Right, so having blitzed through the past week in thursday’s post, maybe I can slow down and pick out some details, now. First off, let me just say that I am not in the least blasé about losing two chickens, I just really don’t want to talk about it. Lest ye think I am a callous bitch.

Now then, Here is the story of How I washed my Very Smelly Wool (two bags full, sir!)

The usual Before-I-Tell-This-Story-I-Should-Mention: As usual, I have no idea what I am doing. Or very little idea, anyway. I am wandering through this process guided by some kind of genetic peasant memory, the (sometimes conflicting) advice of fibre gossips, and what I can remember from a book I read once. Thus, purists and People-Who-Know may be shocked and horrified by what I am about to tell you. All I can say is there is yarn at the end of the story, so like it or not, what I did works. Also, um – people who are very tidy and clean, and who buy roving that looks like this weird (but bouncy and fun) stuff Marissa gave me?

should probably stop reading now. The following is not tidy and clean, nor packaged for convenience. You have been warned.

Right! So, as you may remember from the other day, I was the recipient of two bags of smelly fleece, from an unknown breed, care of some guy who raises sheep for meat.

You remember the Sock’s Night Out? Yeah, it started there, expanded to include my father-in-law, got all confusing, and then there was some fleece. Short version, ok.
So. I invented categories for sorting the wool, which basically came down to “wow”, “lumpy”, “eeeeewwww”, and “kinda” with a subcategory of “kinda” tentatively labled “maybe felt”. As much “eeeeewwww” as possible was removed immediately, but for the most part the next stage was dumping the whole mess into the bathtub. This is why:

Yes, my camera does suck, but I assure you it really looked like that. Also it smelled like that. (My husband came in at one point, and I looked up cheerfully and announced “I smell like sheep!” “That’s not all you smell like,” he replied. I refrained from telling him that that is what sheep smell like – I’m still hoping to get a small flock some day, and I didn’t want to hurt my chances.) Are you getting grossed out? Here, look at some nice, clean white silk for a second, that’ll help.

Better? (Hey, I know Yarn Harlot’s tactics work on me!) Shall we continue? Good.

The water in the tub is just warm to the touch, not at all hot. There is some detergent in there too (Actually I did one with detergent and one with soap, because you can’t tell me anything, and I wanted to see. I’m not too concerned about soap residue though, there will be quite a bit more washing and processing before I do any dying on this. I think. Possibly I won’t even dye all of it, although I doubt that.) Note: What I am talking about there is that soap stays in wool and will negatively affect dye-taking later if not washed out very well. Also I think it helps wool to felt.

I put the wool through four successive tubs of rinse water, squishing the water through it but not agitating it. Dru’s vision of a bathtub-sized felt ball was funny, but not desirable.

While the wool soaked I picked out any “eeeeewwww” parts that I missed, as well as any sheepshit, sticks, thistles, bird droppings (one), grass stems and seeds, and matchsticks (six) that were large enough to grab. Anything smaller will be removed at the carding stage.

Here’s a thing from that book I read, and a good reason to be one of those people with all kinds of useless crap lying around collecting dust:

It is better for reasons that should, with all this talk of felt, be obvious, to squeeze the water out of the wool, not wring it. Putting it through this (misnamed) wringer is one way to accomplish that without soaking yourself (too much) (more).

Now, the effect of all that rinsing and wringing in tepid water was that the wool is not actually all that clean. It is acceptable to be in the same room with the wool now, the change is really quite dramatic, but while it is ever so much MORE clean, it is not yet actually VERY clean. This is because I discovered way back at the Hedge Wool that I like “spinning in the grease”. (i.e. leaving the lanolin in and processing more after spinning). Big fan. Ironically, I am also a big fan of DYEING in the wool, and all that hot water is a real good way to remove lanolin, so we’ll be kinda going half/half on this. Hence the me not worrying about the soap much.

Aside: It is amazingly funny (at least to an erstwhile city-dweller) how all the proverbs and folksy sayings turn out to be literally true when you move out to a farm and start doing all this stuff. Like “dyed in the wool”. Or anything at all about chickens. ‘Don’t count before?’ Don’t. ‘Come home to roost?’ They do. ‘Mad as a wet hen?’ Pretty mad. /aside

Now comes the carding part, where all the rest of the crud comes out of the fleece, and the wool actually starts to look fluffy and nice. Here’s a loaded cat brush:

After some brushing:

And here is the rolag, all fluffy and pretty.

I plan to comb the nicest bits, so that the fibres are even more in line, but I will mention here that I always roll across the carder, not down, so my rolags, although small and from cat brushes, are not all jumbled up. (closer to top than to roving). Not having actually known the difference before, it startled me to think that anyone would WANT the fibres jumbled, but that gray stuff I showed you back at the beginning is roving, and it does indeed spin a nice springy yarn, even if it is a bit skinny and weird.

I even started spinning that rolag above, just to show you, but I made the camera work pretty hard today, and I don’t think it’s speaking to me right now. You’ll have to wait for that. In the meantime, here’s that purple mohair I was talking about yesterday:

Well, you can see the color, anyway. And here, for the romantics in the crowd, is a slightly better picture of that dress: