How To Wash A Wool Fleece

I was recently given a huge bag of fleece to try my hand at processing. I’ve never washed a fleece before, and TenGoodSheep‘s tutorial looked like a pretty risk-free way to start (because it’s very unlikely that I could felt a fleece in cold water.)

I started by spreading out half of the fleece and picking out all the large manure tags, leaves, and too-dirty-to-wash wool.

raw fleece.jpg

Next, I used the hose to fill up a Rubbermaid with cold water, and submerged the fleece.

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Almost as soon as the wool touched the water it started releasing dirt and all sorts of murky nastiness. I let it soak each time for at least 10 minutes before I dumped it out and refilled the Rubbermaid. I think I dumped and refilled at least 3 times, probably more like 4 or 5, until I was happy with the cleanliness of the wool.

You can see the difference in between each soaking in this photo.

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After the cold soaks there was a major difference in the dirt level of the fleece, but it still felt greasy because the lanolin hadn’t been removed. The purpose of the cold soaks was just to remove all the dirt, and the next step is using very hot water to melt out the lanolin.

Here’s some of the raw fleece and cold soaked fleece for contrast. Quite a difference…

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The water needs to get above 140 degrees in order to melt the lanolin, and my tap water doesn’t get that hot. At first I tried running hot water from the bath into my Rubbermaid and supplementing it with a pot of boiling water, but that didn’t get hot enough. Then I tried boiling a pot of water, adding a spoon of dishwashing soap, and letting the wool soak for 20 minutes. That worked beautifully, and left the wool almost lanolin free. The only problem with that method is that it would take so much time to heat up one pot at a time on the stovetop.

So, I borrowed a friend’s turkey fryer! I can do it outside and avoid heating up the house, and it gets so much more done that doing it on the stovetop.

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After the wool is cooled, rinsed, and dried I started the process of getting the clean wool into a usable form. I had read somewhere that putting a fleece in the dryer on Air Fluff helps get the very small veg matter out, and because this fleece had a lot of that, I decided to try it. It did help, but the real secret to getting the veg matter out is using the hackle. It really opens up the lock structure and allows the dust and veg to fall out, plus it removes all the short, neppy fibers.

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And then I ran it through the drum carder a few times, (another step which helps remove veg junk), and now have a lovely, spinnable batt! I still have to finish processing the rest of the fleece, so I will have quite a few more batts when I’m done.

batt

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Heathered Pink Angora Yarn

My friend gave me about 4 oz of grey English Angora fiber to spin that she had been saving from her rabbits. She doesn’t spin, but is an avid knitter, so she was looking forward to knitting with her own fiber.

I hackled the fiber to sort out all the short bits, neps, and hay, and was left with about 1.7 oz of prime fiber. She asked for pink in the batts, so I used 2 different shades of pink Tussah silk, and dyed some merino/silk blend top to layer in the batts.

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I spun and 2-plied the batts into about 180 yards.Although I love the softness, I don’t care for Angora’s tendency to bloom and shed, so I spun the singles with a very high twist so that the loose ends have a harder time escaping the yarn.

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Prisma Loop Scarf – Naturally Dyed Yarn

Remember the Wensleydale wool I dyed with pokeberries and cochineal back in the fall?

batts

Once I carded it I then spun it into a 153 yd Navajo ply yarn.

 

But then I had to decide what to make with the yarn! I knew I wanted a pattern that would really highlight the gradient, so after trawling the Ravelry in search of a pattern I settled on the Prisma Loop, an Infinity scarf pattern. I got sidetracked a few times to knit last-minute gifts, so it took a while to finish but I finally did!

 

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It turned out the perfect length to wrap around my neck twice. I did a crochet provisional cast-on, so when I finished knitting I unraveled the cast-on and grafted the stitches together to make a loop. And the coolest part was that when I made the batts, the last one ends in the same deep plum color that it begins in, so when the loop is formed the colors line up seamlessly.

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Golden Pear Hat

I’ve just finished up a cute little hat for a friend’s baby.

hat 1

It was a bit difficult to get started – I ripped it out and started over about 4 times, but once I got going it went pretty quickly. I love doing stranded colorwork – I want to try doing some more complex patterns in my next project.

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The pattern is Golden Pear by Melissa Thomson.

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How To Dye With Pokeberries

This summer one of my goals was to start doing natural dyes. I am quite comfortable with synthetic dyes, but have never really done natural dyeing – I felt intimidated by the “long and unpredictable process.” Well this summer I finally tried it, and I am finding it so much more satistfying than synthetic acid dyes! The process is somewhat unpredictable, but it is not long, and I am finding that the unpredictability is the fun part.

I was looking forward to when the pokeberries ripened so I could get some nice bright colors to dye with. We have an untamed section in the backyard that many pokeberries grow in, so I had a readily available source of dyestuff. The Pokeweed plant is very common here in Connecticut.

poke berry, poke weed, pokeweed plant, pokeweed bush, poke berry plant for dyeing
The dye recipies that I found called for a 25:1 ratio of pokeberries to fiber! I didn’t even come close to that but my dyes turned out well –  I’ll have to see how lightfast they are though.

