Scouring In Bulk


When someone says the word “scour” I think of pulling out a scrubby and some cleanser (like Comet or Ajax) and going after that grungy kitchen sink.  The word “scour” involves elbow grease of a serious nature.

Not so in the world of fiber.  Scouring is actually a very gentle process due to the ever looming threat of felting.

You may recall that a beautiful bag of fleece that I purchased at the Rhinebeck Festival proved to be loaded with wool moths that ate it into pieces – thus rendering it basically useless for spinning/knitting.  Now, we are not the type of folks that throw out anything that might have a use, so we decided to see if we could create felt using this fiber.  To create felt we still have to prepare the fiber up through the carding stage as he have to straighten out the fibers to create the layers of felt, and the first step is to scour – or clean – it.  We have been scouring small amounts of this fleece over time (see my blog post from December 27, 2011 for details on how to scour fleece) to prepare for this but it just seemed to be taking forever, so this weekend Chip and I set down to finish scouring the second half of the fleece.

Move over steel pot – we need the tub!!

We started off with this.

Chip and I sat down at the table and just started to pick apart the fleece, putting all of the unusable portions of the fleece to the side and making our good piles for scouring.  We ended up with two good piles of fleece and one yucky pile.

The yucky pile is on the bottom of the picture.

I love these white wire racks because, not only do they hold the fleece to carry it around – they also fit in the tub.

So next we put some water in the tub – I added some Dawn dishwashing liquid just because I wanted to assist it in getting the first round of dirt off and placed the rack with the fleece in the tub.  The picture I am posting here is actually from day 2 when we did the entire process again because the dirt that came off on day 1 turned the water from clear to muddy golden brown almost immediately upon placing the rack in the water.  We did alot of rinses on day 1 too and the majority of the dirt was gone by day 2.

The process we followed was the same for both days.  First we submerged in the water with the first tub of each day having the dishwashing liquid in it.  Then we let it sit and soak for anywhere from 20 – 40 minutes (depending upon what I was doing in the meantime as we had alot going on those days).  Then I would lift the rack out of the water and gently press down on the fiber to get the excess dirt/water out.

Then I would empty the tub, rinse it out and refill it. . .

while the wool sat on the rack over the tub.  We continued the process until the water was clear and there were only a few flecks of dirt left in the tub after draining.  (I have learned that the quest for perfection in cleaning/rinsing only leads to felting)

Now the clean fleece is sitting on another rack drying.

Ideally I would be doing this type of cleaning outside, but we don’t have an outdoor fiber workshop set up yet and it is still pretty cold outside to do this type of work.  I needed to keep the water hot to help remove the grease/lanolin from the wool and that would not have happened in 30 degree weather.

I have to admit that I did not give this fleece the type of attention I would give one that I was going to spin.  I already know that this fleece is very difficult to work with – even when just carding it – because of the damage to the fibers caused by the moths.

But I have two more bags of fleece on the porch to try to perfect my techniques with.  🙂

So that’s what we did with fiber this week.  Not new, not even particularly interesting, but not all of the beginning process stuff is, which is why folks pay someone else to do all of this for them.  I get it.  I think that may be the way to go if I want to mass produce handspun yarn, but right now I want to know that I can carry the process from beginning to end.  I want to know all that’s involved so I can decide which way to go with this whole woolly endeavor, so onto felting we will go!

Tomorrow we will talk mordanting while I wait for my latest dye project to, well, finish.  I’m not sure how this one is going to work out but it is all experimentation at this point.  Enjoy your Tuesday.

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About Shelly R.

I am a Mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an attorney, a crafter and the granddaughter of an amazing woman - my Polish Grandmother. My Grandmother gave me so much, through her love and her patience, her sayings and her time teaching me how to craft and to give to others, that it seemed fitting to share some of that wisdom, to tell some of her story, and to chat about life and crafts in a way that would be a testament to what she gave me.
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2 Responses to Scouring In Bulk

  1. I’ve only done this process once, at a CountryWool class two summers ago. Have to admit there was a part of me that said “nope, life is far too short to do this particular task in bulk on a regular basis…once in a while for kicks and giggles, but not regularly”, so I applaud your efforts and determination, especially given the poor fleece quality. Your felting plan is a GREAT one and so resourceful, but to share another use for dicey fleece: mulch! Yep, just read that recently…and I have two fleeces I bought two years ag–that I’m almost afraid to look a–that may well end up as garden mulch this year.

    • Shel says:

      Oooooh – can I use the junky stuff I would just toss for that? I am trying to figure out if I can compost it. You can compost deer hair so we were thinking we could but it might be a longer composting period. I love the feel of freshly washed and carded fleece when spinning so I would love to get this scouring thing down. It isn’t hard – just time consuming. My son kept asking “Can I take a shower yet?”. I would love to be able to make all of my boys nice felted wool cloaks which would not require me to pay oodles of money for great spinning wool so we are going to keep working on this. Heck – as long as folks will give me fleeces I will keep scouring. 🙂

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