With hot days, it is time to shear the sheep. Unfortunately, many shepherds do not use the wool and burn it after shearing, but more and more of them are starting to sell their wool, many to international markets. Since I started these adventure, of trying to know more about wool, friends and friends of friends (who usually have one, or two, or three sheep) give me freshly sheared wool in the beginning of summer. This year I got two bags of 20 kilos of wool from Serra da Estrela. I was so happy! The truth is that, so far, only one bag was washed. Washing the wool implies some logistics that become complicated to achieve in the city. But I want to tell you the essential steps for washing wool, steps that I learned from experience.
Warm days are ideal for washing wool. So if you have wool to wash, these last days of heat are a good opportunity. And if you know any site that has a river nearby, better yet! You will need it!
Usually wool is well wrapped in a bag and, while taking it out, we must take some care, especially while extending it in a floor that should be flat and cemented.
At this stage, we try to gather what part of the wool we will wash. It is also when we realize that not all the wool fleeces come in one piece. A good shearing gives us the whole fleece, and that is easily seen when you extend it on the ground. In the following two photos we clearly see the difference. We can say that the fleece of the second picture was the result of a perfect shearing!
After examining the fleeces we separate the wool that is going to be washed – wool which is not used for washing can be useful for compost or can be tossed with organic waste. Having a good fleece greatly facilitates this task because, visually, we can better grasp the dirtiest wool that will not be used (usually the wool from the sheep’s legs and belly).
We pick out the ticks, the barbs, and some herbs that can be hooked in wool. During this step it is normal to feel grease on your hands, which is due to lanolin – natural sheep fat – and one of the reasons why we wash wool. We can also finally delight in pleasure while looking at the fiber, appreciating its texture and size.
For washing the wool we need at least one large bucket (or several buckets, depending on the amount of wool to be washed) and hot water. We dip the wool in the bucket and allow it to soak for at least half an hour. The hot water helps softening the wool and dissolve the lanolin and most of the other debris. Bonus tip: your hands get super soft when immersed on this mixture!
Then we drain the wool andreuse the water for watering plants. Being an animal fiber, wool is a natural resource that does not pollute the environment.
The next step is to rinse the wool in cold water. Ideally, we should get some sacks (those used for potatoes!) or large weaved baskets. We put the wool inside the bags or baskets and plunge it in the river while shanking it around. During this process we will still see dirt debris escaping and we will noticed the wool becoming increasingly white!
In the end, we put the wool to dry in the sun on a clean floor for a while – a few days if necessary.
What a privilege to know and experience this beautiful handmade process. And how excited can we get to start carding and spinning wool that we washed ourselves!
This text was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for its original version.