Washing fleece with soap nuts

I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.

I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.

My go-to book when learning about new fibre types.
Eli will, hopefully, have wool that is slightly on the fine/soft side of this scale, thanks to his Merino ancestry.

Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.

First, the washing;

This is the brand of soap nuts I buy. I hope to grow my own one day though.
I put a cup full of soap nuts into a saucepan with about two litres of water and bring it to the boil.
The resulting liquid; after I strain off the soap nuts. I use about half a cup of this liquid to wash clothes in but I think I will use a full cup for washing wool.
This is the pile of fleece to be washed; about a kilo in total.

Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.

A close up of the dirt and lanolin in the fleece.
A close up of the fleece after washing and drying.
There is now just over a kilo of fleece sitting in my ‘to-do’ basket waiting to be carded for spinning.

The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.

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Desperate times call for desperate measures…or shearing sheep with scissors.

The extreme heat of the last few weeks has driven us to take our sanity to the edge in regards to our sheep.
They have been shedding their wool very slowly over the summer and I have left them to it as shearing in the middle of summer can sometimes lead to sun burnt backs (for the sheep as well as the shearers), but now they are beginning to grow their winter wool underneath the old fleece it is time to tidy up their haircut (woolcut?) a bit. We discussed getting someone to come and shear them for us or buying/hiring some shears but in the end decided that money is just too tight, so out came the scissors. We looked at a few ‘how to shear sheep’ sites and decided to have a go at shearing them while they were standing up.

First we haltered one of the girls, in the handling pen with her sisters. That way she was calm and happy to be played with. Then my eldest daughter and I took turns cutting the old fleece off while the other held the lead rope. The sheep were surprisingly patient and calm while we did it, which helped matters immensely.

We sheared (clipped?) two of the four girls each one taking about an hour and a half to do. We had originally planed to do one a day as it its hard going and very frustrating work, but when we let the one shorn sheep go her sisters butted her and chased her from the herd (she looked different) so we caught the worst bully and gave her a clipping too. This seemed to even out the odds and they all got along again.

I managed to salvage two shopping bags of usable wool from the two girls, the rest had started to felt and is too matted to use. Next year I will have to clip them in the spring so I can get better wool. I got shedding sheep so that I didn’t have to worry about shearing if I had no use for the wool, ┬ábut it seems I will have to shear them anyway. However, this is only their second molt, so it is possible their shedding will improve next year (I hope so anyway).

This is Gaia before her clipping

You can see where they have been shedding…and where they haven’t.

This is Gaia after her clipping, somehow she looks smaller.

She really appreciated the cool breeze on her skin, and being able to scratch every itch.

This is the usable wool from Gaia and Kraken (sorry about the terrible photo), after I took all the felted stuff out and the really dirt stuff around the edges.

This is the wool close up, it looks like clouds to me.

I hope I can get enough usable wool from my girls to make something to wear (it’s been a dream for a long while). The girls (Gaia and Kraken) certainly appreciate the new coolness, now to do the last two; Nut and Kore.

What do you think I should make from their wool?