Category Archives: scouring wool

100-mile wear revisited: reclaiming Cormo

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about locally sourced fibres. Since this blog is called 100-mile wear, I thought it high time I remedied that.

I dug through my dwindling unprocessed fibre stash and found a modest bag of locally sourced Cormo – about 12 ounces. Strikingly white with fat, bouncy locks 3 – 4 inch locks, it was just the thing to have some fun with. It had been washed, but that was ages ago. The fibre felt dry, like it had had all the moisture sucked out of it, and it felt sticky at the base.

I tossed the entire bag full into the kitchen sink that was filled with hot tap water and a quirt of shampoo. I covered the sink with a Rubbermaid lid and let it sit for about half an hour. Then I carefully lifted it out of the soap water, drained the sink and filled it again with hot water and a quirt of vinegar. Covered it again and then after half an hour, drained the sink. I towel dried the fibre and then put it outside in the bright sunshine with just a wee bit of a breeze. By the end of the day it was dry.

A few days later I sampled a few locks with my wool combs. I did this all on the back porch and when I did the first batch, it was in full sunshine. The first batch, in full-on sunshine, combed up beautifully and came off the combs like a dream. It was too hot so I abandoned the activity until later. It was much cooler when I returned to it hours later, and the next two samples were sticky and I could barely pull the fibre off the comb. And it caused a lot of waste. This wouldn’t do.

I figured that the problem was some kind of wax or oxidized lanolin in the fibre. It hadn’t been thoroughly scoured the first time and then after sitting for several (yes several) years, it oxidized and hardened. The heat of the sun warmed it up and melted it a bit. But I wasn’t prepared to get heat stroke just to process this fibre.

Believing that I needed to soften up the wax and oxidized lanolin, I tossed the entire fleece into a bucket of warm water. Covered it with a tea towel and let it sit for nine days outside. Why nine days? Because I am on holiday and that’s when I figured I needed to deal with it before I returned to work. I am glad that I did deal with it that day because it was starting to smell. Not quite as bad as my retting flax last summer, but decidedly disturbing. Fortunately the smell was just in the water and didn’t affect the fibre.

I divided it into three large pots, filled each one with hot tap water and about a 1/4 cup of shampoo. The water felt really soapy. Then I put the pots on the stove to come to a boil. Once they reached boil I let them simmer for about 15 minutes, turning them from time to time to avoid hot spots.

To rinse them I filled the kitchen sink half-way with hot tap water and the rest with boiling water. I lowered the soapy fibre into it and gently pushed it further into the water with the insert for my pasta pot. You know, the thing that is almost as large as the pasta pot but has holes like a colander. That allowed me to push the soapy and buoyant fibre into the rinse water without having to manhandle it too much. I let it soak for about ten minutes. Drained the water and filled the neighbouring sink with hot tap and boiling water. This time I added a 1/4 cup of vinegar. Did the same thing with the pasta pot to get it all submerged.

After ten minutes I drained the sink and filled it again with hot tap and boiling water. This time I only put a small squirt of vinegar into the water. After ten minutes I drained it completely, put it into the pasta colander and put that into a bucket. Let that drain for about 15 minutes and then put it outside to dry.

It was early in the day when I did this so had a good chunk of time for it to dry. Because I didn’t squeeze the water out of it, it took a while. I checked it regularly and flipped it every time I went past it. I covered it overnight and by mid-morning on the following day it was dry.

And it is beautiful. Not a spot of wax or any stickiness at all. I did a sample with the wool combs, in the house out of the heat, and it combed up beautifully.

So what did the trick?

  • The nine days of soaking? 
  • Using a decent amount of shampoo? 
  • Using super hot /nearly boiling water for every step of the way? 

I could have done experiments with the different methods and I’d be able to tell you. But alas, I just wanted clean fibre so I threw every strategy at it.

And it worked.

The magic of rain water

A couple of weeks ago I took some dirty fibre, put it into a lingerie bag and threw it into a bucket of ice cold rain water for over a week. The day I removed it I had to break the slim layer of ice that had formed around it. The water, while dirty at the beginning, was replenished daily from the deluges we’ve been having, so at the end, it was rather clean. I was going to leave it for several weeks, but it seemed so clean already, I got impatient with my own experiment.

So, I took the bag of fibre and tossed it onto the garden for the rest of the week. Over the week, as we had bouts of rain and sunshine, it got soaked and dried out repeatedly. A couple of days ago I retrieved it, towel dried it and put it by the stove to really dry.

I am absolutely amazed how clean this fibre is. There is no dirt in it at all, and only a trace amount of lanolin. Here is a photo of it. Bottom corner are the clean locks, at the top is a combed nest, and along the side is a hand carded rolag from the combed waste.

Here’s the whole lot of the experiment, combed up and waiting to be spun. It’s beautiful stuff — not damaged or affected at all by super hot water or harsh chemicals. 

While it was easy to spin, the trick was keeping it warm.  When the fibre was cold, the lanolin was a bit sticky.  It’s generally chilly in this semi-insulated farmhouse, so I kept the fibre waiting to be spun, on the warming stove in our front room.

Here’s a double-ply skein which weighs 14.5g and is 58 m long. Pretty good sized sample to play around with I’d say.  Because the wool fibres are stretched so much during spinning and plying, it’s good practice to wash or at least wet the fibre after it’s been skeined.  This way it returns to it’s regular size and shape, reducing the risk of surprises the first time you wash a garment made with hand spun yarn. 

