I woke up at 4:00 am this morning, the rain racketing down upon the trailer’s roof with an intensity easily surpassing the energy of an alarm clock.
Awake, and no way was I going to be able to fall back asleep. This happens more often now, later in life than in years previous, and I have learned to just go with it. I clicked the heater on, two settings, for a low, but steady heat that would saturate the air and take the chill off in an hour or so.
I was up too early for Froskur to want to join me – he did not want to move from the warmth of his blanket; he blinked his eyes, which he aimed more or less towards me loyally, but his paws shook and he lowered his head in supplication. No, he did not want to go out for a quick run, he wanted to stay right where he was and finish his doggie dreams.
Fair enough. I had a great treat to look forward to: a huge chocolate chunk muffin from the bakery section of our local grocery store, and very fresh Peruvian coffee beans. I had even bought a carton of whole milk, so I wouldn’t have to cover up the flat taste of powdered milk with spoonsful of powdered cocoa – a mixture which actually isn’t that bad, but nothing is a real substitute for whole milk or cream.
Lily, my spinning wheel, had the start of a good bobbin of mystery wool from the day before. I pulled her out of her corner and set her up by my bench and unrolled a roving to get started.
Late this past summer I responded to a local freebie posting in a Ravelry forum, offering fleeces and bits of fleeces to first comers. I was able to get a pale cream-coloured mystery fleece, unknown breed, unknown gender/age/location. Lovely long staples, a golden luster, somewhat coarse, but pleasant to the touch, and strong fibres. Also, very grimy and full of grain heads and straw. It was free, after all. But I felt very lucky, and quite blessed to get this just as I was running out of wool to work with and suddenly looking ahead to facing an entire winter without fibre.
That same hot, summery day that I got the fleece, I unrolled it onto a sheet in the backyard and checked it over. I tugged off some sections and immediately bagged those into extra-large ziploc bags. I do not recommend ziploc bags as a first choice – they will cause the wool to sweat – but they do keep out wool moths and I am somewhat limited for storage selections at the moment. When I ran out of bags, I rolled the rest of the fleece up into the sheet, doubled it over, and shoved that down into a plastic bucket. Again – this is not ideal, but it is better than leaving it open for the bugs to play in.
Just before I finished bagging and rolling the fleece up, I waved my grandson to come over from where he sat outside on the outdoor patio swing. I wanted to show my grandson what fleece could look like as it was processed. I pointed out the absolute grimiest spot on the fleece, near the rump, which sported a few felted dags, several clusters of long yellow straw, and overall varied between a light brown and a muddy black void. I tore off a chunk, took a plastic tub that I normally keep in my little kitchen sink, and disappeared off into the house. I scrubbed the wool without mercy, using liquid laundry soap and hot water. Horrible; no thought was given to soften the blow of hot water shock and agitation; no gesture was held back to prevent felting – I just scrubbed!
I brought the chunk back out to my grandson who was still lounging comfortably on the swing, talking with his mother (my daughter).
I spread the square of sparkling wool out onto a towel. It truly did sparkle – the crimp, still wet, flashed in the sunlight. Some of the nasty little weeds heads and dung bits glittered, blackly, against the white background, but it was truly remarkable how much it had changed.
After I drew my grandson’s attention to this, he nodded with polite interest at the now dazzlingly pale fleece. He seemed to register that I wanted more of a response, and offered a “Wow!” which I thought was satisfactory on his part. I can’t expect non-converts to revel in the beauties of fresh wool as enthusiastically as I do; some grace must be allowed, here.
I hand-combed that same chunk very shortly afterwards with almost no felting problems to deal with. I spun it up into a skein that my daughter and I dyed to a camouflage green, and I then made up into a Minecraft ‘Creeper’ softie for my grandson for a birthday present. This was well received and approved of by his friends who were visiting. Big points for me, there.
It is this same fleece which I am working on this morning. After trying several ways of working the wool, I have discarded any idea of combing and spinning the unwashed wool. Normally, the spinning of greasy wool is something that I enjoy. The raw wool slides more easily between ones’ fingers and makes it possible to get good consistency in the thickness of the singles.
However – this fleece was really, really greasy. I could almost clench a hank of wool in my hand and squirt out streams of the lanolin-rich substance. It left a glistening, snail-trail like substance all over my hands and the long-toothed dog comb that I use, velcroing the wooden handle to my palms. It was horrible.
I have settled instead for tearing off 12-inch squares, approx, and working with those, one at a time, in well-spaced batches. Soaking the square in a small tub in very hot water, lift, squeeze gently, resoak, lift, squeeze gently, resoak … until the water runs clear, and then spreading that out till dry, which takes a few days, actually.
I was worried that hand-combing the wool this way might be very hard on my ligaments. I find that the wool always felts at least a small bit after a soak, even store-bought, pre-washed wool, no matter how gentle, ends up with just enough of a felting issue that it can be painful on the tendons in my hands to work with.
However, this worked out quite well, and it was the spinning of this wool, cleaned in this way and draughted into rovings earlier yesterday, that accompanied my coffee this morning.