Category Archives: washing wool

Washing Merino – from filthy to fine

Merino is by far one of the loveliest fibres to work with. It is fine, soft and has a consistent crimp that gives it some bounce. It is also prone to felting – some may think this is a good thing, but it is a caution when you buy raw wool and need to wash it.

Here’s a wee tutorial about how to wash Merino. First you separate it into finger width locks and stack them in a tray. Please note: the yellow bar is NOT BUTTER, it is a bar of Sunlight soap.

Cover your work area with a good towel. Fill three bowls/buckets halfway with the hottest tap water you have, then fill them the rest of the way with boiling water. Yes, boiling water. The heat is what is going to melt the lanolin from the locks.

Look at how dirty these locks are. You won’t believe how clean they will turn out. Just watch.

Here’s how you do it. You grab the first lock by the tip end (that’s the pointy and dirtiest end) and dip the butt end half into the hot water of bucket one. Then place the lock over the Sunlight soap and rub it up really good, add a bit of water to help get the suds action. It won’t felt at this stage because the soap is in the way. Then grab the soapy butt end of the lock and dip the tip end into the hot water of bucket one. Place this half on the soap and again rub up a storm to get the dirt and lanolin out.

Then grab one end and dip it into bucket two, swirling it gently to rinse it. Lift it out gently and turn it around and dip the other end into bucket two. That’s the first rinse.

Do the same thing in bucket three, dipping both ends, one at a time, into the rinse water. Then take the lock, gently place it on a towel, fold an end of the towel over the lock and gently press the water out. Lay it on a tray to dry. It will look like a flattened mouse, but in a short while, as it dries, it puffs up.

You can do about 10 locks at a time before the water gets too cool and too dirty to have an effect. So pace yourself. It may seem outrageously laborious, but Merino is so fine, a little bit of cleaned fibre goes a very long way.

And here below I am getting ready to spin. More later on tips for spinning Merino.

Spinning at the Fort, in period costume

The Fort Langley National Historic site is a former trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This past weekend they had a series of events focused on the homesteading aspect of running a trading post. They had events that taught people how to make butter, how laundry was done before Maytag, preparing and cooking bannock, and washing wool and spinning fibre, just to name a few.
That’s where we came in. A fellow guild member and I volunteered to run these workshops. The first one was about washing wool. So we had a large cauldron of water on to boil at the fire pit in the middle of the square at the Fort. People gathered on the benches around the fire and we gave them an overview of the wool to fabric process. Then we showed them dirty, greasy fleece and tossed it all in the cauldron of boiling water that was removed from the heat source. Instantly the water turned the colour of cafe au lait. We put the lid on the cauldron and then headed up to the big house where we would further demonstrate carding and spinning. (The cauldron of wool sat for 1/2 an hour and then we drained it off. One more hot water bath and it was considered clean by their standards. And for the most part it was.)
Here’s a “before” photo of the fibre. It actually looks better than it is. It is greasy and full of dirt. So much that the dark colours of the fibre are not actually true. Look at the “after photo. 

When all the lanolin and dirt is out of the fleece you can see that it’s much lighter in colour. And the browns are also lighter and not a chocolatey in colour. The fleece is a locally sourced Jacob. It’s a kind of sheep that has many colours on its coat.

After the washing demo we went up to the Big House and showed the kids (several dozen of them, what were we thinking?) how to card wool. Then we spun up their wee rolags and made miniature skeins for them. I think it was a good program because I exposed the kids to the whole process. It also showed them the role they would have had to play in yesteryear as carding was a job that children did.

The only problem with the day was my costume. Here it is, and yes, let’s a pretend that I have such a svelte waistline.

Good looking costume and it fit well. However, it was nearly 30 degrees in the Fort due to the full-on sunshine and lack of wind. The blouse is a poly-cotton and the skirt is a heavy weight 100% polyester. I was boiling and thanking my lucky stars that historical re-enactment only goes so far. If I had to have worn a corset I would have stabbed someone. As it was I survived by discreetly fanning the dress against my legs and cursing the inventor of plastic fabric.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but next time I’m making my own costume.
Thanks Fort for a lovely time.