Posted 05-04-2003 at 17:08:32
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Okay, guys, I go to Maryland to pick up yet another spinning wheel and find out ya'll been talking about me! ;-)
Not 'xactly in the city (although I work in lovely Newark...yuck!): I'm in the suburbs at the edge of what's left of the country in NJ. So, close enough for friends to have sheep, but none of my own (yet!). I do shear, though!
Having several very nice new raw fleeces which arrived recently, I will be getting washing underway soon. I know some people use the washing machine method; having seen the color that the wash water turns when a fleece is first submerged, I personally can't bring myself to use the washing machine that then will be used for clothes.
We have an extra bathroom that was an add-on and which no one uses the tub or shower in, so that has become the wool preparation room. I've also used the kitchen sink. Fill the tub/sink with water as hot as you can stand to have your hands in; when almost full, use 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid (hey, it get's the grease out!). Ivory Soap Flakes are good, too, and make the wool smell like baby blankets. Submerge as much of the picked, skirted fleece as will fit in the tub/sink and let soak for at least 1/2 hour. Don't swish, agitate, or otherwise handle roughly or you will have a tub full of felt!
When it looks like the dirt is coming away, remove in portions, gently squeezing out as much water as possible. I have a clean Rubbermaid tub handy to put the wet wool into. Drain tub and rinse; refill with water and soap and let soak again.
A note: if you are washing a really greasy fleece, like Merino or Rambouillet, you need to add 1/4 cup of soda ash to the water to help cut the grease. Just wear rubber gloves if you do this, as you may burn your hands if sensitive.
Two washings it usually ample; you will need to rinse two or three times to get all the soap and dirty water out. When everything is drained and rinsed, I put a wooden clothes drying rack into the tub if cold out, or outside if nice, and hang handfuls of the fleece to dry.
Depending on the breed, the wool may or may not need to be picked prior to carding (and I'm supposing that you bought a drum carder, not an electric carder!). Breeds like Border Leicester have a more tightlocked fleece which needs to be teased apart in order to get a smooth card. I have a Romney drying right now and the tips will need to be picked open but the rest is pretty loose.
I do have a drum carder and use it for the medium to coarse wools. The nicer ones like Shetlands all go out to Utah to a lady named Lynn Rosa who runs Spinderella's; she has a commercial carder and sends everything back as balls of roving, rather than batts -- makes it even easier to spin from. Lynn will card as little as one pound of wool; she also recards "thrums" -- the excess yarn from warping a loom -- back into spinnable fiber. She will wash a fleece, as well, but you need to reserve in advance for this service!
Also, the woman I bought my newest wheel from gave me wool which was processed at the CCV Wool Mill, RD #2, Avella, PA. They will do smallish quantities, but not sure yet how small. She said that they washed for her.
Let me know if you need further info and feel free to email offline. I've worked with pretty much all breeds and all fibers at this point, and if I don't have the answer, usually know where to find it!
There is a good article about washing wool here on the Northwest Weavers Guild site.