Thursday, February 16, 2012


Today was my first transaction out of the back of a truck. It's a style of transaction I can see becoming more common in the future. After calling Bert and finding out that yes, he did indeed have some raw wool from his flock kicking around, we agreed to meet at the McDonalds parking lot. He had the foresight to ask what type of vehicle I'd be driving. I should have asked the same of him, but didn't. I sat in the parking lot for an anxious 12 minutes scanning each vehicle in case it might be his, and worried that I'd missed him. Turns out his last customer had been more chatty than usual. His gold toned suv pulled up beside my car, and Bert hopped out with a little smile on his face. I was grinning ear to ear, like a kid in the candy store. He handed me a big clear garbage bag full of fleece.
The fleece ranged from buttery yellow to almost orange. This means that the lamb produced a lot of lanolin, the natural grease produced in the skin that helps move dirt and debris along the hair and away from the skin. Theoretically, the lanolin should have picked up most of the dirt, and once that dissolves in a bath, the fleece should be pretty clean. Of course, there will still be bits of hay and chaff stuck in the fluff, but that apparently comes out when carded.
Bert told me that this wool is from an ewe lamb, and therefore softer and slightly finer than an adult sheep's wool. The lamb who gave me it's coat is a breed called Dorset. They are a pretty common meat breed of sheep, which makes sense because they make most of their income off lamb meat.
I paid the man 25 bones, and drove away, grinning like the cheshire cat with a stinky, greasy bag of fluff in the back seat of my brand new car.
I came home and inspected my fleece a little closer. I was afraid to try to lay it all out flat for fear of spreading bits of fuzz all over my bathroom and making a big mess shortly before having to leave for work. I did however pluck a "lobe" of wool out of the bunch to inspect.
This tells me that the staple length of the wool is about 3.5-4 inches, and the wool has a pretty light, even crimp all the way to the tip. The whitish part closest to my wrist was closest to the lamb's body, and the darker, dirty stuff towards my fingers was the outer ends of the coat. It should end up all being pretty much white.
Next I filled a rubbermaid tub full of hot water with a generous squeeze or three of dawn dish soap. You know, the kind they use on animals in oil spills? It'll help remove the greasy lanolin from the wool, without opening the scales of the wool which would encourage the locks to felt together. At this point, any agitation is a bad idea. Even without opening the scales, it doesn't make much to felt virgin wool.
Notice that I've put the tub on a towel before filling. If the place where you fill it up is not the same place it will sit to soak, a towel helps it slide along the floor. It's very heavy.

At this point, I should mention that you should ask for a general consensus of the people you live with before undertaking this project. Dirty wool is stinky. My tub of wool is NOT allowed to stay in the family bathroom, and I must admit my room smells like a barn. I must also admit that I kinda love that.

Already the wool is taking on more of a "buttered popcorn" colour, and I haven't even dumped out the first batch of water. Fortunately sheep excrement is largely water-soluble, and the poop liquifies and gets poured out with the bath water. A series of 5 baths will literally shine the shit right out of it.