Sunday, 13 June 2010

Experiment Number Two

And here we are, in the river, Bools on investigation duties.....

Gus as well....

And me.  For these are my legs, in my wellies, in the river.
"So what", you might ask, "are you holding in between your legs?" 
An ex-potato sack with a handful of fleece in, that's what. 
"For why would you be doing that", again you might ask.
"To wash it", would be my reply, for it has now become time to do Experiment Number 2 of the Sheep Wool Project, which is to clean the fleeces recently sheared from our flock of sheep. Some of it is very mucky, some less so. But being a novice shepherdess and  trainee spinner of the fleece, I need to make an investigation as to whether it is best to  try spinning with the lanolin still in the fleece, or wash it, thus removing the oil plus any other detritus such as bits of straw and lumps of poo.

A quick mention of Experiment Number 1: This involved a bucket, a squirt of washing up liquid, and the kettle. So: Two kettles boiled, water into bucket, cooled down by some cold water, some fleece put into bucket, left to soak, bucket upturned on the garden table so fleece could drain, more water of same temperature into bucket (2 more kettles boiled), left for another soak, then bucket upturned again so that fleece could drain. And what a palaver that was, especially because Googled instructions said not to prod at the fleece. Makes it 'felt' apparently. But does it not look deliciously inviting, that open bucket of wet fleece,  such that one can hardly resist the temptation to plunge ones rubber-gloved hands into that water to prod at the soaking wool?

So I did, but gently.  And did the wool 'felt'. Not sure. Don't know what 'felting' actually looks like. The wool did look crinkled, but that have been because one could see the fibres once the muckiness had been removed. 
The conclusion of Experiment Number 1: Surely those in days of old who had a similar task did not boil up loads of hot water on the stove, or fire - what a waste of fuel. And they didn't have rubber gloves either. And the fleece itself: robbed of its lanolin it felt  sort of 'emptied out', and lifeless. So: hot washes in bucket not do-able.

Hence Experiment Number 2: washing the fleece in fast running river water. Container needed, so plastic potato sack recycled. Fleece put in. Rubber gloves replaced by rubber wellies. Off to the river. Then into the river, Bools and Gus staying in the quieter water, me into the faster flowing current. Dunked the bag into the water. A few minutes later, (the time dictated by my ability to keep bending over holding the bag) out it came again.
The conclusion of Experiment Number 2: The fleece still felt 'alive' so some of the lanolin remains. Some of the detritus also remains, but has been reduced. 
But would those in olden days have washed the fleece like this? Would they have stood in the river, bent over, getting splashed? Did they even have wellies? Such questions I will continue to peruse on. 

The result of these experiments? Probably best to spin the fleece into yarn and then clean it, a skein of yarn being more manageable. Presumably any bits of straw that escape inspection during the spinning will come out in the washing, as will any remnants of poo. As for the heftier bits of soiled fleece, am going to try Experiment Number 3.

Have I inspired you? Are you feeling a surge of enthusiasm to have a go as well? No? Are well, you are probably more sensible than me! This smallholding lark, while it is good for the soul, is time consuming beyond belief. No time to watch the telly. But then don't have a telly anyway. 

Smallholding is a way of life. It is not nine to five. It is about going with what the weather offers, what the day brings. It is about physical activity, and the staying power not to let things get you down. It is about becoming sensitive to the natural environment of nature, and desensitized to the un-natural environment of twenty first century urban living. It is about feeling the beat of the rythms and cycles of life. It is about feeling alive. 

Things I have learnt: that it is good to have that 'alive' feeling even if the days are long.


Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

I am so looking forward to a picture of you in your first woollen outfit, it should just be about ready for winter :-) Diane

Vera said...

Diane: I look forward to wearing it too, as it can get very cold living an outdoor type of life. However, the question is 'which winter'! As the rate I am going it is likely to not be this one!

French Fancy said...

Oh you are a braver person than me, Vera. I used to know a spinner out here - she had about six looms and used to collect lots of fleeces from the farms. She's now back in the UK teaching what she loved doing here - but it is just that she got too tired doing it here.

I wish you lots of strength and sound sleep to charge you for the days ahead

Vera said...

Hi FF. I don't think the French are really into crafty things like spinning. I have had to order my equipment from the UK because it does not seem to be available here, so it is no wonder that your friend decided to carry on with her work in the UK. I am going to use the wool for our own use, and that, my friend, is going to need plenty of energy! So thankyou for your wishes for 'sound sleep'. I am obviously going to need it!