June 4, 2008

Washing and Dying Wool

For my final needlefelt class tomorrow, I needed more dyed wool hair colors. We clothe the people we've sculpted of wool and add the hair. Then we're done.

Since I gave most hair colors I had left to my daughter-in-love, I had to dye more, which meant I had to clean more wool - more precisely goat mohair.

I finally said "yes" to my friend Marty's daughter's request that I take her sheared goat wool. I kept saying "no" because for spinning, I only like to deal with fairly clean wool. The people I buy fleeces from have their sheep wear canvas jackets all year. But when I finally said "yes", I saw how curly like hair it is. But OH how dirty!!!!!

For years I wash my wool in bags I've made of nylon screen replacement for doors and windows, and then in the washing machine. I fill the machine with very hot water and 1/2- 1 cup Dawn dish soap depending on the wool. BUT, you don't let the machine agitate!!!!!!!! I just periodically push the bags around in the soapy water with a long handled spoon or dowel. Then let the machine spin the water out. I do this several times depending on how dirty, ending with a rinse one. Then I lay the wool on a sheet on my back deck in the sun to dry.

This morning I took four of the bags, leaving some natural, and dyed four color batches. BUT, remember I said it was so dirty? I barely touch the stuff, only to put it in the bags. Once done, like tomorrow night at class, they will have to pick out the grass, and yes, poop. But I tell them it's clean grass and poop! Actually, it's mainly grass!

Info 1: when wool is scratchy? Yes, some sheep varieties are scratchy, but those are usually used for tapestries and rugs. That poop and grass? Factories use intense chemicals to leach out the poop and grass and weed burrs ... and it also rips away the natural lanolin and elements that make most wools soft.

Info 2: Itchiness in some wools, like: llama, and breeds that have 'guard hairs'. In the cleaning, if a company or person doesn't eliminate the guard hairs from the soft wool, they tend to work out of the spun fiber and have ends that 'poke'.

Info 3: Some sheep breeds have adapted to their environment - evolved! Like the Navajo sheep hardly have any lanolin at all. Lanolin takes a lot of washing to tone it down (you do want some left), but if too much lanolin stays in, it gets tacky like hairspray. In the desert where water is scarce, the people use the dye process to both clean and dye the wool in one batch.
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