Most of the yarn I use is good quality fibre that I buy already washed and combed. I dye it then spin it. I love colour and London is a great place to find inspiration. I dye all my own yarn (see hand painting to find out more). I find it so much easier to get the colours that I want. If you fancy hand painting your own yarn, I do spin white merino, which is perfect for hand painting.
All my yarn is made from two strands of wool, spun onto two bobbins and then wound together onto a larger bobbin (have you ever wondered where the nursery rhyme ‘wind the bobbin up’ came from?). This is then wound onto a niddy noddy (I promise you it’s a real thing), before being washed, dried and then finally wound into the skein you see.
Washing the Wool
For the wool which I get that isn’t already washed and processed, I have to do that myself. If you are interested in doing it, it’s fairly simple, but it does take a lot of time.
Hopefully most fleeces you get will be wrapped like this:
If they are, the first thing you need to do is unwrap them and pull out all the bits you don’t want. The ones I got from Portland were very clean but they might have all kinds of stuff on them. Don’t worry, this is normal and you get a lot of fleece. It’s easier just to get rid of what you don’t want.
If you are a keen gardener, apparently the dirty fleece is very good for your plants.
Once it’s laid out and ready, fill a large container with hand hot water and washing up liquid.
Washing up liquid is really good as it cuts through the grease. It’s worth noting that alpaca is a lot easier to clean as it doesn’t have the lanolin that sheep’s wool has, so the water doesn’t have to be as hot.
Here’s where my method may differ from other peoples. I soak my wool in the tub (after gently moving the wool around to loosen it up), then let it cool down naturally. This usually takes a few hours. With alpaca because the water doesn’t have to be as hot to start with, this is obviously quicker. Wool only felts when it is agitated and shocked with hot and cold water; by letting the water cool naturally, I’m able to rinse it with the garden hose without felting it.
Once it’s cooled, pour the water away and rinse gently with the garden hose. If you don’t want to put it in the washing machine, you will have to keep washing it until the water runs clear. The best way I’ve found to do this, is to keep refilling the tub, submerging the wool, pouring the dirty washer and filling with fresh water again, until the ‘dirty’ water is clear. This takes a huge amount of time, energy and water, so I just put mine into the washing machine instead. If you want to do this too, I advice dividing the the fleece into 4 pillow cases (these were the cheapest I could find); tying a knot in the top of them (to stop the wool falling out) and put them on a cold wash in the washing machine (I use a delicates washing liquid).
When they have finished, take them out, roughly spread the wool out in the pillowcase and lay out to dry on the washing line (Summer really is the best time of year to do this). I find it’s helpful to turn the pillowcases over after a couple of hours.
If you are lucky enough to have under floor heating, I do know people who spread the fleece out on the floor (outside the pillowcase) to dry. Apparently it works really well.
Washing it will clean it but you will still be left with little bits of straw etc. Don’t worry about this, it will come out when you come to spin or felt it.
Once cleaned, I now have to card it (comb it so the it’s not matted) before I can spin it. You can see why I usually buy it already washed and carded!