Posts Tagged ‘washing a fleece’

 

I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I am getting out of my new Merino fleece recently imported from Stuart Albrey at Fine Fiber Farms in New Zealand

According to Margaret Stove The Merino wool of New Zealand is among the finest and highest quality wool fiber to be found anywhere in the world and I second this opinion. The New Zealand climate is just perfect for this particular breed and quality of wool and the sheep can be raised out of door without any coats on and without getting chaff and other veggie matter in the wool. It is super clean, ultra fine and soft and surprisingly white.

Spinning a raw fleece this fine is not like anything I have ever hand spun before and I’ve been spinning for many years. I really had to throw all of my preconceived rules and ideas out the window and just experiment over and over until I got it right. This very fine Merino wool is stretchy and elastic with a great deal of crimp. It is fine to the point of being vulnerable and it needs to be handled very lightly and carefully if you don’t want to stretch or damage the fibers, especially when wet.

A lot of what I learned about spinning this wonder fiber was from the amazing Margaret Stove through a video purchased at Interweave press called “Spinning for Lace “. I also have everything that Deborah Robson (Handspinning Rare Wools ) and Judith MacKenzie ( “Three Bags Full ” or “A Spinners Toolbox“) have published. These ladies have done so much work to share their vast knowledge of wool and spinning with the rest of us and I just thank them so much for all that I have learned from each of them.

Spinning Merino for Lace with Margaret Stove involves working with individual locks of fiber. It is tactile pleasure paradise from moment one and the slow cloth mindset is very necessary. So with a “mind like water” and immersed in the moment I began by separating out these lovely locks, one from another, and laying them out side by side on a piece of cloth in preparation for washing. I actually started my washing with a bit of advise from Margaret Stove. Here is how I washed my first batch.  I picked up a single lock and dipped 2/3 of it into very (almost boiling) hot water and then rubbed it vigorously on a bar of soap. Horrors, you say? as I did when I first saw this, but guess what… it works! yes, the lubrication of so much soap seems to keep it from felting together. I then dipped the lock into equally hot rinse water and squeezed, turned it end for end and repeated the process. When I had all of the locks washed and rinsed I rolled them in a towel and squeezes out the excess water. After a surprisingly small amount of time they puffed right up and were dry and ready to comb. The second and all subsequent batches of washing I did a little differently. My method is from Judith MacKenzie and is very close to that taught by Margaret Stove with the addition of heat under the wash pot and a slightly different way of keeping the locks in line so they can’t move around in the wash water.  I go into greater detail here and here but I will just say the locks are sorted and  laid out side by side on a light cloth (I used a piece of old window curtain this time). the cloth is folded over to keep the locks securely in place. Lots of detergent (I used Tide liquid) and very hot water was added. I then put the pot on the stove top on low for 30 min. The high and constant heat is needed to melt the dense wax and grease found on Merino wool.  I let it cool to warm, rolled up the bundles to keep the individual locks from moving and rinsed under the tap with same temperature water. Roll in a towel and squeeze out excess moisture and lay flat to dry.

Combing is “the only way” to prepare this fiber for lace yarn. You really don’t want to go through all of this and end up with something that felts and pills and wears out before your eyes. You want a yarn that will be strong and smooth and careful preparation at every step of the process is a must. Remember your mind like water, be here now, right in this moment doing this work. It is really very pleasant if you don’t try to rush it.  So the drum carder will be used for another project at another time. I will confess here and now that since I have started combing I may never need the drum carder again. I love the combs!  Some I did on my Louet mini combs and some on my handmade viking combs that I bough on Etsy from BenjaminGreenStudio and I LOVE THEM!  To use the big combs I had to break off the tips or brush them out with a dog brush. They are probably a little open for this fine fleece but I got it combed after a few passes and enjoyed every second of it.

At the spinning wheel I tried to follow Margaret’s advise. There was so much to remember and the technique was not exactly what I was used to but I tried to keep the tension of the fiber as I drafted so that the twist would go in with the fiber crimp stretched out. If the crimp is flattened when the twist goes in the yarn will always be trying to regain the crimp and your yarn is springy and elastic. I guess she must have mentioned not to stretch it, just a gently tension, but of course I did stretch it and the first skein I made was just coiling and unruly like a curly boucle.

One of my problems was the stretching but another one was twist. You cannot just ply this lovely fine fiber back to balanced by checking it in the usual way. The twist has “set” in the singles even if it has only been sitting on the bobbin for a few hours. If you put some ply twist in and check this yarn by letting a bit hang between your hand and the orifice you will find it will look balanced but will actually not have nearly enough ply twist in the yarn. You will have to put in enough twist to make a 45 degree angle and you will find it balances only after washing. Handle the singles very very carefully as you ply and do not stretch or your yarn will be unbalanced and unruly. Ask me how I know?

