Experiments In Raw Fleece – Sample Scouring

Friesian Fleece laid out and ready for washing.

My first impulse with my fleeces was to grab the whole things, and just get washing. Do the actual cleaning all at once so I can get to the prepping which I am really excited to experiment with. I’m really excited about the wools I bought – the Friesian was a wonderful surprise, and the Merino/Romney is an absolute dream to the touch.

What I actually did though, was exercise some restraint (a minor miracle for me), and decided that I better do some test scouring first since, you know, I had no idea what I was actually doing with this whole raw fleece processing thing.

The first thing I did was test the temperature of my water at its highest point (just turning the hot tap on and letting the bucket fill). From everything I read lanolin loosens at around the 45C mark, and I wanted to make sure my water was hot enough. Thankfully, my water was at 50.2C coming out of the tap so I was good to go. Normally I don’t mind yarn with a bit of lanolin in it, but I have plans to do natural dyeing on the yarn I spin, so all lanolin (or at least the vast majority of it) has to come out so I can get good colour coverage.

Friesian Fleece after washing

I stuffed a few handfuls of the Merino/Romney and Friesian each in separate laundry bags, and filled up my tub with about 8L of that 50C water. I first tried Dawn, then Orvus paste, and then quickly decided that Orvus was the more practical and useful cleaning agent. I talked a lot about soaps in my last post over here, so click on over to read really in depth about that.

I did a total of three samples in two different washes. One batch of both breeds in Dawn, and then another batch of just the Friesian with the Orvus paste. The only thing I changed with both washes was how I actually loaded the fleece, and the soap.

The First Batch

Filling up my laundry bags with my samples was kind of a mess. I just took some handfuls and shoved them in without much thought as to keeping the locks nice and organized. My mistake – and I’ll talk about that a bit more below.

I filled my tubs with about 8L of water, squirted about half a cup of Dawn in, and then very carefully mixed it in, trying to prevent as much sudsing as I could (still got a lot of suds though, which I found frustrating when it came to rinsing). I let the samples sit in the water for about 15 minutes, dumped the water, filled up again with the same amount of water and soap, and did another scour (again for 15 minutes with about half a cup of Dawn in 8L of water)

After the second wash I was happy with how clean the water was. I will say here my fleeces are particularly clean – both breeds were jacketed flocks, and were skirted before getting to me, so they didn’t actually need that much hard scouring. Where most of my water usage came from was trying to get all the soap suds out. It took three additional washes of water, all at 15 minute soaks, to get the fleece suds free.

After the final rinse, I loaded them up in my washing machine and spun them dry. If you’re going to do this step make extra double sure that your machine doesn’t spray water during its spin cycle, otherwise you’ll get a felted mess.

After the spin dry, I took them out, and let them sit for less than a day and bam, I had dry clean fleece (I also live in a very dry climate, so air drying times are quite short for me as a rule).

They did have a soapy Dawn smell, which kind of covered up the natural clean sheepy smell that I love, so I wasn’t super excited about that. I know it seems like a weird thing to nit pick about, but there you have it.

The Second Batch

Frisian lock, second batch, trying to preserve the lock

I basically did the same thing for this batch with a few slight adjustments. My water, sample size, and washing time were all exactly the same. The two main differences were:

    1. I used Orvus Paste; and
    2. I tried to preserve the lock

For this batch I washed twice, although if I didn’t care so much about getting out all the lanolin I think one would have done it. For the first scour I used 2 tbsp of Orvus, and the second wash I used 1 tbsp, both in 8L water baths. I then rinsed twice, and followed the same path of spinning to dry.

I had read a few notes saying that the hand might be not quite as nice after washing with Orvus, but I didn’t notice a difference between Orvus and Dawn. The other bonus with the Orvus was no scent at all – what I had afterwards was a clean sheepy smell with no additional smells from the cleaning agent.

Preserving The Lock

I can tell already that this is going to be a learning curve for me. Lets face it, I’m probably not going to wash lock by lock, but I really want to preserve that structure as best I can. You can see in the second photo above in my first sample scour, without giving much thought to how you lay out your locks, you kind of get a hot mess at the end of all your washing.

So, for the second batch I laid out one layer of locks in my laundry bag, and pinned up the edges to give minimal movement to the locks while washing. It definitely worked better, but there will be more work to be done. I laid them out with the cut tips all facing in towards each other, and the outer tips facing the edges of the bag to allow maximum water movement around the dirtiest bits.

I think with more pinning, and actually putting more fleece in each bag the locks will be preserved even better.

Prepping for Spinning

Hand cards loaded with Friesian.

I love spinning worsted. My go-to form of spinning is short forward draw (inchworm) from a combed top. That’s what I plan to do with most of these fleeces, with some experimenting for woolen preps as well, which I’m less comfortable with (but I hope to change that).

I have hand carders, but no combs (which will be ratified sooner rather than later), so for the hot mess of the first wash I thought I’d trying carding my fibre.

I’m a bit out of practice with carding, so I’m not going to go too much into that here – there’ll be lots of blog posts down the line with how I’m doing that. I did card up some of the Friesian and try spinning, but I have a few other spinning projects on the go and didn’t really spend the time I should have on getting that right for spinning.

When I’m done my current spins, I’m going to focus on carding the Merino/Romney and I’ll spin up a sample, and post all about that here. Once I get my combs as well I’ll really get into the details of combing and carding and getting all that fibre prepped for spinning, and eventually dyeing.

I plan to get my tetanus booster and then go whole-hog with the washing, which is the reason why after my samples and now a good foundation of how I’m going to do this, I haven’t started washing more and more. Stay tuned for updates after I get that taken care of (can’t be too careful!) where I’ll be sharing more washing and prepping stories.

I feel like I’ve learned a ton already, and I have so much more to go. I’m finding the whole process really satisfying, and seeing through raw wool to knitted object is already proving to be a great experience for me.

Lessons Learned
    Take an extra few minutes to preserve the lock while washing to make combing easier when everything is dry.
    The dog is very useful to see if my fleece is properly cleaned – she goes nuts for the raw fleece in the garage, but if it’s cleaned enough at the end of the scouring process she’s totally disinterested.
Helpful This Week

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

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.