Beth Smith

You Can Be a Little Rough

Yesterday i drove from my house to my parents’ house near Valley Forge Pennsylvania. It’s about an 11 hour drive including potty breaks. Today we are going to drive up to Poughkeepsie. We’ll spend the next two days touring Roosevelt houses and seeing the sights and then Saturday and Sunday we will be in Rhinebeck for the new York State Sheep and Wool Festival. I’m not teaching this year but I will be signing books from 3PM to 5PM both days. I think in Building C where all the other signers will be.

After Rhinebeck I’ll be going back to Pennsylvania for a little bit. On Monday the 19th at 7PM I’ll be doing a presentation about working with wool. I’ll be discussing how to get from raw wool all the way to clothing. I have lots of show and tell along with me. This is a free presentation at the Linfield United Church of Christ and everyone is welcome. so come if you can.

And then, the next weekend I’ll be in Wilmington, Delaware teaching three classes. Saturday is all about the Leicesters and then Sunday is a sweet little 3 hour breeds study and then 3 full hours about the magic of Cormo.

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All of this is to say that I had a lot of work to do to get ready for this trip. There was lots of wool that needed to be washed and while I was washing that wool I thought about my process and how scary some people think washing wool is. So I thought I’d show as well as I can with still photos how scary it is not!

Many people are very nervous because of the felting properties of most wool. But let’s think this through. Have you ever knitted an item and then purposely threw it in the washer to make it felt? Like a bag or slippers or something? Remember how long it took to actually felt that thing? Remember how the first few minutes barely did anything?

So unless you are constantly pushing and shoving your wool around in the water, a good soak isn’t going to matter.

In addition, a lot of people will say that the water temperature needs to remain the same from one soak to the next or the wool will felt. Well, again, let’s think this through.

If you soak the wool in water that starts out HOT and you let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes, the water will have cooled a bit. Actually, all you have to worry about is that the water you are moving the wool into is hotter than the water it’s coming out of. Hot water opens up the scales of the wool. Cold water closes them. So if you go from warm or cool water to HOT water, everything is going to be ok.

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And finally, let’s think again about how long ot takes to actually felt something. I put the wool into the water to saok.  I push it down into the water with whatever is handy, like a bottle or a paint stirrer. After I soak the wool for about 15 or 20 minutes I dump it out into my utility sink and I squeeze the water out with my hands. I turn it and roll it a bit and then press the water out again. I’m only doing this for less than a minute before I put it into the fresh water to soak again. There is not enough agitation there to felt anything and I do that at least 4 times during the washing process.

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And then, at the end, I put the wool into lingerie bags and spin out the water in my washing machine. I use the spin cycle that doesn’t spray any water.

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After that I take it and lay it out on my sweater drying rack and all is well.

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This whole process takes about an 60 to 90 minutes total and each of my buckets holds around 2 pounds and I have 4 of them. So I am scouring about 8 pounds in an hour and a half. My limit to how much I can wash in a week is my drying space.

One last thing about washing. Notice I didn;t wash until the tips were absolutely clean. usually this is impossible to do but that last little bit of dirt will go away in the processing and spinning. So don;t stress about it!

The wool that I often have the most problems with felting is Icelandic. None of the felting of that wool happens during the washing for me though. It is usually during the transit from my house to wherever I’m teaching.

So I blame plastic bags for that.

All I’m saying is, it’s not scary and I’m pretty rough when I wash the wool and it’s all good!

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