Wool Washing and Preparation – Part I

I am writing a few articles for my first year of the Master Spinner program through Olds College outlining basic wool preparation and spinning techniques. Below are the first couple topics that I thought might be of interest to the spinners who frequent my blog and my twitter pals. -Kate

Methods of Wool Washing Prior to Spinning

Before spinning from a raw fleece, the fleece should be washed to remove impurities such as dirt, suint (sheep sweat) and grease if these are present in large quantities. It’s not necessary to remove all grease (lanolin) prior to spinning, and some spinners see it as an asset to have a small amount of grease left behind in the wool to add an element of water resistance to the finished object. It is necessary to remove all grease prior to dyeing, though, as the lanolin prevents dye from penetrating the yarn and acts as a barrier.

To remove impurities from a fleece while leaving some grease behind, soak the fleece overnight in cold water, and then with a half-hour soak in tepid water. Do not add detergents. Prepare the grease fleece and spin. It is also possible to remove suint and dirt after the fleece has been spun into yarn, though this is more difficult.

To remove all impurities and lanolin from a fleece, heat and detergent is required. Water must be at least 48°C to melt and dissolve lanolin. Detergent is required to encapsulate the lanolin and prevent it from settling back onto the wool.

To scour a fleece:

It is much easier to effectively scour a smaller amount of fibre.

  1. After having skirted the fleece (removed the dirtiest and grassiest portions, most often found on the belly), soak a portion of it in water hotter than 43°C without detergent.

  2. Before the water has cooled, and the lanolin has reattached itself to the fibres, drain the water.

  3. Prepare a bath of water above 48°C and a suitable amount of detergent. (Finer wool has more lanolin than coarse wool, and therefore requires more detergent.) Add the fibre to the bath after having shut off the tap to prevent excessive agitation and felting. Do not let the water run directly onto the fibre.

  4. Rinse the water in at least two more fresh water baths of the same temperature to remove the remaining detergent. The same temperature is required to prevent shocking the fibres and felting the wool.

  5. Repeat the above steps for the remaining portions of fleece.

Dip washing is another method of removing lanolin while preserving the integrity of the lock and the natural alignment of the fibres for preparation in worsted spinning. To dip wash, arrange wool locks onto a screen, roll the screen and secure. Continue with the steps for scouring, paying attention to the orientation of the locks. Repeat the steps as necessary to remove all grease and detergent.


Wool Processing Equipment

Hand carding: Hand carding is a method of combing, blending fibres and aligning them in the manner desired for woollen or worsted spinning. It also aids in cleaning, in that vegetable matter falls down between the fibres as they are carded. Fibres are passed from one card to the other by using a gentle brushing motion, being careful not to interlock the tines on the equipment. Once the fibres are sufficiently blended, a woollen rolag is made by rolling the fibres on the card from the bottom to the top towards the handle. It is then spun from one end, trapping air in the yarn and creating woollen yarn. A worsted sausage is created by rolling the fibre from one side of the card to the other, aligning the fibres. It is then pulled apart slightly to help it hold its shape and is spun from one end, creating a worsted yarn.

Flick carding: Flick carding is a method used to tease and separate fibres while maintaining the structure of a lock, making it easier for the spinner to draft. One hand holds the lock while the other pats the flick carder into the spinner’s lap, lightly tugging the fibres apart, loosening any vegetable matter stuck to the fibre. These locks are then spun worsted. Teasing by hand is another method of accomplishing all of this, although because the fibres have then been scrambled, this is a technique best used if one were to spin woollen.

Hackles and diz: Hackles are large combs mounted to tables, used in fibre and color blending. The fibres are brushed through the combs in layers. A diz (small disc with a hole) is then used to pull the fibres into uniform roving for easy drafting and spinning worsted.

Wool Combs: Wool combs are used in much the same way as hand cards are, though they are more useful in de-hairing and combing fine fibres that may otherwise be damaged by hand cards.
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I focused mostly on hand-processing techniques and therefore didn’t touch on the subject of drum carding.
Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to outline or clarify. 🙂 I’ll go into further detail next time about the woollen vs. worsted spinning techniques.

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