Washing the Bowmont

I’m now officially *very* behind on blogging this workshop – this post is all about washing the fleece, which was the job of *last* weekend, and which took about seven hours in total, I think.  That’s much longer than the workshop leader estimated, so it seems I’m slow.  😛

The reason it all took so long is because Bowmont wool really is ultra-fine: finer than Merino.  The micron count of fine Merino is 18 – 22; for Bowmont, it is 15 – 20.  Fortunately, Bowmont also contains less lanolin than Merino, so should require less washing to achieve cleanliness.

Lesley recommends washing the fleece almost lock-by-lock, ‘swishing’ it through a hot, soapy bath and rubbing at dirty spots or lock ends under water, then rinsing in a clean bath at the same temperature.  It feels very, very wrong to be rubbing at such fine fleece – especially in hot water! – but as long as the locks are kept intact, it really does seem to work without felting.

I sorted my fleece first – most people probably didn’t have to go through this preliminary step – or at least, their fleece probably wasn’t quite so anti-sorted to start with.  Anyway, since the washing works best when the water is really quite hot, and since the bath cools down alarmingly quickly, I definitely found it worth having the fleece pre-sorted into locks, all facing the same way, for easy access, like so:

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Fleece lasagne!  This wool, when clean, is bright white, so you can see we have a job to do…  And apparently the tips are extra-dirty this year – lucky us!  Joking aside, Lesley thinks that this is a result of her having to treat the flock with anti-blowfly stuff as a preventative measure last autumn.  You *have* to prevent blowfly – a sheep with a blowfly maggot infestation is literally eaten alive, and quickly – so I’m not going to quibble about dirty tips.  I didn’t manage to get all the fleece sorted so neatly; some of it was a bit too mangled, no doubt due to a too-close encounter of the Kita kind.  I set this aside to wash more ‘roughly’ – just to see what would happen.

I did experiment a bit with how many locks I can wash at once; I decided that one at a time definitely got them cleanest, but was waaaaay too slow!  I think the optimum for me was around 5 locks at once.

It was still a very slow process, so my view for about seven hours of weekend was this:

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I’m sitting on the dog’s beanbag, with the hot bath nestled into it (for insulation).  The method used is to grab a bundle of locks by the butt end, then wash the tips in the hot, soapy water (baby shampoo used as detergent), rubbing to free the dirt then ‘swooshing’ the lock through the water to get the dirt actually out of the lock.  Then turn the locks around and wash the butt end; this is much cleaner to start with, and only needs a few ‘swooshes’.  Then turn it around again, and get rid of excess water by ‘pushing’ it out of the lock using finger and thumb along the length.  The second turn is important as it ensures the scales that make up each fibre’s surface are pressed down, not lifted up, which preserves the lustre and smoothness of the fibre – and presumably makes it less prone to felting.  The process is repeated in the rinse tub (which is probably to the right of me at this point), but this time it’s quick for both ends of the lock (well, usually!) because all you should be doing at this stage is getting rid of detergent.  The clean, wet locks go on the towel, looking a *lot* cleaner, but a bit sorry for themselves – flat and limp, with a bit of a ‘tail’ if you didn’t manage to hold the butt end of the lock firmly enough as you ejected any excess water.

They fluff up again as they dry, though.  I wish I’d taken before and after photographs of individual locks; the tight, even crimp of this wool is amazing, like a too-regular perm!

My main discoveries from the workshop so far:

  • The temperature of the wash bath is *crucial*.  The hotter, the better.  It makes a huge difference as to how much lanolin comes out, and how easily.  (This is one of the reasons I’m wearing rubber gloves; water hot enough to wash this fleece well is too hot for my hands to handle!  Other reasons are that if it’s taking all the oil out of the fleece, it will be incredibly drying to my skin, and also that sheep muck is icky, and hygiene is important.)
  • Rubber gloves really impair my dexterity.  It can be hard to tell precisely how much of the lock I’m gripping or rubbing, and how hard.  An advantage of larger bundles of locks is that it’s easier to tell what you’re gripping.
  • Washing fleece this way takes *hours!*

My washing success was somewhat erratic; some locks were squeaky-clean and bright when I’d finished; others were still a little yellow in the middle and smelled delicately ‘sheepy’ still.  Before going on to the rest of the process, I sorted the fleece into the cleanest, less clean and kinda mucky sections.

The mangled wool was washed by the simple expedient of pushing it under the water, then gently squeezing and releasing it – then repeat with the rinse bath.  It felted quite a bit and will never, ever be nep-free, but I’ve kept it anyway.

Next installment: actual spinning!  (and carding, and combing, and dizzing, too!)

Bowmont Challenge: the first installment

As I believe I mentioned before, I’ve gotten myself involved with a workshop/challenge that centres around the ultra-fine wool of the Bowmont sheep.  The Bowmont was apparently bred to produce a sheep with a premium, fine wool that was hardy enough to withstand the British climate and which had a lower grease/wax load than some of the other fine wool breeds (e.g. Merino).  The Bowmont is a cross between the Saxon Merino and the Shetland sheep, and the wool really is ultra-fine, and with a very, very fine crimp (more info here, the website of the lady who owns the sheep we’re working with! – and also here – Leigh is also participating in the workshop, and has done a far more thorough piece on the breed characteristics than I will!)

