The very best in all that is stinky

It is well past time for me to tackle the fleece mountain.

I’ve actually lost track of how many fleeces I have, let alone what kind of sheep they’re from, or what state of processing they’re in, so I’m hoping to get to an audit before the cold weather truly comes back.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with the fermented suint method of fleece cleaning.  “Fermented” may sound like a good start, but when you remember that ‘suint’ is sheep-sweat, and a raw fleece is full of all the other joys of the field as well as suint and lanolin, the fermentation starts to sound less tasty.

And indeed it is.  Here’s the theory:

Getting up and running
The basis of this method is that you take a nice, greasy, raw fleece and put it in a barrel of rainwater for a week or two, leaving it in a reasonably warm-for-outdoors place.  It should be a good and stinky fleece, as well as high grease.  (And the barrel should be light-proof, to ward off algal growth, and sealed against bugs to ward off infestations).

And then the fermentation will happen.  Think about it: you’re hardly going to be able to stop it, are you?

The salts in the suint and the lanolin saponify.  This means your fleece is actually making its own natural soap!

Now you have your fermentation bath up and running.  You’ll know if it’s working well, because there is likely to be a milky film on top, maybe some bubbles, and if you stir it up, bend over, and get your nose right in there …  it will just about fall off from the stink.

(I’ve heard the smell described as everything from ‘portapotty’ to ‘river sludge’, and honestly, somewhere in between is pretty accurate.  And not surprising, since you’re intentionally letting farmyard materials go stagnant).

That first fleece is the ‘starter’ fleece; it’s unlikely to be very well cleaned by the bath.  In any case, this method is best suited to fleeces that aren’t heavily greasy (after all, you’re not going to make *that* much soap!) – so you’ll likely want to wash it using your usual methods.  Believe it or not, that *distinctive* smell dissipates completely when the fleece dries (or so I have been assured…)

…and Go!
The magic starts now.  Each successive batch of fleece only needs to stay in your soapy fermentation bath for a couple of days.  And each fleece makes the bath stronger and better.  When you remove a batch, all (heh) you have to do is rinse it, and let it dry, and voila! it’s good to spin.  (Before rinsing, drain it as much as possible and return the liquid to the tub.  You want to keep it for next time!)

There are people who have gotten this working so well that their fleece comes up sparkling white, and actually makes soap suds as they rinse it out.

In practice…
I took the starter fleece out of my bucket last Saturday.  It’s certainly cleaner than when it went in, but even with a detergent wash, it’s still greasy.  But that’s to be expected for the first one.

I took the next fleece (a Shetland) out yesterday after 5 days in the bath.  Definite suds, though not loads.  It still clearly had plenty of grease in the fleece, so I gave it a hot water and detergent wash, and it’s drying now.  The tips are still clearly discoloured, but then it wasn’t a pampered fleece to start with.

The third fleece is a coloured one – a Manx Loughtan.  Low grease, for sure.  It will be harder to tell, visually, whether this one is clean or not than with a white fleece!

So, thoughts so far:

  • I’m not sure whether this is actually helping the fleeces get cleaner, or whether it’s just an extra-smelly cold soak
  • Maybe some of those folks started out with fleece that is cleaner than mine
  • If I still need a hot detergent wash, is it really worth the stink?
  • Is this a good way of getting a lot of fleece washed quickly, even if the benefits are mostly motivational?
  • If the stink dissipates when the fleece dries, will it come back when it gets wet??

 

Wonderful Woolfest

Wow.  It’s Monday evening; I can hardly believe that I’ve been away since Friday lunchtime.  In some ways, it seems like forever since I was sitting on my own sofa – in others, the time has flown.

I don’t think I’ve ever driven as much in one weekend: up to Cumbria on Friday afternoon (five and a half hours travelling); over to my parents on the East coast side on Saturday evening (another two hours).  All of Sunday there, then back down to Cambridgeshire today (three and a half hours).  It may be small potatoes to some folks in America, who occasionally seem to drive thousands of miles in a weekend, but it’s a lot for me!

Anyway, I’m delighted to say it was very much worth it.  I’m so pleased that I decided to stay overnight, and on my own to boot.  It’s lovely to wander around a fair in company, but in some ways it was even nicer to just meander at my own pace, following my own whims, not worried about what anyone else wants to see, or if they think raw fleece is boring, or dealing with a group which inevitably includes one hungry person, one tired person, and someone who needs the loo.  (Misanthropic?  Moi??  Well, only sometimes!)

First order of the day, as soon as I was through the door, was the raw fleece stall.  This was the point at which I realised that I’d sorely miscalculated my ready cash requirements: I’d had to pay cash for quite a few things before I even got into the show, and there is no way to get cash near the site.  In addition, only some of the stallholders can accept card payments, so, after allocating a certain amount of money for fleece purchases, a strategic tour of the hall was necessary so that I could allocate my remaining readies appropriately!

Anyway: Fleece.  I bought two.  One, a Lincoln Longwool, with the most lovely, lustrous, white, curly locks:


The other a complete contrast: a mioget Shetland:

I’ve not had time to get either out of the bags for a really good look yet, but I’ll let you know all about it when I do!

Shopping was interrupted at around half 12 so that I could meet up for a good chat (and a bit more fleece fondling) with Cecilia from The Wool Clip, who I met in real life (instead of online) for the first time the night before, and who might just be my new best friend.  I By this time, I’d already acquired my star purchase for the event: a beautiful Russian spindle from IST Crafts:

Go on- click for bigger.  You won’t regret it!

My beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous spindle is made of sycamore, and has a brass tip (which I am hoping will help it not get damaged).  It is a beautiful object, as well as a wonderful tool, and the craftsmanship is impeccable.  I also have an adorable little ceramic bowl that it is designed to spin in; there is very little friction between the brass and the ceramic glaze.  I spent so long at their stall, admiring and playing with the spindles, that I think I probably made quite an impression.  And, I have to say, the feeling is mutual.  Both Ian and Jake were delightful to talk to, and really passionate about their products.  The customer service I received from them (on a seriously busy day) was second to none, and I’d buy again from them in a flash.

Cash wise, that pretty much wiped me out!  I had to reserve a certain amount of money for caffeine and food (to help fuel the shopping and the driving), but really – this Woolfest was all about the people for me.  Despite the fact that I went alone, the best parts of the show were the connections, the conversations, the shared enthusiasm and the mutual joy.  On my own schedule, obviously.

Until next year, Woolfest!

© Copyright yarninmypocket - Designed by Pexeto