Experiments in Raw Fleece – Let’s Talk Soap

Soap has been on my mind a lot these past few weeks. My internet search history would lead one to believe that I was either a germophobe on the war path, or somebody with a lot of farm animals. But no, I’ve just been a googling fool when it comes to what works best to get all my lovely raw fleece clean. I even started drilling down into things like chemical composition and MSDS sheets to tell you the truth.

All my searching came up with several options – four of which seem to be the standard in the world of at home fleece washing – Dawn dish washing liquid, Unicorn Power Scour, Kookaburra Scour, and Orvus Paste.

What I did first was start looking for Unicorn Power Scour – it seemed to be the most highly recommended, and being my first foray into fleece washing I wanted the right tool for the job. Much searching later, and I found that for a 16 oz bottle I could either get it from the States (with shipping tags in the $25-$45 US range) or from a (very) few sellers in Canada where the shipping was not much better. With our dollar the way it is, and with Canadian shipping what it costs, at the minimum, I’d be spending the same or more than what the product costs as on the shipping, effectively doubling my price. When I broke it down to how much I’d go through (9 lbs of fleece in my possession now, with another 2-4 fleeces coming my way), it became impractical to spend that much.

Also, just a general life rule, I refuse to spend the same or more on shipping than the product I’m purchasing costs. I hate the idea and I’m stubborn and refuse to do it.

Friesian Fleece all laid out in the garage.

So, I jumped to Dawn, which is the easiest and cheapest to get. Normally I don’t go for the cheapest option (it’s usually the cheapest for a reason), but I was just itching to start washing this fleece, and a lot of people do seem to swear by it, so what the hell, I figured I could always just use it for dishes if I didn’t like it.

I grabbed a few handfuls of fleece – just enough to test the waters, so to speak, and see what the process was like.

Now, there are a lot better how-tos on the internet than what I could possibly write out here since I have the barest minimum of knowledge when it comes to fleece washing, so I’m going to forgo that (scroll to the bottom to check out the links that helped me), so rather than how-to, I’m going to talk more about my experience.

Dawn was… OK. It did, eventually, get my fleece clean and the lanolin out – and the fleeces I’m working with are extremely clean to begin with. I did two scours, and then four rinses just to get all the suds out. I was hyper aware that the water would suds up, and even barely moving the locks in the water at all produced quite a bit of sudsing that I found cumbersome to rinse. I can see how using Dawn for smaller amounts of fleece would be a reasonable thing to do for processing a few pounds a year – but I’m looking at twenty plus pounds this year alone, and that amount of rinsing wasn’t going to be practical for me.

I also looked at just how much Dawn I had to use on the small amount of fibre I was processing – it came out to a little shy of a full cup at 50C degree water and about two 10L washes. Taking that into account, it wasn’t really cheaper than any of the other options. It wouldn’t take long to go through a whole lot of Dawn.

7.5 lbs of Orvus Paste

So, scrapping the Dawn, and not being able to acquire Power Scour at a reasonable price point with the shipping, time to find my next soap.

Kookaburra seemed like the next option, but again, with shipping and even fewer sellers than Unicorn, that ruled that out almost immediately.

Which leaves Orvus. Fortunately, I live in a province that has a lot of agriculture and ranching (a lot). I thought I’d be able to find some in the city (we have a few tack shops not far from me), but no, I’m a bit too urban for that. Fortunately, my mom the hero lives more rurally, and hit up a local farm shop on her way into the city. For less than $60, I got my hands on the most giant bottle of Orvus paste ever, which should last me not only the twenty or so pounds I have planned for this year, but will probably outlive me.

Despite the fact that Orvus Paste says “not for home use” in big bold letters, it is sold for cleaning handmade quilts, and says right on the bottle it’s a good wash for home delicates (mixed messages, much?). What Orvus Paste is actually sold for is for washing horses and cows down, so it’s good at cutting grease and the lanolin on raw wool.

Orvus does have a lathering agent (that’s the sodium lauryl sulfate it says right on the bottle), and it does suds up, but with minimal movement there are fewer, and less dense suds. The other bonus is, it doesn’t leave a scent on my wool like Dawn – when I pulled the second sample scour out with the Orvus, all I had left was a clean sheepy smell, which I love.

I did have to do less rinsing, and I definitely used less actual soap. I did two scours, for a total of 3 tbsp of paste, and then three rinses but I know I could have gotten away with two in all likelihood.