I didn’t want to remove any of the lanolin from this yarn, so I’ve wet it again in rain water.  The stuff is ice cold, so I brought a bucket of it into the house, where it may at least get to room temperature in several hours. 

Here’s my lovely skein soaking. I’ll let it do this for a few hours, to make sure the fibres get good and wet and then I’ll hang it to dry.

I can’t wait to knit this up and see what it’s like.  Imagine, this beautiful yarn from fibre made clean with rain water and time, plenty of time. 

Letting the Rain have its way

I told the story in an earlier blog post, about the woman who threw dirty fibre onto her garden to be used as mulch, because she thought it was beyond hope.  Only to rediscover it in the spring; white, clean and ready to be carded and spun.
Well it’s nearly spring here, as my lovely little flowers above can attest to, so I don’t have the long winter months to work with here.  But I do have the rains.  And boy is it raining.  So below is a bit of a photo essay of my experiment with letting the rain have its way — and cleaning my fibre in the process.
Above are the two samples I’m working with.  On the left is very dirty and greasy Jacob, on the right is Cheviot.  The cheviot isn’t as greasy as the jacob is.  But both have not yet been washed and both are local fleeces.
I tucked them into a lingerie bag, cause I don’t want to fight with sticks, straw and other unpleasant things when this experiment is over. 
Nicely layered and zipped up.  Ready to head outside. 
It rained all last night so the rain barrel was full.  You all know you can’t leave a full rain barrel hanging around, so it had to be tipped.  Before I did that, I gave the fibre a good soak in the lovely soft rain water.   
 I decided that it needed a longer soak, so I put a bucket aside for the purpose.  Then tipped the barrel.  I’m going to let it soak overnight, or maybe over the weekend.  After that I’ll find a good spot in the garden for it. Somewhere it will get rained on, over and over and over again.
If this works, I’ll be one very happy woman. 
Stay tuned.

Going easy on the environment

On Wednesday this week, I had the honour of presenting the program at the Peach Arch Weavers and Spinners (PAWS) Guild meeting.  I was asked to talk about my blog; the concept of 100-mile wear; and my creative practice.  Can you imagine that — being asked to talk about something you love and are passionate about to a willing audience?  Doesn’t get much better than that.

Envariably, as I am engaged in showing people new things it often brings to mind things that they were thinking about or puzzling over.  It often happens that when I am teaching or presenting, I have the greatest chance of learning new things.  And it happened at the PAWS meeting.

After the presentation, the group started asking questions about fibre, spinning techniques, fibre preparation and so forth.  Then, I was asked a series of questions about scouring wool.  That’s the process of cleaning dirty fibre that comes right off the sheep.  I told the group about my various success and failures and current practice.  And then a woman told us of her experience cleaning wool. 

A while back, she had a filthy fibre that she tried to clean.  No luck, at least not to her satisfaction.  So she decided to throw the rest of it out and use it as mulch for her garden.  She placed it around some plants and then left it.  The fall rains came; the winter rains came, with the occasional dusting of snow; and then the spring rains came.  When she went back into her garden to tidy up and get ready for planting, she noticed this wonderfully clean, good looking fibre.  “I’ll take that back” she told us.  And did.

Time, rain, and air (who knows) cleaned that fibre.  Which makes me, and the rest of us at that presentation on Wednesday wonder, what does it take to clean wool fibre enough for processing?  Do we really need to use the hottest water we can make?  Use Orvus Paste (sodium lauryl sulphate) — that’s pretty nasty stuff.  In what ways can we simplify the process, so it works for spinning purposes, but also minimizes the impact on the environment?

As one who really dislikes the process of scouring fibre, I’m keen on a process that is not only easier on the environment, but easy on me.  I’m going to try putting a dirty fleece into a mesh bag and then leaving it my garden for a few months.  The mesh will protect it from the leaves and twigs and such, but still allow the rains — and boy there’s plenty of that to be had around here — to wash everything clean.

I’ve got just the fleece; the perfect spot in my garden, just need a mesh bag big enough to hold it all.

Local Romney from Ann

This spring I purchased a 10lb lamb fleece from a fellow guild member named Ann.  Ann raises a small flock of Romneys on a farm which is 11.5 miles — 18.4 km (as the crow flies) from my place.  Here’s an up-close look at what a lamb’s fleece looks like before it’s washed/scoured.  Double click on the photo and you will get a larger view.

You can see it is full of vegetation — bits of grass and seeds; lanolin — the lovely oily stuff that makes your hands really soft; suint — the dried sweat from the sheep; and other surprises like dead bugs and clumps of sheep dung.

After you scour it — that’s the word we fibre folk use when we talk about washing wool — it looks totally different.  To scour means that you wash it in really hot water with soap to clean it of all the oils and dirt — allowing easy fibre processing and, if you choose to dye it, to allow the dye to adhere to the fibre.

Here is what washed fibre looks like.  This small batch is hanging on my back fence.  I tilted the wire fencing to make a shelf — clever of me eh?  It helped the fibre dry quickly because the warm air could circulate all around it.

Once it was dry, I brought it into the house and got it ready for spinning.  I decided to use my wool combs so I could easily and quickly remove the final bits of vegetation that were still in the locks. Here’s what the combed nests look like.

Aren’t they heavenly?  Doesn’t that just make you want to spin?  I was so happy with this fibre.  It is soft, not super soft, but soft with a springyness to it which made a lovely yarn with some give.  I will post photos of the yarn I made next time around.  This batch of cleaned fibre was about 3lbs of the fibre.  You can see you can get a lot of yarn from a 10lb fleece.

Thanks Ann and your lovely lambs fleece.