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.

cold soak.jpg

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…

difference.jpg

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

Thanks for reading! Please follow my blog for more how-to and fiber related updates!

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.

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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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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

Poppy Felt Painting, Pt 2

Last time you saw the poppy field painting, there was almost no poppies in the field! Now I’ve finished the needle felting part, so I’ll post the photos of this process.

1118320-bigthumbnailMy reference photo

with fground poppies

Step 1

First, using needle felting, I blocked out the shapes of the big foreground poppies, and added shadow from the trees on the distant poppy field.
In retrospect I should have also filled in the bare white areas of the green field.

Step 2pt 2
Here I’ve needle felted shading and more detail to the foreground poppies, reconstructed the the top right corner and right side, and added the midground poppies.
You could also embroider red french knots for the midground poppies instead of needle felting them.

Step 3

pt 3Here I worked on the distant poppy field and hills on the left, adding a little shading, a few trees and defining some rows in the field.

Step 4

pt 4

Here I added poppies on the left side, added some green to the distant field, redirected the distant tree shadow, added a little lighter green to the dark trees, put some blue in the sky, and put some more poppies in the right side too.

Finished!

Thanks for reading my posts!
God Bless, Rebekah

First Post! – Felted Washboard Panel

Here is a wet and needle felted wool painting made to fit the wooden panel on top of a washboard. It’s a male and female cardinal, each sitting on its own post, on a snowy winter day. In a future post I’ll take photos through the process of making a felted painting, so keep checking back!