So just practically, since Orvus uses less water and less soap, that’s the one for me. Which is really good news considering I bought so much before I had even tried it. There are a few places online you can purchase smaller amounts (Maiwa in Vancouver is one) if you’d like to try Orvus before getting a huge amount like I did (or if you don’t have access to farm supply shops).

I was going to go over the specifics of how I washed my samples in this post – what I did, water I used, how much soap, etc. I talked about that a bit above, but since this post is already a small novel, I’m going to split that and have that be an upcoming post. I learned quite a bit even just between the first and second sample scours, so I’ll go into all of that in a bit more detail in a new post. Stay tuned!


Lessons Learned
    Preserving the lock – that’s pretty important if I want to prep the way I planned. So definitely pay more attention to that.
    A little Orvus goes a long way.
Helpful This Week

New Pattern Release: Vestiges of Winter

Vestiges of Winter was designed while watching the snow fall, hoping winter was finally on its way out and spring is just around the corner.

Designed to be a quick and easy knit, this toque was made with handspun in mind, but works equally well with commercial yarns. It can be knit in a few hours, and is perfect for gift and charity work, or to use up partial balls of colour you have left over from other projects.

Using Fair Isle knitting, this hat is an easy introduction to this technique for knitters looking to branch out and experiment.

Check out the pattern page here, and head on over to Ravelry here.

I’m pleased as punch to offer this pattern for free until midnight on April 4th (MST).

Experiments in Raw Fleece – Sourcing The Goods

I’m nothing if not enthusiastic about something I really love, and I love spinning. Honestly, I can’t give you a good answer why I waited so long to get back into it, and I’m rather lamenting the lost time, but that’s OK. I’m back in it now, and I’ve been spinning fast and furiously, getting myself re-familiarized with the techniques.

But this is really what I want to talk about in this post. A whole lot of fleece.

A few weeks ago I was searching around, looking for some fleece from a local sheep farm. I’m not just interested in the whole spinning process – from prep to finished yarn – I’m also interested in finding local sources for my supplies. I’d to tell you that I’m incredibly high minded, and espouse a bunch of rhetoric about how that’s just better, but the fact of the matter is, I just like finding stuff as local to me as I can. I like being able to meet the folks that run it, I like ensuring the quality that I’m getting, and I like to save shipping costs as much as possible. There’s a whole big discussion to be had about local versus non-local, but maybe not on this blog (it’s a really big discussion, and as things so often are, there’s no simple answer for everything).

But I digress.

Raw Merino/Romney wool

So I started searching around, and my first find was a farm with a flock of Tunis sheep, but they had already sheared and sold all their wool, so that one was a bust (although they were very nice and told me to contact them in mid-February next year before shearing so I can get a fleece).

Then I happened upon an ad online, advertising wool from a Merino/Romney flock. I was a little worried that they had already sold off all their fleece, but I was in luck! Trickle Creek Farms, about six hours northwest of me, had a selection of Merino/Romney cross and Friesian fleeces still for sale.

And more in luck – they were heading my way soon and offered to meet up with me to grab some fleece from them.

Raw Friesian wool.

Fast forward to March 23rd, and I got to meet a lovely bunch of folks and acquired my full Merino/Romney fleece, and half a Friesian fleece. I knew I wanted the Merino/Romney for sure when I contacted them originally, but I was really pleased to see they had another breed I could try out as well. Everything I found online indicated that the wool is almost never used, since Friesians are primarily used for milk, but let me tell you, it feels quite soft (even still somewhat dirty and with all the lanolin still in). I’m really excited to see how it spins up.

The fleeces are really lovely – very clean (considering they haven’t been cleaned at all), and nice strong staples. The Merino/Romney is about 3″ and the Friesian is about 6″.

It’s still a bit too cold here to start processing outside, so I’m planning on doing a smaller batch of processing (think a few grams of each) just to get a feel for the wool and the process.

Did I mention I have no idea what I’m doing?

I hope to do the washing this week, so hopefully by next Sunday I’ll have a very small batch of washed fleece to show you, and if I’m feeling particularly industrious, maybe a small sample spun up.


Lessons Learned
    Start contacting farmers in later January or early February to get in on the fleece – shearing happens earlier than I thought
    Give every fleece a try – it might surprise you
Helpful This Week

As an aside, I plan on listing out these lessons & what has helped me this week at the end of these posts – just as a quick resource for anybody new to this whole process as well.

Let The Spin Party Begin

I’ve had a spinning wheel for some 10 years (or thereabouts) but I still consider myself a new spinner.