For this challenge/workshop, we each got a pack of fleece – adult Bowmont, Bowmont lamb and dehaired cashmere.  Those of us within the E.U. got the fleece ‘raw’ though the cashmere is cleaned and combed to dehair it; those outside the E.U. sadly had to forego the pleasures of washing this stuff – which is an adventure in itself!  I will be washing, prepping and spinning my fibre; others will be felting theirs (intentionally or otherwise, I guess) and whatever else it is that us wacky fibre folks do when they get their hands on new goods.

This workshop, by the way, is a venture of the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers – of which I am a fledgling member!  This is the first workshop I’ve been able to join in with, and the first time I’ve washed or prepped any fleece that wasn’t just ‘gleaned’ from the hedgerows.  I’m starting to think that this wasn’t necessarily the simplest place to start…

My primary aim with this workshop was to wash, prepare and spin the fleece – just to get my hands on the end-to-end process for the first time.  I’m also intrigued by the thought of this ultra-fine wool and just wanted to *play* with it!  Besides wanting to just *do* wool prep, I thought this would be a good time to get my hands on some tools that I’ve not used before and to compare prep methods.  Admittedly, as I’m a beginner with this stuff, it’ll be a comparison of a beginner’s execution of all three four methods, but then, I might as well compare like with like!

Prior to starting this workshop, I owned one pair of hand carders.  To further my aims, I’ve bought another set with a finer carding cloth and have a set of Majacraft mini-combs (complete with clamp and diz) on their way to me.  I want to compare:

  • a regular, woollen preparation using hand carders
  • a ‘semi-worsted’ preparation using hand carders but rolling the rolag so that fibres are parallel to its axis
  • a true worsted preparaion using wool combs
  • spinning directly from the washed lock (added later at Lesley’s recommendation).

Then, of course, there is the cashmere.  I’ve never spun with a true down fibre before, so I don’t know if I’ll use this in conjunction with the Bowmont or not.  As it is, there will not be oodles of fibre to play with in each method; I may just see what I have left when I’ve completed my primary goal and decide what to do with it then.

Although this workshop officially started at the beginning of April, I didn’t really get around to starting till last weekend – partly due to other stuff happening on the weekends (like visits from friends and family) and partly because I was downright scared of washing the wool.  I needn’t have been – though it did take *hours*.  I was going to post all about it right now – but this post is quite long enough as it is, so I think you’ll have to wait for a future installment…

At it again…

I warped up my loom for a new scarf at the weekend – this time using the last of the giant Country Silk ball.  Weaving is now underway, but I’m not going to show you now – Oh, no! – I’m going to show you my boo-boo instead.

I found this after warping up – takes me an hour or so to get to this stage.  Pretty, isn’t it?
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The problem is around the back of the heddle.  Can you see what’s wrong?
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There:
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That loop shouldn’t be there.  it should be *just* like all the others, passing round the back beam and back again.  This is bad.  The back beam holds the ends in place, so that when you move the heddle (to ‘beat’ the weft into place, for example), the threads stay still.  And all those warp threads are not separate, they are *one continuous piece*, roughly 200m long, and that is *bang* in the middle.  I can’t just cut it and tie it round the back of the beam, because then two warp ends would be significantly shorter than the rest.  The weavable length is determined by the shortest warp end, so that would represent significant wasted yarn.  So, what to do?

Add more yarn, of course:
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That little loop of sock yarn goes through the misbehaving loop and round the back beam, holding the wayward part in place even when I move the heddle.  I don’t know if this solution is recommended, or advisable, or anything – but it’s always nice to find one’s problem-solving skills are still in evidence!

Way behind!

I am so far behind on my blogging it’s just unbelievable.  I need to:

  • update my template
  • start FO galleries (properly!)
  • sort out my sidebars
  • get my blogroll up and running here at Typepad
  • set up my ring and group links

There are also numerous projects/current activities that haven’t been blogged.  These include:

  • a pair of Lorna’s Laces footsies (these are actually an FO!)
  • a brand new cardigan project
  • a brand new pair of socks – the first one is heading for complete
  • a wool prep/spinning workshop on Bowmont wool – this is running for a whole month and I’ve just ordered some of the equipment I’ll need from my fave spinning and weaving suppliers

So, see, I’m way behind!  But in truth, I’m also behind on the Bowmont workshop, so I need to go and make more progress on that now, so I can blog about it later.

Lotus Blossom Shawl: finished!

Bobble cast off notwithstanding, LBS is finished.  The proof?

Pre-blocking (with helpful dog):
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Post-blocking:
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Unobstructed view:
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Landscape view:
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I like it.  Modelled shots and more specs to follow, pending photo-shoot, measuring and other things that I’m too lazy to do right now.

On the other hand, I do have almost half the giant skein left.  Now I have to find another project to use up the rest.

This stashbusting is *hard*.