Washing Icelandic Wool Fleece

There is something incredibly cool about being knowing how to work wool from being a heap of freshly shorn fleece to a finished garment.  After I learned to spin I was only missing the first link (apart from the actual sheering).  I bought fleece from two sheep this spring when I was  doing the course on spinning.

I knew they would be rather smelly and dirty and that washing it would require the bathtub for a couple of days at least.  So it's been sitting in a plastic bag (not the best storage) in the garage because hubby wouldn't like it at all if I barred him from the bathtub for days.  But this weekend I found myself alone in the house and out came the fleece.

I don't mind the smell.  It's actually kind of nice.  Very farm-y, if you know what I mean.  But perhaps not a smell one would want on a garment.

The fleece was even dirtier than I expected and didn't really know if I could get it white nor was I hopeful that I could get rid of that farm-y smell using only water.

I had only gotten verbal instructions from my spinning teacher about how to wash the wool, so I searched the internet to get some more viewpoints.

Most people seem to use soap or detergent, but since my teacher only uses hot water, I decided to stick to her method and see if that worked.  I do have to admit that using stale urine sounds awsom and it probably is the best method.  It was used traditionally here, as well as in many (if not most) other countries, to get the wool really nice and soft.  It does make sense to a soapmaker that an alkali (the stale urine) and oil (the lanolin, although it is more of a wax than an oil) would make some sort of soap and therefor it should work quite nicely.  Something that I'm sure to try at some point.  Right now the collection and storage is a bit of a problem.  I need to negotiate with hubby about where I might put a collection container.

My biggest worry was that the wool would become felted by too much movement, but since I wasn't using soap I just decided to go for it.  Wool can take quite a bit of heat without felting, it just doesn't like sudden changes in temperature.

The washing is quite straight forward, but takes a bit of effort and time.

I filled the bathtub with 50°C / 120°F hot water and gently pushed a big chunk of fleece into the water.  I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then drained the filthy water.  I found it easiest to do that by putting the wool on a wooden thingy (it used to be a playpen, but I made a dog-gate with one part of it).  Then I filled the bathtub again with some more hot water, slightly cooler this time.  I think I did this four times in all or until the water was running pretty clear.  I let the wool sit overnight to drain and dry.

By the next morning it was quite dry, at least it was far from dripping.  So I hung it up on a coat hanger to dry completely.  It made a nice sculpture by the stairs for a while.  It seemed a shame to take it down.  I had some more hanging in the garage.  That was quite a lot of wool, and I only washed the cleanest bits from the middle.  So I still have quite a bit of wool in a black plastic bag in the garage, ready for the next time hubby is away overnight.

After drying the wool, I needed to separate the coarse outer hairs (tog) from the softer undercoat (þel) and that is done simply by pulling the long silky hairs from the coat.  The texture of the two is quite different, the outer hairs are very long and shiny, almost like human hair.  While the softer inner wool is lovely and nice and soft.

Since I didn't use soap there is still quite a bit of lanolin left in the wool and that makes it very nice to touch and lovely to spin.  I intend to spin some of it like that and leave it un dyed and make something nice out of it.  Preferably something that I would wear next to my skin.  The lanolin really is the nicest moisturizer and to imagine wearing a garment that contains a natural moisturizer.  What could be more luxurious.


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