Washing Day

Since it’s still pouring buckets outside, I decided to wash Liam’s wool. Or, more accurately, start washing Liam’s wool. My bin-in-the-bathtub setup for wool washing was designed with Soay fleeces in mind, and Liam’s fleece is oh, about 5x the size of a Soay fleece. At least.

Disclaimer: If you came here from an internet search for any phrase related to “how to wash wool”, back away slowly and escape while you can. I’ve never washed a “good” fleece before, and I spent most of the process biting my nails and hoping I wouldn’t ruin it.

Also, bear in mind that I live in a house with warm light bulbs and creamy-yellow walls, so all the pictures I take indoors are yellow-tinted and I can’t do much about it.

First off, I filled a lingerie bag with what I blindly guessed to be an appropriate amount of wool. Enough to pretty much fill the bag without squeezing or compressing the wool. The wool was pretty fluffy, so there’s more air in there than it looks like.

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Then I set a bin in the bathtub and filled it with the hottest water out of the tap. I’m told this normally wouldn’t be hot enough, but our hot water heater is scalding hot. Then I poured in what looked to me like a good amount of blue Dawn, (just enough to make the water slightly blue) and swirled it around gently so as not to make suds. I then set the bag of wool in, and gently pressed it down to wet the wool. With a hairbrush, not my hand. See above statement about scalding hot water.

After 15 minutes-ish, I lifted the wool out, let it drain, and replaced the water.

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Yuuuuck, Liam! The wool didn’t look that dirty, but I guess it was. The suds are from letting the water in the wool drain back into the tub, I was actually pretty successful at keeping the detergent from sudsing up the wool.

Back into the fresh bath it went, for another 15-20 minutes. After the second soak, the water looked much cleaner.

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Still pretty dirty though, so I went ahead and washed it a third time. After the third bath, the wool still looked dirty but the water was almost perfectly clear, so I decided it was as clean as it was going to get and moved on to rinsing. There may be dirt left, but it’s clean dirt.

Rinsing is pretty much the same as washing, just without the detergent. Two rinses later, the detergent was all gone and it was time to transfer the wool to my super-fancy expensive drying rack.

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Mira says it looks suspiciously like a baby gate propped over the tupperware bin she used to sleep in. Obviously she’s a silly lambie who doesn’t recognise state-of-the-art equipment when she sees it. Usually I use a metal mesh table on the back porch, but it’s monsooning outside and the wool wouldn’t get very dry that way.

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And there’s the freshly-washed, not-ruined wool drying into pretty clouds of fluffy whiteness! There is still some vegetable matter, (also a few kernels of corn, which I do not understand at all. Liam must have been smuggling some snacks around with him.) but as far as I can tell the lanolin is all rinsed out, which is the major point of washing. Most of the remaining VM should fall out when the wool is carded and spun.

All in all, I feel like I’ve been pretty productive for such a rainy day!

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14 thoughts on “Washing Day

  1. What a great job! I wish my hot water would get that hot. The drying rack is fantastic and I would imagine Liam’s coat will dry quickly, even in the high humidity. Let us see how you process it too, please.

    • Well, the reason the hot water heater is turned up so high is because it’s a tiny little heater, so it runs out quickly. We have to run a tiny bit of scalding water into a lot of cold water to have enough warm water for everyone. I was worried I’d run out before the wool was clean, but apparently there was enough time for the tank to refill while the wool was soaking.

  2. I think you did a great job washing Liam’s wool. He should be pleased, and so should you. Any guess as to the post Dawn-and-hot-water weight?

    • No, but this is only a small section of the fleece. Maybe 1/5, maybe even less. I also forgot to weigh it before I started washing it (oops) so I’ll have to estimate % shrink when I do the other batches.

  3. Dear Sarah,
    Yep, that looks like Shetland wash water to me 🙂 Very yellow-brown with lanolin, even after two washes.

    I don’t bother with the mesh bag. I break up the fleece into locks, remove any giant VM (burrs, mostly), and then poke them into that tub o’ hot water gently. Water can get round all sides of the locks, which seems to help. When it’s time for the next water, I tip the tub and hold a hand to the edge and let the wool slide into it. Then I add new water and slide the wool back into the tub. My Shetland has yet to felt this way.

    If it should get damp indoors, putting a box fan — or a dehumidifier — near that excellent drying rack can speed up the drying.

    Miss Blueberry Muffin kitty *adores* wool. She will rub in it, climb in the wool basket, turn upside down and rolllllllll, pulling locks into her paws and playing with them in full kitty bliss :}

    Very best,

    Natalie

    • I’m used to using bags, because Soay fleeces don’t hold together very well and it’s a headache trying to fish loose, short staple wool out of the wash water.
      That’s a good idea about the fan. There’s a good strong breeze here right now, I may set it near an open window for a while before it starts raining… again…

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