Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fleece Washing as Inefficiently as Possible...

Oftentimes on the lists, there are folks asking lots of questions about washing fleece. Wonderfully experienced fleece washing folks answer them with admirable ways of washing fleeces at home.

My preferred method is actually sending out a fleece to the mill to be washed for me (usually by my husband) but sometimes I approach fleece washing in a hobbyist fashion ~ meaning my method is horribly inefficient, time-consuming, and something I do when I want to play with raw fleece. I also prefer to hand-wash my finer fleeces this way. If a fleece is really dirty or not super-fine or I don't want to maintain as much lock structure as possible, I send it out and for a few bucks a pound, I get back a clean fleece ready to dye, etc.

Fleeces I like to wash by hand are merino, mohair, blue faced leicester and some of the finer cross fleeces I've acquired lately, like the one I washed in my kitchen today. My best friend stopped by to chat and have some coffee and while we were chatting, I stood at the sink and leisurely washed a portion of a fleece, probably a little over a pound raw. I guess I should also mention that I don't normally wash an entire fleece this way, and if I do, it usually takes a couple of days.

I started out with a full paper grocery bag of some fleece that I actually sorted out of what I'd sent to the mill to be processed into roving. Its a corriedale/border leicester/lincoln cross and the stuff I kept was a bit of a shorter staple length than I wanted in the roving. It had a lot of crimp and was really greasy, but very very little VM. Perfect! So, my very scientific method of starting out is to grab a great big handful from the can see the amount here, in my standard sized stainless steel sink next to a small bottle of original blue Dawn. Not a whole lot, hence the inefficient label :) The whole mass is probably the same size as the bowl when it's dry.

Then, I get out one of the great big plastic bowls I bought at the discount store and squirt in a couple teaspoons of Dawn and super hot tap water. The bowl is sitting in the sink :)

I I then drop the gob of fleece on top of the sudsy water and use a spoon to press it through the soap suds into the water in the bowl. I do this really gently.

You can see the dirty water after pressing it down in the photo below. Actually, this isn't nearly as dirty as I've seen before.

I let it soak for a bit, but you don't want the hot water to cool much at all because if that happens, the lanolin can settle back into the fiber instead of coming away. I let it soak for about 5 minutes, then I pour it gently into the other side of the sink and wearing rubber gloves, gently squeeze out the dirty water. Then I fill the bowl with plain super hot tap water and drop the fleece back in, pressing it down into the clean water. You can see the water during the first rinse, which is kind of cloudy but not brown. This is pretty unusual...I usually have dirtier fleeces and they require a couple of Dawn soapy washes before rinsing. The time the fleece stays in the rinse is shorter than the wash...I really want to rinse away as much lanolin as possible in these steps and the hotter the water, the better that works.

I do the same thing...pour the fleece into the other sink, gently squeeze out the water and repeat. The last rinse is pretty much clear (I only had to rinse this twice, which was amazing to me!) It maybe could have used another rinse but I was satisfied with it. My tap water may not be hot enough to get out all the lanolin, but it's not really greasy either...I like the balance between a teeny bit of lanolin being left behind because the fleece is in no way dry or brittle at all ~ it feels really good!

I take the clean fleece and put it in the washing machine for a spin. At that point, out it comes onto the counter top where I thoroughly enjoy myself by shaking, fluffing and teasing ~ any remaining VM can be easily picked or shaken out during this time and the more I fluff and tease and shake, the faster it dries. I expect that it'll be dry before I have to get dinner ready, which is good since every inch of my counter space is covered in clean fleece :)

And that is how I spend many happy leisurely afternoons washing fleece. I have a real fear of felting the finer fleeces and while I know that using the washing machine to soak and spin and doing a whole bunch at once makes more sense to most folks, doing it this way leaves me with really clean, non-felted fleece.

I enjoy doing it this way when I have an afternoon or morning kind of free to just putz. If I don't have a friend to chat with, I can work on the computer or do some housework or laundry between rinses. By all means folks, feel free to be super-efficient master fleece washers but if you're anything like me and don't mind taking it easy...try this out! It's great if you don't have anyplace to dry an entire fleece at once too...just wash as much as you have room to spread out and finish the rest tomorrow :)


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Friday, February 16, 2007

Redeeming a Nasty Fleece...