My very inexcact recipie is this:

  • 2 – 3 Ibs pokeberries, without stems
  • 3 or so quarts of vinegar
  • I used about 2.5 ounces of wool

The first step is to collect the pokeberries – and you’ll want to wear gloves. I didn’t, and got purple juice all over my hands that wouldn’t wash off. (isn’t that the point of a dye?) I froze the berries in between gathering sessions until I had enough. Next you will need to pluck all the ripe berries off the stems – it’s tedious, but the resulting dye is worth it.

Now you that you have enough berries, you can start mordanting your fiber – if you want to be technical you can weigh your berries and use a 25:1 ratio of berries to fiber to find out how much fiber to mordant. I just threw in as much fiber as I wanted to risk in an unknown dye, and my risk level was about 2.5 ounces of wool.

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The mordant is a half and half ratio of white vinegar to water. It took about 6 quarts of liquid to cover my wool in the pot, so I used 3 quarts of vinegar and 3 quarts of water. I heated it on low heat for roughly 4 hours. You could use a Crock-Pot for a nice long mordant. (a Crock-Pot is also useful for a long dyebath; I have a dedicated crock to use in my pot.)

After the mordanting was done, I thawed my berries and had the bright idea to mash them up in a seive so I could lift them right out of the pot without having to strain it. Not so bright… I had to pour water though the packed down berries to get as much dye out of them as I could. And I ended up straining it twice anyway. There wasn’t very much juice, so I used the mordant water to have enough. Make sure to use the mordant water unless you want to waste another 2 quarts of vinegar.

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Now I added the wool to the dyebath and heated it at medium high heat, but not simmering or boiling, for about an hour and a half. I let it sit overnight with no heat and took the wool out to dry and drain in the morning.

Make sure you rinse it really well after you take it out. A lot of dye rinsed out when I did, but the color of the wool didn’t really change. It must be residual dye hanging on to the fibers, but not absorbed into them.

Here is the dyed roving… I spun some of the darkest roving into a 100 yard 2-ply. I carded the roving into batts to be able to spin it because it had felted slightly in the dyebath or mordant.

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hand dyed yarn, hand spun yarn, how to dye with pokeberries

Here is some batts I carded out of the pokeberry fiber and some other roving I dyed with cochineal. I want to spin a gradient yarn with them.

batts

From Bunny To Yarn

I finished my first real yardage of Angora yarn! I made my first weaving project, a scarf. Here is the yarn- a lot of time and effort has gone into it!
I blended a 75% alpaca to 25% angora mix, from my French Angora buck, Andre. This yarn has taken most of the summer and fall of 2014 to prepare for – I custom made a hackle to blend the fiber on, harvested the fiber from Andre, I waited until the Rhinebeck festival to get the alpaca, I blended, spun, Navajo plied and steamed the yarn, warped the loom, and now I’m finally using it!

Here are pictures of the process.

Andre, the wool producer

french angora rabbit, chocolate tort rabbit, angora rabbit

My custom hackle- here I’m blending the alpaca and angora to spin.
custom made hackle, hand made hackle, fiber hackle, fiber hackle for sale Here is the finished yarn- Navajo plied, roughly 250 yards.

angora yarn, french angora rabbit, rabbit fur, rabbit wool, angora rabbit yarn, hand spun yarnThen I steamed the yarn, warped the loom, and started weaving!

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I finished the scarf with a technique called hemstitching, which ties off the ends of the woven piece and gathers the warp into groups of fringe.

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And here is the finished scarf!

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angora scarf, hand woven, womens gifts, what to buy for mothers day, easter, hand made scarf, hem stitching, angora scarf Thanks for reading!

A New 10″ Hackle

Recently I made a new hackle (much larger than the first one) to blend wool on. I used 6 cake breaker heads on this one for 2 pitch hackle with a working length of about 10 inches.

 custom hackle, diy hackle, maple wood hackleWe used a nice chunk of maple wood for the base.

2 pitch hackle, fiber prep hackle, double row hackleWe made custom clamps to hold the hackle to my desk. I was pretty excited about these clamps; they look so much nicer than bar or C-clamps. They are made from a 3/8 square U-bolt cut in half. That bolt is at this link: http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/national-hardwarereg%3B-2192bc-675-square-u-bolt-zinc

We also picked up 2 each of 3/8 washers and wing nuts for each clamp. We used 2 pieces of oak wood for the clamps’
pads
custom clamps

custom clamp

It works wonderfully for blending. I’ve been using it to mix some alpaca/angora to spin.

fluffy hackle This hackle cost about $38 to make. Some of the supply costs are listed below, in case you are interested in making your own hackle.

  • 6 cake breakers – $30
  • Square U-bolt, washers and nuts – $6
  • Maple wood – Free

We had the wood and epoxy on hand, and we also had the tools, such as a router, various saws, a power sander and a drill.

Thanks for reading!