Saturday, April 30, 2011

This is How We Wash the Wool

Earlier this week I went out to the desert to visit my buddie Jeane of Elemental Affects.  Jeane makes gorgeous hand-dyed Shetland yarn.  The wool is from sheep raised in Montana, the mill that spins the wool into yarn is here in the U.S., and Jeane dyes the yarn in California, so the product is North American, start to finish.  If you like supporting local farmers and artisans, check out her yarn.  Check it out anyway, it's really wonderful.

My mission was to help Jeane wash a whole lotta Romney wool, which is going to become a big fluffy new yarn she will be introducing soon.  Mmmm, wait until you see it. 

It's hot in the desert.  Just saying.

I've done plenty of wool scouring, but nothing on the scale that Jeane does to produce her yarns and fibers.  This is what serious wool washing looks like:

1.  Transport

The first step was to get the raw wool from the storage shed to Jeane's studio.

We loaded two bales of fleeces onto a little trailer attached to a Honda ATV thingy and drove them to the studio.  Each bale weighs approximately 120 pounds.  They're heavy.  And I want one of those ATV thingies.  The bales were then manhandled off of the trailer and rolled into position in the studio.

2.  Skirt and Sort

Each fleece is removed from the bale and placed on a big screen, where it is skirted.  This is the process where large chunks of dirt, vegetable matter, and dung are removed from the raw wool.  Loose stuff simply falls through the large holes of the screen onto the floor. 

The fleece is examined, and any rough or otherwise undesirable sections are picked out.  Even wool that doesn't make the cut isn't wasted; Jeane sends most of the discards to someone who uses it to stuff dog beds.  Lucky dogs. 

3.  Weigh and Wash

The sorted wool is weighed out (about 4 lbs per basket) and brought over to the laundry area. 

Each basket of wool first goes into a tub of lukewarm water for a quick soak to remove excess dirt and dust.  Then it goes into to a second tub filled with 140F water and detergent to remove the grease. 

Desert + 140F water = Hot.  Just saying. 

The wool soaks in the soapy water and gets swished around a bit in a process Jeane calls "clapping":  the wool is pressed together from side to side to allow the detergent to penetrate to all areas of the wool (Romney is a slow felter so it can withstand some swishing and squeezing).  From the washing tub, the wool goes into the washing machine (filled with more 140F water) to be rinsed.  Note the heavy insulated rubber gloves:  140F water is hot.  Burning hot. 

4.  Dry

The rinse water is spun out, and then the wool is taken from the washing machine over to the drying racks and spread out in thin layers.  It's hot in the desert, so it doesn't take long to dry. 

5.  Play

Did I mention that it was HOT?  We called it a day by late afternoon, and Jeane showed me how to do this:

I acquired a beautiful old Gilmore loom several months back, and it's been waiting patiently for some attention since then.  Under Jeane's tutelage I finally learned how to use a warping board, and she gave me a lesson on getting the warp onto a loom.   

It was a fun trip, and I now have an increased appreciation for those in the fiber business, and the labor and love (and sweat) they put into making the beautiful yarns and spinning fibers we get to play with.   

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing. I've washed small amounts of fiber...noting like that! Such an interesting process.