Feb 2, 2010

Scouring a Raw Fleece ~ I Love You Mini Spin Dryer!

Well, last post I was dying wool and might have mentioned how I had a bit of a strange urge to bite into the colorful fibers. I figured, "O.K. That's odd but, not surprising. After all I am stricken with the chronic fiber fever that plagues so many, many knitters, hand spinners, weavers, etc., (we know who we are)... Perhaps if I dye wool for all the rest of the day I'll be satisfied and this urge to nibble wool will pass.

Four big, fluffy, (delicious looking) braids later I began to worry. Time to nip these unnatural feelings in the bud. But how?

Cleaning a freshly shorn fleece in preparation for making one's own hand spun yarn is a bit of a right of passage for the hard-core spinster. I've scoured many a fleece and can tell you in no uncertain terms that the process, while most satisfying, is anything but scrumptious.

There's plenty of barn yard aroma and sticky lanolin in the above locks to draw a person back into the here and now believe you me. Time for a hot soak in a sudsy mix of water and Orvus Paste or Dawn Dish liquid.

Either will work very well in getting the grease out of the fleece. I will say I'm rather partial to the Orvus paste. (You can find it wherever fine livestock products are sold.)

There's no real secret to this process beyond settling the fibers into hot water that has a big dollop of Orvus or Dawn. You want your cleaning agent to disolve into the hot water before dropping in the fleece but, only stir to disolve don't get a bunch of suds going.  The real trick is in remembering to not agitate the fibers while they soak. This is another odd temptation for the fiber addict to overcome. There's a powerful urge to get in there and swish and swish the wool clean. Great way to make felt. Poor way to scour a fleece in preparation for spinning. Just let those fibers sink down into the bath then gently lift them out of the very brown water.

Believe me the water will be brown. (A raw fleece is like a big ol' poo, poo tea bag steeping...and, yay, my appetite is curbing.)

It is also important to remember to remove the wool before the water cools down enough to allow the lanolin to become gummy again and adhere once more back onto the fibers. Next, drop the wool into a rinse of hot, clean water. Again, no swishing and no running water directly over the fibers. Also, no sudden temperature changes for these are all great ways to turn a downy fleece into a matt of felted fabric. The rinse bath might need to be repeated a few times. You want to dip your fleece into fresh, hot rinse water baths until you notice that the water remains clear. 

 Now, to dry the fleece you don't want to squeeze or bunch up or twist or roll into towels and jump up and down on... or treat your poor fibers to any other cruel water removal madness. Centrifugal force is your friend here. I used to love using a simple salad spinner. But, heavy wet wool can wear those little contraptions out rather quickly. Some folks use the spin cycle on their washing machine. That is fine as well. You can also place the fiber into a netting bag or pillow case, take it outside and swing it around and around wildly over your head sending sprays of water out in every direction.  All of these methods utilize centrifugal force to get the moisture out of the wool.

Here is my new, most absolute favorite way to spin dry a fleece:
It's a countertop spin dryer from The Laundry Alternative and I love, love, love it! (The coffee can is pictured just to give you a size perspective because this mini spin dryer is deceivingly large.) I was happily surprised with how much fiber fit comfortably inside!

The spin dryer is primarily marketed to folks who wish to cut down on utility expenses when doing laundry because it pulls out far more water than the typical spin cycle would on a large washing machine thereby cutting drying time down tremendously. Also, I used it between wash and rinse baths and the spinner really drew the soapy suds out of the wool. The very first rinse bath was crystal clear! And, I have to say I loved how fluffy soft the wool came out of this little contraption.

Look how sparkling clean! Couldn't you just eat that up?
(And I've come full circle.)

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