With that big sack of raw fleece honking out the garage, I’ve felt obliged to get on with the next stages of wool process. I’d read that first I would need to ‘skirt’ a raw fleece, so I watched a few youtube tutorials and found this diagram which rather appeals to my geeky nature:
As luck would have it, I realise now that the first fleece I pulled out of my big woolsack was actually already fairly well skirted. Nevertheless, after I’d pulled out everything that looked to my novice’s eye kempy, cotted or just way too pooey, I put it in a bucket for the compost and bundled the ‘good’ stuff into a giant laundry bag ready for washing. (I made a whole bunch of big laundry bags out of old net curtains in readiness for the big fleece wash).
And so to the suds… or not?
My weaving teacher sent me through this leaflet which describes various methods of washing fleece for handspinning. I was intrigued by the ‘Suint Fermentation’ method for cleaning fleece, especially given I’ve generally got lacto-fermentation of some kind bubbling away (on purpose!) in a pot in my kitchen. There always seems to be something alchemical and anciently wise about fermentation so I read on, intrigued. I found useful information and links about suint fermentation here, which explains that suint (basically sheep sweat) is made up of potassium salts, and combined with the lanolin in raw fleece and a week long soak in warm rainwater it should make a kind of soap through biological action that cleans away dirt and some grease from the raw fleece. This made sense to me as a sort of mimicking of the way sheep’s sweat must clear dirt away from its skin – the white fluffy locks on the shorn side of my otherwise honking ripe raw fleeces couldn’t make sense any other way. I also have in my laundry kit a pot of lanolin soap specially for washing the sheepskins we bought when our girls were babies, so I suppose I’ve seen this principle in action already.
Nevertheless, when I spoke to the ladies at the Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers about all of this, they were convinced that our climate in Mid Wales doesn’t sustain sufficiently high or constant temperatures for Suint Fermentation to work – that it is a traditional technique from warmer areas of the States. On the other hand, I’ve read an entertaining description of success with Suint Fermentation by a lady in Wales not far from me. Always one to take the low hassle route, and mindful of the ‘slow textiles’ motivation behind this whole #1year1outfit project, I decided to have a bash in the name of experimentation – I put the first fleece from Andrew in its net bag in a big box of rainwater in our polytunnel… and waited.