Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Washing Locks, An Experience with Cormo

I have two cormo fleeces, and have not been doing anything with them because I found it so hard to get the lanolin out of the fiber when I washed them. Twice I had washed small amounts the same way I usually wash fleece, by picking the locks apart, putting it in a sweater mesh bag, soaking in multiple baths of hot soapy water and spinning it dry in the washer. I thought when it didn't work the first time, that it was because the fleece was two years old. But trying the same thing with a fleece just purchased in April gave me the same results. The fiber was still tacky to the touch, and did not draft well at all for spinning.

I got Margaret Stowes book on Merino, and read her proceduce for lock washing. I have read other's experience with washing locks, and everyone said they loved the results, so I decided to give it a try. I used the old fleece, thinking that it would be the toughest test for the method.

I used a dog comb, just an inexpensive metal tooth comb, and taking a lock about the width of my thumb, combed each end. This is a little like trying to uncomb a tangle from hair. You start a little way into the lock, and comb out, then go above that area and comb out. Usually two passes on each end resulted in a nice fluffy lock. The center stays uncombed but that holds the lock together.

I found I really enjoyed doing this! The feel is pleasant, the fiber is not sticky, but pleasantly tacky (if there is such a thing) Lots of the dirt and hay and such just falls right out. I did a basket full of these locks one morning on my porch.

There has been discussions on the spinning lists as to whether it helps to presoak a fleece in cool water over night and then do the washing. This is not a use hot water and let it cool, because that would dissolve the lanolin and put it right back on the fleece, making it even harder to remove. This is a cool soak that supposedly get other types of grease and dirt out. So I took some of my locks and wrapped them in a nylon net to keep them intact, and soaked them overnight.

The first wash method I tried was to wash two nylon net pouches of locks. You fold the net over the locks and pin in place and then procede with washing in hot soapy water and hot rinses. I did both the pouch I had presoaked and another pouch, to see if there was any differences. I washed them by placing the pouch in the sink of hot soapy water, and then several hot rinses. After a good washing, I rolled the pouches in a towel and then spread the locks out to dry. They looked ok, the lock structure was messed up some, and there was a band of brown in the center of each lock, like it was still dirty there. As they dried though, I could tell that they were lanolin free.

Then I decided to try Margaret Stowe's method of lock washing. The idea is to take a lock and swish it in hot soapy water, even rub it against a bar or soap to clean it.

I heated a very large stock pot of water to boiling, got my crock pot crock I use for dyeing for the washing pot, and a plastic bowl for rinsing. I set these up in a row on my table and put some hot water in the crock. It was much too hot for my hands, and it is necessary to immerse the whole lock and thus your hand, so I added tap water to a temp that I could tolerate. It was still very hot. Not really having any 'neutral' bars of soap with no additives in them, I used a sliver of chemo soap, a bar that has no additives at all that my daughter makes.

I grabbed a lock and dunked it and raised it several times in that water. Then I rubbed the center gently on the bar of soap while under water (this is an important point, if you do it out of the water you can felt the lock) I turned the lock and swished it again, and then went to the plastic bowl of clear hot water and rinsed, until I thought all the soap was out. I gently blotted the lock in a towel and laid it out to dry. I did this until my small basket of locks was empty, and my hot water was just about too cool to be useful. I had to change both the soapy and the rinse water often, about every third lock. And it used the whole sliver of chemo soap, because the soft soap dissolved so well in the water.

Then I had to wait until the locks dried. Don't touch wet fiber! Oh how hard that is. I just wanted to see if it was lanolin free. And it did dry in 24 hours, however I let it out for three days just to be sure.

The locks done in the nylon net were pretty messy looking, even after drying. The locks that I had done by hand, looked like smooshed felted fiber when wet, but as they dried they magically puffed up! It really was amazing. And they were very clean, no dirty line in the middle, and no lanolin.

Next post: Learning to spin froghair


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