I’m knitting the Queen Sylvia Shawl by Nancy Bush from Knitted Lace of Estonia.

Next in this project: Managing Color in a Raw Fleece

I have a lovely Polwarth fleece which I imported from New Zealand and I want to spin it worsted, probably for some socks. It’s really very soft with a micron count of about 23 but has a 4 inch staple length so I think I can spin a nice strong and durable 3 ply worsted sock yarn with it. With this fleece I can also spin a fluffy light and warm woolen yarn that will be soft enough for a baby. What a lovely versatile fleece.

Polwarth wool laid out in preparation for washing the worsted way

How to wash a fleece for worsted spinning

The goal is to wash individual locks of wool that are all the same length and texture so the first step is to pull out the locks individually, sort them out and line them up.

Find a old cotton cloth and lay the locks side by side with the tips in toward the center. This is just in case the ends of the 2 rows touch as the tips are much less likely to cling to one another as the cut end. Make another line facing this one (tip to tip) on the other side of the cloth. Fold the cloth over to cover each side, fold in half lengthwise and fold over the ends. You have made a nice secure package for the locks that will not only keep them lined up and intact but will also help to prevent any felting as it keeps the locks from touching one another or moving very much.

Folding locks of Polwarth fleece in cotton cloth for washing. Prepaing the Polwarth fleece locks for washing in worsted preparation Polwarth fleece locks laid out on cloth and folded ready for washing

Get out a pot that will go on the stove top and drizzle a bit of detergent into the botton. Coat both sided of your envelope of locks and fold it up. Drizzle a little more detergent on top and pour the hotest tap water over it until it is covered but not floating. Push gently to immerse the package in the hot soapy water and put your pot on the stove to simmer for 30 minutes. This high heat will take all of the greese out of your fleece and it will be soft and clean. After the time is up you can turn off the element and wait for the water to cool enough to handle your fleece. If you have used detergent for the washing liquid you don’t have to worry about the grease redepositing on the wool. When cooled enough to handle squeeze out as much soap and water as you can and adjust the tap to steam of water that is the same temperature as the wash water has cooled to. If you use water that is colder than your wash water the wool will felt and be ruined. Rinse your wool, still in the cloth package under the running water and squeeze and rinse until you are satisfied with the result. Roll it in a towel to squeeze out excess water, open the package by unfolding and wait for the locks to dry. They will puff up and be so wonderfully lovely you won’t believe it.

To spin from the lock now just take a simple dog brush. Hold one lock tightly in you hand and brush the tips out with the dog brush just as if it were hair on someones head. Turn it around and brush the other end. Go to the spinning wheel and being carefull to spin from the very end of the lock spin with tips first by a short draw.

Yesterday I got out one of the wonderful Polwarth fleeces I imported from New Zealand where they are able to produce some of the finest and highest quality wool in the entire world.

Polwarth

The Polwarth is not a rare breed but its fleece certainly has enough wonderful characteristic to make it a favorite among hand spinners, knitters and those who wear their creations. It is a dual-purpose sheep, developed in Victoria, Australia in 1880; they were first introduced into New Zealand in 1932. It has been crossbred to 75 percent Merino and 25 percent Lincoln. Polwarth wool is similar to Merino in softness but has a longer staple length and more sheen or luster. It is fine and soft, suitable for knitted or woven garments, knitting yarns and apparel, baby clothing and fine fibre blends that can easily be worn next to the skin. Polwarth wool is also excellent for felting. The fibers average about 23 microns and the staple length approx. 7.5-11cm (3-4.5in).

For the handspinner Polwarth fleece is a dream to spin. The softness combined with the longer fiber length and luster allow us the maximum pleasure and possibilities for preparation method, spinning technique and finished product for yarn or final garment.

Preparing the Polwarth Fleece

Because it is a medium length staple I was able to choose between woolen or worsted method for my preparation before spinning. This decision had to be made even before I washed it as there are different washing methods depending on whether one will be carding, combing or flicking the locks to open them for hand spinning. I decided that since I could do either, I would do some of each.

Woolen

A woolen yarn is airy and light, usually fuzzier with fibers going every which way and trapping lots of air. Woolen yarn is very warm but, in general, not as durable as a worsted yarn. The fibers are of various lengths and are carded to intentionally mix them up. It is spun by a method which should wrap this net of fibers around large pockets of air. The resulting yarn is light and springy.

