen Wool – is fluffy and springy.  This is from short and long hairs mixed together, overlapping, and twisted while spinning.

Hope you’ll try it.  If you have tried it and done it differently, please let a note!

No comments:

Post a Comment