Whoa...if you read my blog and have been sadly disappointed at my lack of posting, please accept my apologies! I've been working on a couple of team blogs ~ one is the Selfish Sunday Knitters which you may know about and the other is the UFO Knit Club...we'd love to have more team members so if you're interested, email me!

The pile of circus bright fiber above is part of a Shetland fleece that I purchased was not at all what I would have expected...much coarser than I liked and literally packed full of VM...PACKED! sigh...but, I sorted it out and sent the best parts out to the mill and it came back much nicer than I expected ~ not as soft as I want shetland to be but still really nice and not dirty. There's a bit of VM that pops right out in spinning. That was a relief and I can't wait to dye it! I took the matted, really coarse part that I skirted out and washed and shook and picked and then tossed it into the dyepot with a ton of different colors and out came this pile of crazy bright dyed fleece.

I proceeded to hand-comb the nasty dyed fleece:) This took me forever, but I finally finished it. It's now dead winter with about a foot of snow on the ground and the pile o' fleece pic is probably early fall on the deck! I ended up with a lot more birdsnests than what you see here...I spun a bunch before I remembered to take a photo.

Now, combing is a serious amount of work, there's a lot of waste in a fleece this nasty (more on that later!) and it's just shocking how much time I spent to get the resulting 88 yards of combed, spun fiber. ACK! But, the result of the combing was something sooooo lovely to spin...I was just enamoured of this combed top I made while I was spinning it!

The lesson I learned with this stuff is that you can get some very cool color blending done with combs (particularly when you have to comb and comb and comb....) The teal-ish birdsnest at far left is the result of just grabbing a handful of fiber with a lot of colors in it. It blended far more than I expected it to but still had some variation in color. The gold bit is the result of grabbing in a more "controlled" manner...meaning I just pulled a chunk of the lighter orange, which still had bits of the other colors in it but was more yellow orange than not :) Some of the colors that came out were totally unexpected but cool! But, even a small amount of another color in my handfuls yeilded a color that I oftentimes didn't expect at all, and the predominant color in the whole mess was a teal...the purple also tended to dominate as well. When the colors blend though, you do end up seeing one color at first glance but the depth is closer examination you start to see different threads of individual colors...very cool!

This is how the singles spun up...I put all the little birdsnests into a paper bag and just reached in and pulled them out at random, spinning whatever I ended up grabbing. The combed top was just so lovely and smooth and way silkier than I expected this wool to be...the spinning with combed fiber is just about effortless.

The bottom skein in the picture is what I ended up with from those singles. Not much yardage and I haven't weighed it yet. But, the waste (super fluffy in volume) about filled up a paper grocery bag and I didn't want to felt it and I didn't want to toss it. The top skein is the waste that I decided to play with and spin.

The combing waste...nasty nasty nasty! But, I thought I'd try to spin it up. Hey...I don't take my spinning too seriously and this stuff was bright and I'm easily amused so what the heck? I just grabbed handfuls, didn't try to draft and ended up with great huge slubs in the singles, which I actually plied into this massive bulky neppy, gnarly stuff. I wouldn't recommend it for a garment, that's for sure! And that whole bag of waste ended up being only 30 yards of super bulky weird yarn.

My plan was to felt it but there isn't enough to felt anything except maybe a coin purse, which is fine :)

The ball shows the singles before plying and the bottom photo is the plied yarn. The skinny photos show the singles in progress...ick, right?
I need to take both skeins to work and weigh them today to find out the ratio of good spinnable fiber to waste fiber from combing the nasty skirted out parts of the fleece. The skirting I had to do wasn't skirting out tags, etc. It was skirting out the coarse, matted, VM loaded part, which was probably neck wool.

All in all, this was a fun day of playing at the wheel :) I adore the combed yarn I came up with and have decided that combing is so worth the effort because what you end up with is pretty seductive.

This weekend, I hope to blog about some hand-dyed and spun wool/silk "crack" fiber that I've been playing with and some awesome Lincoln locks I dyed up for the shop/website :) Thanks for checking out the Nasty Fleece Redemption and I hope it inspires you to take out something less than perfect and see what it can become :)

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