Worsted

For worsted yarn the fibers are combed. This process will not only line up all of the fibers so they all go into the yarn in a parallel fashion but it

also rids the prepared wool of any shorter or broken pieces as well as all chaff and vegetable matter. The yarn is spun with the intention of keeping the individual fibers parallel, straight and smooth without any fuzzy texture. The resulting yarn is higher in luster and usually feels softer to the touch because there are less ends sticking out. It will be stronger, more durable, smoother and elastic if spun with the correct technique.

Washing for Woolen Preparation

I washed the fleece sections that I intended to spin into a woolen yarn in a large pot full of very very hot water and detergent (I used liquid Tide). I let it sit in the water for about an hour, squeezed out as much soapy water as I could gently, then carefully put it into another pot of clear *same temperature* water to rinse. I like to rinse until the water comes clean but it won’t hurt to leave a bit of detergent in the fiber as you will be washing your yarn when it is finished. This is similar to the way I wash in the machine. See this post.  I rolled the wool in a thick towel and applied pressure to draw out some of the water and spread the fleece on an old sheet to dry.

Washing for Worsted Preparation

I think this is important enough to have its own page (here) but I’ll give a summary on this one. There are several popular methods for washing individual locks of wool for worsted spinning but the one I find most efficient and appealing to me I learned from Judith MacKenzie. You can find her books & DVD’s at Interweave Press. Three Bags Full would be the one with this information in it. What a wonderful woman and oh, so knowledgable! I really enjoyed these videos. Individual locks are pulled from the fleece intact, sorted & laid out on an old piece of cloth side by side and tip to tip. They are then folded and immersed in soapy water, simmered on the stove, cooled and rinsed under the tap. Simply amazing results, see my pictures below. THANK YOU JUDITH!

Now, to do some spinning and I’ll get back to you with the results.

The raw Polwarth fleece before any washing. Isn’t it wonderful, so clean. Polwarth wool laid out in preparation for washing the worsted way Folding locks of Polwarth fleece in cotton cloth for washing. Prepaing the Polwarth fleece locks for washing in worsted preparation Polwarth fleece locks laid out on cloth and folded ready for washing individual Polwarth locks showing the 4 + inches of staple length Polwarth wool locks washed and flicked with dog brush to open the fibers for spinning Polwarth fleece washed for woolen method in pot of hot water and detergent.

Today I got out a couple of beautiful fleeces that I had stored over the garage for a few years. They came from a huge sheep ranch in Australia that specialized in raising coloured sheep especially for the hand spinning market. I was fortunate enough to visit for 2 weeks at sheering time, working in the shed and getting my pick of that year’s sheering. It was an oportunity of a lifetime and I will never forget it. Getting out the fleece today made me so happy.

They are still perfect! I attribute this to the storage containers we used. They are a very strong cardboard with metal bottom and very tight fitting metal tops with clamps to ensure an airtight fit. Because of the cardboard the wool was able to “breathe” and any felting that may have resulted from condensation if they had been kept in plastic was avoided. Of course, the insects and rodents were not able to penetrate the very thick cardboard nor were they able to find a way in through the airtight lid. I was very happy to see that they had weathered the years so well.

Washing The Fleece

I decided to use my washing machine for a tub because it is a top loader.  It’s the largest wash tub I have and it’s easy to fill with water and empty again PLUS it has the added benefit of being able to spin much of the water out of my fleece between the wash and rinse. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LET THE MACHINE AGITATE. I put the fleece into 2 mesh bags that I have just for this purpose (like the kind you wash lingerie in, only bigger). I filled the machine with very hot water and a whole capful of liquid Tide and when the soap had disolved i gently placed my 2 bags of fleece on top of the water and allowed them to sink into the hot water untouched. *This is important. It would be the agitation of the fiber while wet either by turning on the machine or by swishing it around with your hands that would cause felting and matting. I walked away, machine turned off, and came back about an hour later. Rinse: I very gently ensured that the load was as even a possible and set the machine on spin only. This does not hurt  or felt the wool and you can get most of the water out. Once the spin cycle was finished I lifted the bags out and filled the washer with warm water this time. It should be a close, in temperature, to the water you washed them in. It would have cooled a bit in the hour or so of soaking. *Also Very Important. A sudden change in temperature will also felt your wool immediatley. When the tub is full you can set the bags in again, no agitation again but perhaps a very little swishing or dunking *very gently. Spin again and if desired repeat the rinse. I am going to wash mine again after it is spun into yarn and only rinsed it once.

I put down an old sheet and spread out the wool. I love to look at it and play with it to see if it’s dry. It may take a couple of days and it will seem like years. I could have planned ahead but I just don’t think of it until I really want it!