I originally received my Kromski Sonata as a birthday gift, and was ecstatic. I spun like crazy, and got reasonably good at it – I was able to spin relatively consistently, and I was getting the yarn I wanted.

Then, the unthinkable happened (queue dramatic music) – I suffered a truly ridiculous injury that caused some tendon and nerve damage to my wrist. Now, when I say ridiculous I don’t mean that it was trifling. I actually had to wear a brace for months, and had all sorts of doctors appointments and physio along with nerve testing (where they zap the nerves with electricity – that was fun). No, when I say ridiculous I mean I fell in a really dumb way, and if I hadn’t tried to grab something when I fell, it probably would have been, at most, a mild sprain.

So, that put the kibosh on spinning (and knitting for that matter) for a while. I took up the knitting again a lot faster than the spinning. The whole escapade was years ago at this point, but I didn’t start spinning again until just a few weeks ago.

And my god, spinning, how I have missed you!

Handspun natural brown alpaca – 226 yds of sport weight delight.

I felt like I had gotten to a pretty good point in my spinning before my sabbatical, but those skills have waned a bit, so I’m trying to re-learn techniques over again. But, I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I’m hell bent on getting back to where I was (and surpassing it, for that matter).

I have a bit of a longer game planned though.

I’ve also purchased two pounds (1 lb Corriedale and 1 lb Cheviot), not only to further practice on, but with the hopes of trying my hand at natural dyeing this summer.

I don’t recall exactly what sparked the interest, but a few weeks ago I decided that this would be my new project (and skill) to learn this summer. Actually, I’d get started now, but I find it easier to air dry hanks of yarn outside, rather than inside the house, and right now it’s -15C and snowing, so that’s not going to happen.

Some sport weight corriedale slated to be dyed.

I do have plans for starting some experiments soon though with colouring – I’ve enlisted family members to start collecting their onion skins, and I’ve started lists of plants I can start sourcing nearby.

My goal is to use plants I can get either locally, either from my garden or in the wild, or things I can get at the grocery store. I don’t plan to actually buy any specific natural dyes. This is partly because I’m cheap, but also the sourcing and experimenting with what I can find myself is something that gives me a bit of a thrill.

The end goal of all of this, the spinning and the dyeing, is to design some knits with these handspun yarns. I love the idea of completely creating something from scratch, and if I lived in the country you’d bet I’d already be looking at animal husbandry. Me living in the country will probably never happen (I’m just not a country person), but sourcing some fibre, spinning it, dyeing it, then designing something special that the yarn speaks to is a process that is really alluring to me.

Stay tuned – this will be a learning and experimental process for me as I go. I’ll be endeavouring to be quite thorough and take lots of notes, which I’ll be sharing here on the blog for those that might want to follow along and experiment themselves.

Pattern Release: Clovis Point Shawl

I’m very pleased to announce my newest release, the Clovis Point!

This is a top-down shawl, with instructions for two sizes (and easily adjusted to fit your desired measurement). Using a selection of cables, lace, and textured stitches, it provides interest while knitting, and creates a harmonious piece that can become an every day staple in your wardrobe. Pick one all over colour, or pick two, using the textured border as a highlight to the main body (the above images show it in Cascade 220 Sport in the Straw and Ginseng colourways).

I took my inspiration for this design from the forms of Clovis projectile points – slender fluted points that were used as spear and dart heads, dating to as early as approximately 13,200 years ago. Named after the city where they were first discovered – Clovis, New Mexico – these have actually been found as far south as Venezuela and all the way north into Alberta.

One of the things I love about archaeology is that you can see, in tangible form, the history of ideas taking shape and spreading. Often when I tell people that while I was in university that I had a particular interest in trade routes of North America, you can actually see eyes begin to glaze over.

But it’s not just stuff that gets moved around, it’s the ideas that come with it. Clovis projectile points are an excellent example – you can actually see a new method and technology begin, and through tracing where that technology ends up, you can see what culture connect with other cultures, and the ideas spread.

A Clovis projectile point isn’t just a spear head, it’s our shared history of learning and of our movement (physically and metaphorically) as a species, and that I find infinitely inspirational.

Click here to go to the pattern page or here to go to the Ravelry page, where you’ll find more info on sizes, yardage, and materials needed.

To celebrate it’s release, if you purchase the pattern anytime from now until February 12th (midnight MST) you automatically get 15% at check out (no coupon code required).